There is a big hole in the World Hurdle where Big Buck's used to be and everybody is desperate to fill it.
As soon as Paul Nicholls put the message out that his record-breaking staying hurdler had suffered a leg injury and would be out for the whole season, trainers up and down Britain and Ireland were scouring their yards for likely contenders for the vacant title at Cheltenham.
Chasers not quite up to scratch for the Gold Cup, hurdlers who do not quite have the stamina, unproven novices; suddenly anything and everything might fit the bill.
But Buck Buck's or no, it still takes a proper staying hurdler to finish on top in the World and, now that the dust has settled, we have a clearer view of what might reasonably be expected to happen on 14 March. There are just a handful with solid credentials.
Oscar Whisky became the new favourite when Big Buck's was ruled out, but stamina has always been the issue with him and, though some were satisfied he did last out three miles properly when held off by Reve De Sivola at Cheltenham last Saturday, others, including me, remain unconvinced.
There are different ways of looking at whether a horse stays, but the least vague and most useful is to see whether he can run up to same level over a longer trip as he can over a shorter distance. Oscar Whisky falls short by about 10lb on limited racecourse evidence.
That does not mean he cannot win the World Hurdle, of course – perhaps less than his very best will still be good enough in an ordinary year – but Nick Williams has great faith in his stamina-laden Reve De Sivola and Noel Meade would not swap his progressive six-year-old Monksland.
Monksland looked good when winning at Leopardstown last month and Meade thinks he can shake up the best at Cheltenham.
"There are plenty of contenders now hoping they're good enough and we're one of them," Meade said. "There's a bit more to come from our horse, especially on better ground."
Chris McGrath's Nap
Zamdy Man (1.40 Ludlow) Shaped with a good deal of promise against decent opposition on his hurdling debut at Chepstow.
Buddy Bolero (3.30 Leicester) Stamina is his strong suit and he will be in his element over this longer trip.
One to watch
Ted Veale (Tony Martin) Failed to land a Leopardstown gamble, but indicated he could win a big handicap, perhaps on less testing ground.Reuse content