Connections of the huge Hillcrest are eyeing either a return to Cheltenham for the Classic Novices’ Hurdle on Trials Day on January 29 or the River Don Novices’ Hurdle at Doncaster on the same day for his next run.
Having made light work of his opposition in a Listed contest at the Prestbury Park track on New Year’s Day, trainer Henry Daly is conscious that he does not ask too much of the seven-year-old, who is unbeaten in three novice hurdles this season.
The massive horse – nicknamed Rodney – earned Cheltenham Festival quotes after seeing off Nicky Henderson’s highly-touted I Am Maximus in the extended two-and-a-half-mile Listed Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle.
“Hillcrest is absolutely fine after the race – no problem at all,” said Daly. “What he is going to do next is a very leading question.
“There is an ongoing debate as to what the next plan is. There is the race at Cheltenham on the 29th, similar to the race he ran in the other day, a two-and-a-half-mile Listed race. There is also the same race on the same day – the River Don, a three-mile novice hurdle.
“Quite honestly, it is a bit of a toss-up and there is also the possibility of not running in either of those races.
“He wants nice ground. Good to soft would be fine. He won his bumper in good to soft at Doncaster and handles it perfectly well. It is not an issue. It was the same at Aintree first time this year.
“He is a big boy and like most of those, they don’t take a whole lot of hammer, so we are very conscious of that and we are trying to do the best thing without making a balls of it, really. Such is a trainer’s lot!”
Hillcrest, who runs in the colours of the late British billionaire Trevor Hemmings, stands at 18 hands (around 6ft to the shoulder), and barely came out of a canter at Cheltenham last time.
That win earned him quotes of 16-1 for both the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle and Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle with Coral but Daly says he is not leaning one way or the other.
He admitted: “I keep being told to think ‘Cheltenham’ for him. It is an interesting conundrum, being told to think things.
“It is pretty obvious the Festival has to be on the radar, doesn’t it? But it is not the be-all and end-all.
“When you start leaning, you tend to fall. Therefore it is better to be vertical and keep it that way.”