Marie’s ready to Rock in Liverpool Hurdle

Marie’s Rock will finally get a crack at three miles when she goes to post for the Jrl Group Liverpool Hurdle at Aintree.

Connections had mooted a move up in trip for the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival before electing to defend her Mares’ Hurdle crown over an intermediate distance.

However, having seen her four-race winning run come to an end at Prestbury Park, the Nicky Henderson-trained eight-year-old will now test her mettle in the staying division, with the flat three miles of the Merseyside track identified as the perfect examination of her credentials.

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“It was well documented it was a 50-50 last minute decision whether we stepped up or didn’t at Cheltenham,” said Tom Palin of owners Middleham Park Racing.

“I still think we made the right decision as it was very testing there at Cheltenham and I think this looks a slightly more open rendition of a three-mile Grade One.

“Her trainer has been quite vocal all year that he would like to see her over three miles. The jockey (Nico de Boinville) is very confident she will see out the trip and after her performance in the Relkeel, I want to jump on the bandwagon as well. It’s been something we’ve been wanting to try for the last couple of months and we’re finally going to do it.

“I think Aintree seems the sensible place to have a look at three miles. She’s never been round there but has a lot of form at flat tracks, so there is no reason to think she wouldn’t act round there. As much as Cheltenham is her spiritual home, this should be fine for her and she’s in good form.”

Marie’s Rock was sent off the 9-4 joint favourite when beaten 15 lengths at the Cheltenham Festival, but with the mare showing no ill effects in the aftermath, Palin is keen to put a line through that outing as she looks to regain the winning thread in the her first visit to the north west.

“We’re happy to put a line through Cheltenham,” he continued. “The Mares’ was an unsatisfactory race in the way it was run.

“It was run at a very sedate pace and the two on the front just got soft leads and were able to wind it up at the correct time. That left horses like ourselves and Epatante on the back foot and unable to land a blow.

“Nothing came to light with our mare afterwards and I would hope to see a truer run race here, which means she will be able to settle and in theory we should see her finishing burst quickening off an already good tempo.

Trainer Nicky Henderson and Marie’s Rock during a visit to Nicky Henderson’s stables at Seven Barrows in Lambourn
Trainer Nicky Henderson and Marie’s Rock during a visit to Nicky Henderson’s stables at Seven Barrows in Lambourn (David Davies/PA)

“She will either stay or she will not. We will not be riding her to get the trip, we’ll just settle her in mid-div and whenever Nico feels the time is right to unleash her up that straight, we will find out if she stays or she doesn’t.”

Stayers’ Hurdle champion Sire Du Berlais accounted for Gavin Cromwell’s Flooring Porter in this 12 months ago and Gordon Elliott will be hoping lighting strikes twice for his stable stalwart following his heroic Prestbury Park triumph last month.

“Sire Du Berlais seems in great order since Cheltenham,” said the Cullentra House handler.

“He has a habit of running one massive race a year and that’s what he did at Cheltenham, but hopefully he can find another big performance here.”

As well as the defending champion, owner JP McManus can also count on the services of Champ who is another in the race for Seven Barrows handler Henderson.

Dashel Drasher further represents the Stayers’ Hurdle form, with Jeremy Scott’s admirably consistent 10-year-old attempting to go one better than his Cheltenham second, while Home By The Lee struck twice in Ireland before finishing fifth – beaten only three and three-quarter lengths – at the Festival.

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“He seems in good shape and we’re looking forward to going to Aintree with him – we think the track will suit him,” said trainer Joseph O’Brien.

Home By The Lee ridden by jockey JJ Slevin (left) jumps the last hurdle on their way to winning the Jack de Bromhead Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown
Home By The Lee ridden by jockey JJ Slevin (left) jumps the last hurdle on their way to winning the Jack de Bromhead Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown (Niall Carson/PA)

“He did well to finish as close as he did in Cheltenham after the mistake he made.

“We’re hoping for a good run from him in what looks a good race.”

Oliver McKiernan’s Meet And Greet was third to Home By The Lee at Leopardstown over Christmas and was last seen finishing runner-up to Blazing Khal in the Boyne Hurdle at Navan.

He returns to three miles which could be a positive, while attempting the trip for the first time is Olly Murphy’s Brewin’upastorm – who proved better than ever when continuing his love affair with Fontwell’s National Spirit Hurdle in February.

Dan Skelton’s Proschema was well held in that contest and has not been seen at his best since scoring at Wetherby earlier in the season, with Paul Nicholls’ Monmiral reverting to the smaller obstacles having been novice chasing throughout the current campaign.

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