Hughie Morrison believes Third Wind has plenty on his plate in his bid for back-to-back victories in the William Hill Rendlesham Hurdle at Haydock.
The eight-year-old repelled the challenge of Stayers’ Hurdle hero Lisnagar Oscar to claim top honours in the Grade Two contest 12 months ago – and must carry a penalty as a result.
Since last year’s triumph, Third Wind has been pulled up at Aintree, finished last of seven finishers in the Long Walk at Ascot and placed third when switched back to handicap company at Warwick.
Morrison said: “We know he goes well at Haydock, but the only problem this year is he’s got a penalty – and it’s a big penalty. For some reason winning a Grade Two earns you the same penalty as winning a Grade One.
“His form in Grade Ones leaves him short. We’re in the Stayers’ Hurdle (at Cheltenham) because he might have a better chance of coming fourth in that than the Pertemps Final.
“We’ve everything against us on Saturday, but we’ll have a go.”
The likely favourite is the Olly Murphy-trained Thomas Darby, who won the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury in November before finishing fourth in the Long Walk the following month.
“The Rendlesham looks an ideal race for him,” said Murphy.
“Dan Skelton’s mare (Molly Ollys Wishes) looks like she will be the one to beat, but our horse is in very good form.
“The race is a little bit of an afterthought, to be honest. I don’t think we will go to Cheltenham with him. I have not had an in-depth conversation with Graham and Diana Whateley (owners), but I thought going to the Rendlesham and then straight to Aintree might be the right thing.
“He would have a good chance at Aintree. He will be a single-figure price at Aintree and will be a double-figure price at Cheltenham, so it probably seems the most sensible thing to do.”
The aforementioned Molly Ollys Wishes goes back against the boys after winning a Grade Two Mares’ Hurdle at Ascot.
Top Ville Ben, a possible Grand National contender for Phil Kirby, sticks to the smaller obstacles for the time being after winning the Cazoo Hurdle at Lingfield.
Kirby said: “He’s going to get his ground and he didn’t do a lot wrong last time, so I thought we’d give it a go. Hopefully he’ll take another step forward.
“His National weight (10st 5lb) was as expected really. He’s pretty much guaranteed to get in and he’s got a nice weight if the ground came up soft enough for him.
“I’d imagine he won’t run again between Saturday and the National. The plan was to give him a spin round over fences in between, but I’ll probably see if we can give him a racecourse gallop somewhere.”
Emitom won the Rendlesham two years ago and bids to regain his title after finishing second to Top Ville Ben at Lingfield.
Wholestone, representing the father-son team of Nigel and Sam Twiston-Davies, completes the line-up – making his first appearance in 455 days.
“He’s coming back from injury, he’s done loads of work and he hasn’t had an away day, but that’s the way we train a lot of ours – getting him as fit as we can without taking him away,” said the jockey.
“Naturally he’ll improve for coming back to the races. We’re happy with him and he still shows his old spark. It’s a nice race to see where we’re at and we’ll work out which way we go from there.”
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