Nicky Henderson’s Buzz is likely to have his next outing in the Betfair Hurdle.
The grey finished third on his first outing of the season in the Welsh Champion Hurdle behind Sceau Royal, before bolting up at Ascot in November by seven lengths.
Raised 11lb for that success, he went back to Ascot a month later for the Betfair Exchange Trophy and beat all bar a rejuvenated Not So Sleepy, who was receiving 6lb as he won the race for the second year in succession.
At the prospect of heading for Newbury’s big handicap on February 13, James Stafford, racing manager for Buzz’s owners Thurloe Thoroughbreds, said: “We haven’t fully made up our minds, but I think it’s more likely than not.
“The irony of his last run was that we were beaten by Hughie Morrison – who we bought Buzz off!
“I don’t think Buzz really saw the winner on the other side of the course. If we’d followed him through we might have been even closer, but he ran a blinder off top-weight.
“He’s been put him up another 4lb, and we don’t know the rider yet.
“We could claim off him. That has been mooted, because he’ll probably end up with top-weight.
“We’ll keep an eye on everything. It’s unlikely to dry out too much, but he does like soft ground.
“Top-weights don’t have a great record in the race – which is something else to consider.”
Stafford is mindful of a proliferation of dangerous opponents in what is always a hugely competitive race.
“You usually want to be a novice on the up,” he added.
“I suppose the ones who have stuck out so far have been Cadzand, who was impressive at Kempton, and maybe Llandinabo Lad.
“Of course there’s the Tolworth winner (Metier) too, who could run – so there are plenty to be wary of.
“So, we could use a conditional to take some weight off – but I haven’t discussed that with Nicky yet. I think there’s a fair chance he’ll run, though.”
Buzz is currently a 14-1 chance with the sponsors.
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Connections of Buzz are excited at what the season ahead may hold for the grey, who heads to Ascot as favourite for the Betfair Exchange Trophy.
The six-year-old was a smart handicapper on the Flat for Hughie Morrison and joined Nicky Henderson before the start of last season.
He won his first two over hurdles, before finishing a well-beaten fourth in the Dovecote Novices’ Hurdle in February.
Buzz reappeared in the Welsh Champion Hurdle, where he was a respectable third to Sceau Royal, and won like the handicap good thing he appeared at Ascot last month – but that means he is burdened with top-weight in Saturday’s £100,000 contest.
“We’re excited that he’s going there with the profile he’s got,” said James Stafford, racing manager for owners Thurloe Thoroughbreds, who are donating 25 per cent of all prize-money won with Buzz and a pair of two-year-olds to the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity.
“He seems to have taken to hurdles now, and I think he improved during the off-season. He came back looking a stronger horse this season.
“Even if he hadn’t have won so far last time the handicapper would still have put him up a reasonable amount. Eleven pounds is a lot, and sometimes I do wonder if we should have just gone straight for this after the Welsh Champion Hurdle, but that’s with hindsight.
“It will be a big ask off top-weight in testing ground in a big race. It was soft last time, but I think it will be another degree softer on Saturday.
“I don’t think he represents a lot of value at around 4-1, but he is turning out to be a good horse for hurdling. We’re excited about him, but the testing ground will probably blunt his spring.
“People say if you’re able to win a good handicap with a big weight you’re a Graded horse in a handicap – and maybe he is, I don’t know yet, but he’s done well since he’s been with Nicky and he’s improving.
“I’m not sure where he’ll take us, but I do think he’s Graded class.”
Henderson also runs the JP McManus-owned Time Flies By
Dr Richard Newland has his string in excellent heart, and Benson has contributed to his impressive recent strike-rate – winning all three of his races this season.
He pulled it out of the fire at Sandown last time out, having looked beaten, but is 10lb higher in a much deeper race.
“The horse is fine, and I’m really looking forward to having a go at the race,” said Newland.
“But obviously it is another big step up, and he’s 10lb higher. I’m under no illusions – it’s going to be tougher – but he deserves his chance.
“I think he’ll go in the ground, it should be no problem – that’s what Sandown told us.”
Two major handicaps in Britain have gone to Irish trainers already this season, through Emmet Mullins’ The Shunter in the Greatwood Hurdle and Mick Winters’ Chatham Street Lad in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup last week.
This time Irish hopes rest on Peter Fahey’s novice Belfast Banter, who has scraped in at the bottom of the weights.
“He’s a consistent horse, he always runs a good race,” said Fahey.
“It’s his first run in a handicap. He’s a horse that will stay on well. He’ll be dropped in and ridden to pick up as much prize-money as he can. He will come from off the pace.
“The ground was testing at Punchestown last time, and he handled it. It will be a fast-run race and it could suit him, a fast-run handicap.
“He’s a grand horse to have and he should run a good race. Kevin (Sexton) is going over to ride him and knows him well.”
Anthony Honeyball is hoping Kid Commando can return to the form he showed when scoring over the course and distance in late October.
The six-year-old disappointed over a longer distance at Haydock on his only subsequent run, when carrying a big weight.
“There was no specific reason he he flopped at Haydock. He looked very progressive before that,” said the Dorset trainer.
“The one thing in our favour is he’s a course-and-distance winner, and I think the softer it is the better for him over two miles.
“When he won at Ascot it rained on the day and ended up being really soft, tiring ground. That did the trick for us there.
“It looks like it’s going to be soft or heavy. You’d have to think if we’d gone straight from his Ascot win to this race he’d be nearly favourite.
“He’s beaten horses like Buzz in novice hurdle company, and he beat Malaya very convincingly there first time out. He’s just got to get over his last run.”
Paul Nicholls’ Malaya has been kept fresh for this since chasing home Kid Commando.
“Conditions cannot be too testing for Malaya who is a smart mare, has decent form at Ascot and is only 2lb higher than when she won the Imperial Cup at Sandown 21 months ago,” Nicholls told Betfair.
“She ran really well on her return this season at Ascot late in October, finishing a clear second to a more than useful type Kid Commando, and I’ve been training her for a crack at this race since then.”
Morrison’s Not So Sleepy, who was last seen unshipping his jockey at the first flight in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle before carrying Silver Streak out at the second, is aiming to win the race from 15lb higher than 12 months ago.
His trainer had a nugget of cheeky advice for those taking him on again.
“He is what he is – he’s beginning to get quite a following now,” said Morrison.
“If I was every other horse I wouldn’t get near him – I’d let him win, and keep safe.”
As for the eight-year-old front-runner’s move up the weights, he added: “I think he probably won with a stone in hand last year – it will probably be a bit more testing this time!”
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Nicky Henderson’s Buzz has been installed as the 5-1 favourite for this month’s Betfair Exchange Handicap Hurdle at Ascot after 44 entries were received.
The grey bolted up on his last visit to the Berkshire venue, but will have an 11lb rise to contend with if taking his chance on December 19.
He is one of eight entries from Henderson’s Seven Barrows yard, last successful with Brain Power in 2016 – with Call Me Lord, Mister Coffey, Verdana Blue and Allart among his team.
Paul Nicholls has also entered eight – including Solo, Eglantine Du Seuil and Thyme White.
Last year’s winner Not So Sleepy has been given the option by Hughie Morrison, having caused carnage in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle last weekend when he unseated his rider at the first before carrying out Silver Streak at the second.
Anthony Honeyball will be hoping a return to Ascot sparks Kid Commando back to his best – because having won easily there first time out this season, he was only sixth next time at Haydock.
“Kid Commando is entered in the Betfair Exchange Trophy, and we will make a decision about his participation closer to the time,” said Honeyball.
“We are not really sure why he disappointed at Haydock last time out, but he has been fine since.
“He has winning form at Ascot and was impressive in October, so the Betfair Exchange Trophy is something to think about.
“He did have a tough race on heavy ground at Haydock – and while he may want something a week or so after Ascot, we have made the entry for the moment, and we will think about it. The fixtures haven’t been released for 2021 yet, and this race may come too soon – but I couldn’t find much else for him, so I have made the entry.”
Royal Ascot winner Scarlet Dragon, Neil Mulholland’s Milkwood and Dan Skelton’s novice Third Time Lucki are sure to have their supporters.
Mulholland will consider the race for Milkwood, who looked an unlucky third behind Floressa in the Listed Intermediate Hurdle at Newbury on Saturday.
“He’s very good – I’ve entered him for the Betfair Hurdle in Ascot on the 19th,” said the Wiltshire trainer.
“He’s come out of the race no problem. We’ll have a look at that and see.”
Betfair spokesman Barry Orr said: “Nicky Henderson is the most successful trainer in the race with four wins to his name – and Buzz, who was so impressive over course and distance when landing a handicap last month, is our clear market leader at 5-1.
“Not So Sleepy, up 15lb from his winning mark last year, didn’t get past the first hurdle in the Betfair Fighting Fifth. But at 25-1, he could be a popular pick again with punters.”
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