Gary Moore says Hudson De Grugy will “have to up his game” if he is to win what promises to be a cracking renewal of the Listed Betfair Daily Rewards December Handicap Hurdle at Sandown on Saturday.
Despite a delicious card boasting two tasty Grade One events, the concluding two-mile hurdle is shaping up to be a fascinating prep for the Ascot Betfair Exchange Trophy on December 18.
Hudson De Grugy heads the market with the sponsors following his two-and-a-half-length success over course and distance on his seasonal debut, but his Horsham trainer feels the four-year-old must prove he is worthy of a step up in class.
“Hudson De Grugy goes for the Listed Hurdle. He has worked well this week,” said Moore.
“He is a young horse carrying a lot of weight (10st 11lb). This is a lot different to the races he has won around there and he will have to up his game to win. He will appreciate a drop more rain as well.”
The same sentiments apply to Metier, who held an entry in last weekend’s Grade One Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle, before trainer Harry Fry withdrew the five-year-old, fearing quicker ground.
Metier rattled up a hat-trick of victories from four runs last season, which included a 12-length heavy-ground victory in the Grade One Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle at Sandown.
Fry said: “The lack of rain and softer ground is proving difficult, but we are under the impression that conditions will get slower and that is what we are after.
“He is ready to get started and we are back to the scene of his greatest triumph. It will tell us plenty about where we are for the rest of the season running off a mark of 144.
“We are looking forward to seeing him out again.”
Benson is looking to win back-to-back renewals for Dr Richard Newland and the six-year-old drops back in trip after finishing fifth over two miles and five furlongs in a Cheltenham handicap on his return to action last month.
Newland said: “It is an obvious target for us and he has run well the last two times he has run at Sandown.
“He is in good form and I think this trip might be better for him. It was his first run, but I still feel he weakened a bit. I’d like to think he has a bit more scope in him over this trip.
“Benson has a tongue tie and this will likely be very different ground to what he won on last year, but we will take our chance.”
Lucy Wadham is hoping the rain arrives for Miss Heritage, who was runner-up in the Imperial Cup at Sandown last season.
The consistent seven-year-old mare finished runner-up five times in her last seven starts last season, as well as landing a handicap at Warwick, but the Newmarket handler feels she could find life more difficult this term.
Wadham said: “She was absolutely brilliant last season and thrives on very soft ground, so I am a bit anxious, as they were talking about having eight millimetres of rain on Friday night, but that may not arrive now.
“We will be keeping an eye on that, but she is in great form and has had a run. We are now in December and while the ground is winter ground, normally at this time of year it is bottomless.
“It is hard because you can’t hold them up forever, but the prize money is good.
“We are confident in her well-being, but she is obviously paying for last year in terms of her rating.
“That said, she ran an absolute belter at Ascot on her seasonal debut on what was just good ground and the softer it is, the better her chance.”
Clerk of the Course, Andrew Cooper, is keeping a watchful eye on the weather forecast, after the Esher track missed any significant rain on Thursday night.
After walking the course again late Friday morning, Cooper said: “We are going to leave it as we tweaked it to this morning, which is the chase course being good (good to soft in places) and the hurdles course good to soft (good in places).
“We thought we might see some rain here last night, but it just petered out by the time the milder air got to us and other than a bit of drizzle, which didn’t measure anything, we saw nothing. There was no rain.
“There is a risk of rain later in the day today. For the bulk of racing we should stay dry, but there is a system coming across from the west that could catch us. The uncertainty for us is how far north it gets. There could be a period of rain early evening. I have seen five-plus millimetres on the forecast and if it does get to us, it could be a reasonable drop.
“It is uncertain. We have had that similar forecast twice this week and got absolutely nothing. It is more frustrating when it is vital and you haven’t done something because of that forecast, but it is more a Flat racing irrigation decision. We have had a dry November, but we had the wettest October we ever recorded here.”