Moore seeking further improvement from Hudson De Grugy

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.”

Ground puts Fighting Fifth off the agenda for Metier

The lack of rain is causing havoc for many trainers and among those is Harry Fry, who will not be declaring exciting prospect Metier for Saturday’s Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle.

The five-year-old 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.

Ranging between 10-1 and 16-1 in the ante-post market for the two-mile feature at the Gosforth Park track, Metier will not be making the journey north.

Fry said: “Metier won’t be going to the Fighting Fifth, because he will not have the ground he prefers.

“There are plenty of good races for him between now and Christmas and we are looking forward to seeing how far he can climb the ladder. He is only five and, of course, we will find out sooner rather than later if he is a handicapper or a graded hurdler.

“He is already a Grade One winner and he will be contesting graded races, but he has to go out and prove it off a mark of 144 and earn the right. We are very much looking forward to seeing if he can, but we are being held up by the ground.”

The same may well apply to the stable’s Boothill, who could have to wait for his chasing debut.

Third in a well-contested Listed handicap hurdle at Ascot last month, Fry is keen to send the six-year-old son of Presenting novice chasing and he holds an entry at Newbury on Friday.

Fry admitted: “We want to start Boothill over fences on Friday at Newbury. We think he is very talented horse, but again we will have to have a watching brief because the ground may come up too quick for him.”

In contrast, Evan Williams, who gained a welcome Grade Three success when Dans Le Vent landed the Betfair Exchange Stayers’ Handicap Hurdle at Haydock on Saturday, is praying the dry spell continues for Silver Streak.

Last season’s Kempton Christmas Hurdle winner was runner-up to Sceau Royal at the same track on his seasonal reappearance and is on course for the Fighting Fifth.

Williams said: “Unlike some, we are hoping the ground stays as dry as it is. The better the ground, the better it will be for him.

“Silver Streak is in good form and has been working well. It will be a tough race, but he will take his chance if the rain stays away.

“It was good to have a nice winner on Saturday and if Dans Le Vent never wins another race, he will still have done his job. He’s come out of that well, but we have no plans for him yet.”

Metier poised for Newbury comeback

Grade One-winning hurdler Metier is set to return to competitive action at Newbury next week following a racecourse gallop at the Berkshire circuit on Tuesday.

Harry Fry’s charge won his first three starts over obstacles last season – completing his hat-trick with a dominant display in the Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown in early January.

As a result, the five-year-old lined up as Britain’s chief hope for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March, but trailed home last of seven finishers.

Fry is hopeful Metier can show his true colours on Saturday week, however, when he is due to contest the Ladbrokes Intermediate Hurdle – better known as the Gerry Feilden.

“The Gerry Feilden has been on the agenda for Metier, (but) he will definitely need some rain – that is the one proviso,” the trainer told Racing TV.

“That is why he was so good last year – in those testing conditions.

“He’s had one bad run and I think we can forgive him that.”

Metier was joined in his racecourse gallop by stable companion Boothill, who caught the eye on his seasonal reappearance when third in a competitive handicap hurdle at Ascot last month.

Boothill enjoyed a morning spin at Newbury
Boothill enjoyed a morning spin at Newbury (Adam Davy/PA)

While on paper that was a fine effort by a horse running over obstacles for only the second time, Fry feels he is better than he showed and is excited to see him kick off his chasing career at Newbury.

“The two-mile novices’ handicap chase on the Friday will be Boothill’s chasing debut,” Fry confirmed.

“We were actually disappointed to get beat (at Ascot) and it was my fault – I’d been training him for a novices’ handicap chase, which he couldn’t run in because he’d only had the one start over hurdles.

“He wasn’t fully wound up and blew up turning in. He’s a horse that’s had problems, but he came out of it in one piece and we brought him here today to bring him forward again.

“He’s a real bull of a horse, so that will have done him no harm at all and he’s schooled brilliantly.”

‘Horse of a lifetime’ Unowhatimeanharry retires

Harry Fry’s stable flagbearer Unowhatimeanharry has been retired from racing at the age of 13.

Unowhatimeanharry has been in Fry’s care for the past six seasons, initially under the ownership of the Harry Fry Racing Club before JP McManus bought him following his Grade One success in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at the 2016 Cheltenham Festival – the culmination of a five-race winning streak.

From there, he continued to win top-class hurdle contests and pocketed prizes such as Ascot’s Long Walk Hurdle, Cheltenham’s Cleeve Hurdle, two Punchestown Champion Stayers Hurdles and two Newbury Long Distance Hurdles.

A statement on Harry Fry’s website read: “We have decided to retire Unowhatimeanharry at the age of 13 after a stellar career as a staying hurdler.

“He has been a marvellous flagship for the yard over the past six years and a horse of a lifetime, having won four Grade One races and over £670,000 in prize money.

“Since he returned into training this autumn there have been little signs that the years are finally catching up with him. In a way, he was telling us it was time for him to take life easy.

“You always have to put the horse first in these situations – and Frank Berry, racing manager to his owner JP McManus, and I both felt it was the right decision to pull stumps now.

“Unowhatimeanharry has more than earned a long and happy retirement with us at Higher Crockermoor and will be in good company with (2012 Champion Hurdle winner) Rock On Ruby and other old soldiers in our care.”

Fry eyes bet365 Gold Cup with Ask Me Early

Harry Fry has pencilled in the bet365 Gold Cup as an end-of-season target for recent Uttoxeter winner Ask Me Early, as long as the ground is suitable.

The seven-year-old bounced back from a disappointing effort at Sandown to run out a cosy two-and-a-quarter-length winner on Midlands National day, and his trainer is now eyeing a return to Esher on the last day of the campaign.

He said: “He is in the Scottish National, but it is unlikely he will run there – and the preference at this stage would be the bet365 Gold Cup.

“His plans very much depend on the ground conditions, because his form has all been on slower ground, but we thought at this stage to give him this option.

“He was never comfortable from the word go on his previous start at Sandown, but Sean Bowen said he wasn’t happy going to post – and you could see early on he wasn’t travelling like he usually does.

“He has come out of the Uttoxeter race in really good order. This would be a good race to go for, because we have some good targets in mind as a second season chaser next season. We always thought he was a chaser and out-and-out, three-mile-plus stayer.

“Up until his Sandown run I was training him for the Midlands National. On the back of Sandown we decided not to aim quite that high, but the novice handicap chase on the same card was a nice stepping stone – and he came through that well.

“I think he is a proper National horse next season, certainly a Welsh National type and potentially one for the Grand National.”

Ask Me Early is one of 66 entries for the three-mile-five-furlong feature – with other notable contenders at this stage including the Randox Grand National favourite Cloth Cap, multiple Grade One winner Bristol De Mai, Cheltenham Festival winner Vintage Clouds and Kitty’s Light, who heads the ante-post market with the sponsor at odds of 10-1.

The David Pipe-trained Ramses De Teillee finished down the field in the Midlands National, where his trainer felt he perhaps did not see out the four-and-a-quarter-mile trip, but his participation would also depend on conditions at Sandown.

Pipe said: “Ramses is only nine, but it feels like he has been around for a long time. He would need softer ground to run. I would say he would be OK if it was good to soft.

“He ran well in the Midlands National, where he probably didn’t quite get the trip. But he has come out well, and I was happy to put the entry in the bet365 Gold Cup.

“We will just have to see what the weather is like now. We always thought it would be a tough season. He won well at Cheltenham (in November), though, and ran well in defeat in France (first time out). He disappointed in the Welsh National – but since then he has run well at Haydock and the Midlands National.

“A horse like him is in the grip of the handicapper at the moment, but he has come down 2lb for his latest run. With his rating, it makes life a bit harder for him, but he always runs his heart out every time.”

Bet365 has backed the National Hunt finale since 2008, and announced an extension of its sponsorship for a further three years on Wednesday.

The firm also sponsors Sandown’s Classic Trial Day, which is staged 24 hours before the top-class jumps card on April 23.

‘We’ve got to raise our game – big time’

Harry Fry warns British National Hunt racing needs to substantially “raise our game” if it is to compete with its Irish counterparts.

British-trained runners won just five of the 28 races across the four-day Cheltenham Festival, with Nicky Henderson’s Grade One-winning duo Shishkin and Chantry House providing the highlights for the home team.

Fry fielded four runners at the Festival – including the well-fancied Metier, who beat just one home in the opening Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, which was won in spectacular fashion by Willie Mullins’ Appreciate It.

While full of respect for the achievements of the Irish runners, Fry thinks there are plenty of areas requiring swift attention if British trainers are to mount more of a challenge next year.

He said: “They’re doing everything better than we are, quite simply. We have to congratulate them on a fantastic week, and aspire to the heights they’ve hit.

“We’ve got to raise our game – big time.

“There’s going to be lots of thought and conversations going on. We’ve already started that, from recruiting the right horses to getting the right owners involved. It’s everything – it’s the race planning, the team at home, the staff that work with the horses.

“There’ll be a lot of British-based trainers taking a hard look at themselves and working out where we can raise our game – because we need to, or we’ve going to get left behind quickly.

“We’ve got big owners investing in Irish racing, because there is some sort of return, and there isn’t here. It’s hard to justify to owners when you’re running around for £3,000 in a race.

“I won the Grade One Tolworth, and I didn’t even win £20,000 for winning a Grade One.”

Charlie Longsdon, who had five Festival runners, believes better prize money in Ireland is key to the strong performance of the raiding party.

He said: “They’ve got better horses than we have. Prize money is the thing.

“We didn’t quite get it right in the handicaps – but their prize money is the main reason their horses are going so well, I think.”

Dan Skelton concedes the Irish horses are superior, but also feels it is time to review the National Hunt system in Britain.

The handler saddled 13 runners at the meeting, hitting the bar on multiple occasions, most notably with Nube Negra – who just failed to catch Put The Kettle On in the Champion Chase – and Langer Dan in the closing Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle.

He told ITV Racing: “They’re just better at the moment – it’s as simple as that.

“There is time now for a good look at everything. The whole British system needs a good look, and we need to come out with a plan to make sure we can compete going forward.

“We have to become better competitors – especially at that meeting – and this was the catalyst for it.

“I think you’ll see big changes because of it.”

Appreciate It seeks to make Mullins Supreme again

Willie Mullins will once again be the toast of punters if Appreciate It can add to the yard’s record six victories in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.

It is 26 years since Tourist Attraction provided the most successful trainer in Festival history with his very first victory at the showpiece meeting in the traditional curtain-raiser.

Ebaziyan was a shock winner for the master of Closutton in 2007, but Champagne Fever (2013), Vautour (2014), Douvan (2015) and Klassical Dream (2019) have all been well fancied and come up with the goods since.

Appreciate It, runner-up to stablemate Ferny Hollow in the Champion Bumper 12 months ago, is the latest product of the Mullins machine to bid for Supreme glory.

The champion trainer admits he expected to be running the seven-year-old in one of the longer Cheltenham novice hurdles at the start of the campaign, but he has more then earned his place in the two-mile opener with successive Grade Ones over that trip at Leopardstown.

Mullins said: “I had him down as a stayer, so the fact that he has that turn of foot is good too.

“What he did at Christmas was terrific, and I’m wondering whether he was as good in himself at the Dublin Racing Festival last month, or was it a better race?

“He did what he had to when he had to, and we all thought he was in trouble turning for home, but when Ballyadam came to him he got the job done – which was the sign of a good horse – and he’s been in great form since.”

Appreciate It on the gallops at Cheltenham
Appreciate It on the gallops at Cheltenham (David Davies/PA)

Mullins also saddles Blue Lord, who finished six lengths behind his stablemate when third in last month’s Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle – while the runner-up Ballyadam is in opposition again, having moved from Gordon Elliott’s yard to Henry de Bromhead.

The chief hope for the home team is Harry’s Fry’s Metier, who is unbeaten in three starts and could hardly have been more impressive when trouncing his rivals by 12 lengths in the Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown on his latest appearance.

“There’s only eight runners, but all the main contenders are there,” said Fry.

“We’re all systems go at our end. We’re really pleased with him at home – he’s fresh and well and goes there all guns blazing.

“He’s been very progressive. He’ll need to progress again, but there’s no reason why he can’t.

Harry Fry has high hopes for Metier
Harry Fry has high hopes for Metier (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“This will be the best ground he’s run on over hurdles, but he’s got Flat form on better ground, so I’m not overly concerned.

“He’ll either be good enough or he won’t – and I don’t think the ground will be an excuse, hopefully.”

Jonjo O’Neill’s Soaring Glory brings top-class handicap form to the table after landing last month’s Betfair Hurdle at Newbury.

De Bromhead’s second string Irascible, the Alex Hales-trained For Pleasure and Grumpy Charley from Chris Honour’s yard complete the field.

Metier encourages Fry en route to Festival target

Harry Fry’s confidence in Metier’s Cheltenham Festival challenge is growing after an encouraging Wincanton gallop by the unbeaten hurdler.

Metier, formerly trained in Ireland, has had a two-month break since taking his winning sequence to three in the Grade One Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle at Sandown.

Fry also anticipates ground conditions will also be suitable for his stable star in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, the opening race at the Festival.

“He’s our leading light and he went very well on Thursday,” said the trainer.

“We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, but it was just what I hoped to see.

“The forecast is for unsettled weather in the middle of next week, and that should hopefully help us see a combination of good to soft and soft, and that would be perfect for him.”

Of his three other runners, Fry is considering a crack at the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle with If The Cap Fits – who has been chasing this season.

He added: “I’m leaning towards going back over hurdles with him. He ran well behind Paisley Park in the Cleeve Hurdle last year and we know he’s a 160-plus horse over hurdles. That would put him in with an each way squeak.”

Veteran Unowhatimeanharry will take his place in the Pertemps Final as a teenager, while Whitehotchillifili is Fry’s final Festival contender in the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle.

Metier heading straight to Cheltenham for Supreme tilt

Harry Fry has revealed ante-post favourite Metier will sidestep the rescheduled Betfair Hurdle at Newbury on Sunday week and head straight to the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

The Mastercraftsman gelding is unbeaten in three starts over hurdles this term, completing his hat-trick with a runaway Grade One success in last month’s Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown.

Fry was preparing to let his stable star step into handicap company for the lucrative contest on Saturday – but with the cold snap leading to the entire meeting put back eight days, the trainer has confirmed a change of plan.

He said: “The Supreme Novices’ Hurdle is very much our number one target and while we were happy to have a go at the Betfair en route, next weekend is only just over three weeks before the Festival.

“It’s not like he was going to the Betfair rated 139 – he’s rated 149 and already a Grade One winner.

“We think he’s got a very good chance in the Supreme, so that’s where our focus is.

“Newbury and the BHA (British Horseracing Authority) and everyone involved deserve a lot of credit for rescheduling the whole fixture, but sadly it doesn’t fit in with our plan for Metier – it wasn’t to be.”

Metier is the shortest-priced British-trained runner for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at 7-1, with the Willie Mullins-trained Appreciate It the 7-4 favourite following his second Grade One success at Leopardstown last weekend.

Fry added: “Appreciate It probably wasn’t as visually impressive as he was at Christmas, but you still can’t knock him – he’s a dual Grade One winner.

“I don’t think we should dismiss Ballyadam either, who obviously didn’t run as well as he can at Christmas, but certainly ran much better to be second to Appreciate It the other day.

“As always there will be formidable opposition coming from the other side of the Irish Sea, which is another reason why we want to make sure we have our horse fresh and absolutely A1 for the big day.

“We’re looking forward to the challenge.”

Metier still on course for Betfair Hurdle

Ante-post favourite Metier heads 26 contenders in the hunt for Betfair Hurdle gold at Newbury.

Harry Fry’s charge was last seen when winning the Grade One Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown at the start of January, extending his unbeaten record over obstacles to three in the process.

He has dominated the market for Saturday’s big handicap ever since, although he is set to shoulder 11st 9lb – behind top weight Buzz on 11st 12lb.

Fry has another string to his bow in Lightly Squeeze – while Dan Skelton’s Cadzand, the Alan King-trained Edwardstone and Jonjo O’Neill’s Soaring Glory are others prominent in the betting.

O’Neill has also left in Sky Pirate, who has alternative weekend engagements over fences in both the Game Spirit Chase on the same card and the Kingmaker Novices’ Chase at Warwick.

Nicky Henderson has Mister Coffey in contention along with Buzz, while Chris Gordon is another who could be double-handed via Highway One O Two and Annual Invictus.

Paul Nicholls has three to pick from in Friend Or For, Thyme White and Wild Max – as does Evan Williams, leaving in Ballinsker, Dans Le Vent and Mack The Man, who still held every chance when brought down by the fall of Lightly Squeeze at the final flight last year.

Ben Pauling’s Shakem Up’Arry, owned by Harry Redknapp, chased home Metier in the Tolworth but has a 13lb pull at the weights.

Ben Pauling will be hoping to be celebrating again this weekend
Ben Pauling will be hoping to be celebrating again this weekend (Nigel French/PA)

“He’s in really good form, he’s been in good form all this season,” said Pauling, in a call hosted by Great British Racing.

“Harry was good enough to let me go over to Ireland and find him a good horse. He’s by Flemensfirth and has a proper jumping pedigree. He’s a big, raw horse – and it’s really been a patient game with this lad.

“We’re still having to be patient, we’ve kept him as a second-season novice. He probably would have won an egg-and-spoon race at Leicester but for tipping up – which for the way he jumps, is hard to believe.

“Obviously Metier came past us and won a shade cosily, but he had the rest of the field well beaten. It might not have been a vintage Tolworth – but looking back, it might not be as bad as people thought at the time.

“The likelihood is Daryl (Jacob) will ride again. He’s had a few different jockeys but we like to keep as consistent as we can. Daryl gets on well with him.

“I think this horse could be absolutely out of the top drawer next season. I think fences are what he wants and I really do think he’s got everything you need.”

Reynoldstown fits bill for Cap

The Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase at Ascot is the likely next target for Harry Fry’s stable star If The Cap Fits.

The top-class hurdler made a fine start to his career over fences at Ffos Las in October, before finding Nicky Henderson’s Pym too strong in a Listed event at Sandown the following month.

He looked set to finish nearer last than first in his bid for a second Grade One victory in the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day, but made late headway to finish third behind Shan Blue and The Big Breakaway.

If The Cap Fits again had to make do with minor honours when runner-up to the Paul Nicholls-trained Yala Enki in a conditions chase at Taunton last weekend, but Fry is confident improvement will be forthcoming as he prepares for Ascot on February 20.

“He didn’t run badly at Taunton,” said the Dorset trainer.

“He should have capitalised on the mistake that Yala Enki made four out – but he is still a novice, and that was only his fourth start over fences.

“It was a better run than at Kempton on Boxing Day, although he only ended being beaten seven lengths in a Grade One that day, and we will probably look towards the Reynoldstown at Ascot.

“A decision will be made on the back of that whether he goes to Cheltenham or whether we wait for Aintree.”

Either way, Fry believes the Grade One-winning hurdler can progress further in his chasing career.

“He has not been running badly, but I still feel there is more to come from him over fences,” he added.

“He has won at Ascot before, so he should be fine going back there.”

Fry has Supreme thoughts for Metier at Cheltenham

Harry Fry admitted he is leaning towards the Sky Bet Supreme for Metier rather than the Ballymore after entries for the novice hurdles at the Cheltenham Festival were revealed.

The sponsors make Metier their second-favourite after the five-year-old recorded an impressive 12-length victory in the Grade One Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown earlier this month.

Fry said: “Metier is a Tolworth winner and the Supreme is the much more likely of the two races, rather than the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, but we will just keep our options open at this stage.

“He has got an entry in the Betfair Hurdle in just over a fortnight’s time, but there is no definite decision yet. He has done everything right so far over hurdles and is a very exciting novice that seems to be progressing into either a Supreme or a Ballymore horse.

Metier looks a very smart prospect
Metier looks a very smart prospect (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“There is a race at Exeter the day after (the Betfair) in which he would only have a 5lb penalty, but then if you are looking at that why not run in a Betfair?

“If the weather keeps as it is there is every chance he will line up in the Betfair Hurdle. I think a better race with an even stronger gallop will suit him better again. We were able to drop him in the last day in the Tolworth, but we would have still been happier if they had gone faster.

“All his form is on slower ground and it would be interesting to see him on better ground. At some point we will encounter it, but good horses go on all ground.

“We would have to weigh up and decide the pros and cons whether going on better ground means we would have to step him up in trip.”

Fry has also entered Boothill in both the Supreme and the Ballymore. The six-year-old made a winning hurdling in good style at Taunton last month. 

“Boothill had a splint flare up about 10 days after he won at Taunton and that just held us up for a few weeks,” Fry went on.

“I had hoped to get him back for the Sidney Banks at Huntingdon, but that is just going to come too soon. He could end up going to the Dovecote at the end of February. In the worst-case scenario, he might even end up going straight to Cheltenham – I would like to get another run into him between now and then, but we will be guided by him.

“We are back pressing on again with him. Hopefully, we don’t get a recurrence of the splint injury and get a clear run with him. Certainly, on the manner of his debut win at Taunton, there looks to be lots to look forward to.”

He added: “Boothill and Metier are completely different types. Metier is an ex-Flat horse that is very workmanlike at home and is very much a hurdler, whereas Boothill is a proper chasing type who impresses in everything he does at home.”

The Supreme, the opening contest on day one over two miles, has attracted 96 entries, with a record 59 trained in Ireland – including the 5-2 ante-post favourite, Appreciate It from the Willie Mullins yard.

There are 120 entries, 65 from Ireland, for the Ballymore over two miles and five furlongs.

Disputing favouritism are Henry de Bromhead’s Bob Olinger and the Paul Nicholls-trained Bravemansgame.

Willoughby Court landed the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle for Ben Pauling in 2017 and the trainer looks to have another live contender with Optimise Prime. The five-year-old caused a 50-1 upset when winning on his hurdling debut at Hereford in November and followed up with a smooth victory at the same venue in December.

Bourton-on-the-Water based Pauling said “Optimise Prime is in great order.

“He is entered at Cheltenham on Saturday. If he doesn’t run there because the ground is terrible, he would probably wait for the Sidney Banks at Huntingdon.

“He is a lovely horse that has done nothing wrong in winning a couple of races at Hereford, which will hopefully work out OK, but he has got to prove he can do it at the next level now.

“I took him out of the Leamington at Warwick as it was bottomless ground and I wasn’t overly fussed about missing it as we always knew that his next race would be his prep for the Cheltenham Festival, where we plan to go for the Ballymore.”

Gordon Elliott’s charge, one of 20 Irish-trained entries, has won all his three starts over the smaller obstacles culminating in the Knight Frank Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown.

Ante-post favourite

Zanahiyr is heading for the Triumph Hurdle
Zanahiyr is heading for the Triumph Hurdle (PA)

is among 54 entries for the JCB Triumph Hurdle.

Fry is hoping he could provide the fourth successful female winner of the JCB Triumph Hurdle with Fortunes Melody.

A Listed winner at Auteuil in September, she placed on her next three starts in Graded company for her former trainer David Cottin. She has yet to start for Fry.

He said: “Fortunes Melody has some very good form in France and is the second highest-rated juvenile filly there. We are very excited and grateful for her owners Simon (Munir) and Isaac (Souede) for giving us the opportunity to train her.

“She has been with us since the turn of the year, but has been in England since the start of December. She spent some time with Sally Taylor who does a lot of the pre-training for the owners, so she has had the chance to settle and acclimatise there.

“We are learning about her all the time, but hopefully she will be ready to run in the next couple of weeks. We have given her the Triumph Hurdle entry as an option. We need to run her first to see what we have got.

“There is some good form in the book already though as she is a winner of a Listed hurdle in France.”

There are 74 entries, 39 from Ireland, in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle over three miles.

Prominent in an open betting market are the Mullins-trained Stattler, impressive when scoring in a maiden hurdle at Leopardstown last month, and Barbados Buck’s from the Nicholls stable.

Tolworth hero Metier tops 49 Betfair Hurdle possibles

Harry Fry is considering the Betfair Hurdle for his impressive Tolworth winner Metier, with the sponsor installing him as the 6-1 favourite on release of the entries.

Useful on the Flat in Ireland for Andy Slattery, Metier has taken to hurdles exceptionally well following a year off, winning at Newton Abbot and Ascot before his romp in last Saturday’s Grade One at Sandown.

With nothing else on Fry’s radar, it will either be Newbury on February 13, for which Metier is one of 49 entries, or straight to the Cheltenham Festival for the unbeaten novice.

“The owner and I discussed plans after Saturday’s win and wanted to give ourselves the option of the Betfair Hurdle, because we think it’s a race that could really suit him,” said Fry.

“He will either go for that en route to Cheltenham or go straight for Cheltenham – we will just look at the entries and weights and see how the horse is in the coming weeks.

“We’ve thought for a while now that a race like the Betfair Hurdle would be right up his street – a really strongly run two-mile race on a big, galloping track like Newbury, plus as an ex-Flat horse we know he will handle a big field.

“We’ve been delighted with the progress he’s made this season and are really excited to see how far he can go over hurdles in the future – hopefully he can make a mark at the spring Festivals.”

Fry also has another entry in Lightly Squeeze, who was still in front when coming down at the final flight in the race last season.

Trainer Harry Fry has two live entries in the Betfair Hurdle
Trainer Harry Fry has two live entries in the Betfair Hurdle (John Walton/PA)

“We’ve also entered Lightly Squeeze, who was running a great race in this last year when taking a heavy fall at the last,” Fry added.

“He ran a nice race in the Betfair Exchange Trophy at Ascot last time out, so we potentially have two darts to throw at race.”

Paul Nicholls has a numerically strong entry with Solo, Thyme White, Christopher Wood, Miranda, Friend or Foe and Wild Max.

Nicky Henderson, the most successful trainer in the race with five victories, can choose from Buzz, Fred, Marie’s Rock and Mister Coffey.

Last year’s runner-up Ciel De Neige could run for Willie Mullins, with Dan Skelton holding two live chances in Third Time Lucki and Cadzand.

Ballyandy, Soaring Glory, The Shunter and Albert’s Back are others among a strong field of contenders.

Metier extends unbeaten run with impressive Tolworth triumph

Metier maintained his unbeaten record over obstacles with a facile victory in the Unibet Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle at Sandown.

A useful performer on the Flat in Ireland for Andrew Slattery, the Mastercraftsman gelding subsequently changed hands for 150,000 guineas to pursue a jumping career with Harry Fry.

He made a fine start for his new connections when impressing on his hurdling bow at Newton Abbot in October – and having since doubled his tally with a dominant front-running display at Ascot, Metier was the 7-4 favourite to complete his hat-trick in this Grade One feature.

Always travelling well in the hands of Sean Bowen, the five-year-old loomed up to challenge long-time leader Shakem Up’Arry early in the home straight.

The latter did his best to make a race of it, but Metier had far too many guns and powered clear in the testing conditions to score emphatically by 12 lengths.

Paddy Power reacted by cutting the winner to 10-1 from 25-1 for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham in March.

Fry said: “He comes alive on the racecourse. It was ideal we didn’t have to make our own running today, as they went a good tempo. Sean said he just jumped for fun.

“Turning into the bottom, he had a double handful. Very rarely do races go quite so smoothly, and certainly not at this level, but I’m absolutely delighted for Gary Stevens. We bought him over a year ago now and he had to wait over 12 months to see him first run. I’m delighted that patience is being rewarded.

“He relishes those conditions. He is a very exciting hurdler. With the action on him, I wouldn’t be in too much of a hurry to run him on drying ground, but good horses have to run on all grounds.

“This is a lovely race to win and I’m absolutely delighted to get a first Grade One winner from the new yard, having only moved in back in June.

Metier clears the last at Sandown
Metier clears the last at Sandown (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“A lot of people have helped us to get where we are. To get the new yard up and running, moved in and set up, is a lot of hard work from the team – not least for my wife Ciara, who not only is assistant trainer but is married to me, so it is a double-edged sword. It is great for all the team.

“I think you’ve got to consider that (Supreme). We will enjoy this moment then work out whether we go straight there (Cheltenham) or look at something in between.

“The Betfair (Hurdle) entries close this week, for which you have to have a third run by next weekend anyway, but he has probably gone about it the wrong way. He will certainly have an entry. It will be an interesting conversation with the handicapper.”

Honeyball looking to headgear to reignite Jepeck spark

Anthony Honeyball hopes the addition of cheekpieces and a tongue tie can help Jepeck bounce back to form and secure back-to-back victories in the Unibet Veterans’ Handicap Chase at Sandown.

The 12-year-old will bid to open his account for the season by repeating his success of 12 months ago in the three-mile final of the veterans’ series.

After pulling up over course and distance in November on his return to action, Jepeck suffered the same result on his most recent outing in last month’s Welsh National Trial at Chepstow.

Honeyball said: “He seems in good form at home – we’ve had this race in mind since he qualified at Carlisle at the end of last season and we have gone through similar paces to end up in the final.

“Last season he was coming into the race off some pretty good efforts over hurdles and his confidence was sky high.

“His two runs this season have been nothing to get excited about, but hopefully the addition of cheekpieces and a tongue tie can spark him up.

“He is back down to the same mark as last year’s race, but I think it is a tougher race this year. There are no signs at home to suggest why he won’t run well.”

Crosspark has not won since landing the 2019 Eider Chase at Newcastle and has finished second in his three starts so far this season.

Caroline Bailey, trainer, said: “Crosspark is fit and well and he goes there in good form from his last run at the track.

“He has gone up 6lb since the start of the season as he is running so well, but you can’t ignore that (the rise) is frustrating when they aren’t winning.

“The handicapper thinks he is still improving from 10 to 11, but whether he has too much weight, only time will tell.

“He won’t particularly like it if it becomes sticky, but it was pretty horrible last time and he ran well and we know he stays well.”

Potters Legend will be out to gain a second success this season having made a winning return at Warwick (Adam Davy/PA)
Potters Legend will be out to gain a second success this season having made a winning return at Warwick (Adam Davy/PA)

Lucy Wadham expects recent Cheltenham runner-up Potters Legend to have no problems handling the testing conditions.

She said: “I thought we were going to get there at Cheltenham, but both he and third probably helped the winner pick up. However, he ran on well to the line.

“This race has been in the back of our mind, but he would have probably run at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day, so it’s plan B.

“He is probably as good now as he has ever been as he has just matured as a chaser. He is a very strong horse, so he pretty much handles any ground.”

Sametegal and Sam Twiston-Davies (right) gets up to win the 2016 Greatwood Gold Cup at Newbury (Jonathan Brady/PA Images)
Sametegal and Sam Twiston-Davies (right) gets up to win the 2016 Greatwood Gold Cup at Newbury (Jonathan Brady/PA Images)

Paul Nicholls believes a day out hunting has sharpened up Sametegal, who will be seeking a first success since the 2016 Greatwood Gold Cup at Newbury.

“This veterans’ race has been the target for Sametegal ever since he finished sixth in the Grand Sefton Chase over the National fences at Aintree,” said Nicholls in his Betfair column.

“He is so consistent he doesn’t get much help from the handicapper and he ran as well as ever when a close third behind Step Back at Sandown over three miles early in November.

“Sametegal loved his day out with the Blackmore and Sparkford Hunt the other day. I expect him to run his usual honest race, though he does find it hard to win.”

Sir Ivan has run well in both starts over two and a half miles this season, however trainer Harry Fry expects the 11-year-old to be equally effective stepped back up in trip.

Fry said: “He’s been running consistently well this season, which has always been his downfall really because he never moves much in the handicap.

“He ran his best race over fences in a long time the last day at Leicester.

“Obviously this is a step back up in trip, but he’s got form over the distance and takes his chance.”