Hudson De Grugy has the benefit of a course and distance victory to his name as he bids to scoop the first prize in the Sovereign Handicap Hurdle on day one of the Winter Million meeting at Lingfield on Friday.
The five-year-old put up a game performance when beating Calico by two and a quarter lengths on heavy ground last month, and with similar conditions guaranteed at the Surrey venue, trainer Gary Moore goes there with an air of quiet confidence.
Hudson De Grugy has been raised 3lb for that success, but Moore is optimistic the horse is up to it, in an event that carries a prize fund of £100,000.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing him run. Hopefully he’s got a reasonable chance,” said the West Sussex handler.
“He’s gone up in the weights a bit, but hopefully he’s improving enough to counteract that. He won over the course last time and conditions shouldn’t be a problem.”
Lucky Max bids to take his unbeaten run this season to four. The six-year-old, trained by Sean Doyle, is one of three Irish contenders in the £100,000 event and heads to Surrey in great form after two victories at Cork and one at Clonmel.
Doyle is hopeful his upward trajectory can continue, with his mark having risen from 96 in Ireland to 136 in England so far this term.
“He’s just improved and improved, we don’t know how much improvement is left in him but he’s definitely up to that mark now,” said the County Wexford handler.
“It’s the next step for him now, we want to step him up and see if he’s good enough to compete at that level.
“We’re going to find out more about how good he is on Friday.”
Emmet Mullins is the other Irish trainer tempted by the prize money on offer at Lingfield and he has a pair of entrants in the same race.
Carrarea – to be ridden by Paul Townend and vying for favouritism with Metier – has gone close twice in hurdle events this season and was beaten just a head at Fairyhouse in November on his handicap debut.
“It was a good run by Carrarea last time. It was his first run in a handicap, so hopefully the experience should help him,” Mullins told Sky Sports Racing.
“Paul is over there for Ascot on Saturday so it was good to take advantage of that.”
Sevenna Star is the other Mullins challenger, a horse previously campaigned on the Flat by John Gosden and John Ryan and one who is yet to lose his maiden status over obstacles.
“He was a good younger horse in his day on the Flat, but he’s had his issues and problems,” he said.
“Hopefully, we seem to be getting on top of them in the last month or so. Mike (O’Connor, jockey) is a good young rider and has had a bit of success for me in the past.
“Picking between the two is a tricky one. Sevenna Star has had his issues, Carrarea has more potential but with the ground, the weight and Mike’s claim, maybe Sevenna Star could run into a pace, hopefully.”
Of former crack novice Metier, trainer Harry Fry said: “It was nice to see him bounce back in the big handicap hurdle at Ascot before Christmas and this race has been very much on the radar since then.
“Everything about the race should suit him well and we are looking forward to seeing him back on his favoured heavy ground.”
Paul Nicholls runs the lightly-raced Hacker Des Places for the first time since his sixth-placed effort in a Kempton handicap hurdle on December 27, a run which followed a 365-day injury-enforced absence.
“He was far from disgraced on his return at Kempton over Christmas after a long time off with an injury,” Nicholls said on his Betfair blog.
“He tired late on that day as I expected when a lack of peak fitness told and it wouldn’t surprise me if he needs this run too and will improve for it.”
Nicholls also has a contender in the two-mile seven-furlong Cazoo Hurdle, with Calva d’Auge looking to bounce back from a beaten effort at Newbury in November and rediscover the form that saw him win three times last season.
“He is a hardy character who has done very well for us, winning four of his last six starts, but there is a price to pay as he has edged up to a career high handicap mark of 146,” the trainer said.
“So he is not the easiest to place now but he is reliable, stays well, handles any ground and will run his usual honest race.”
Phil Kirby will saddle probable Grand National-entrant Top Ville Ben for the same race, a horse more readily associated with steeplechasing as he has not started over hurdles on British turf since 2018.
His last run resulted in a good third in the Rowland Meyrick at Wetherby on Boxing Day and while a tilt at Doncaster’s Sky Bet Chase was next on the agenda, the softer going at Lingfield appeals to the trainer.
“It’s a good opportunity and good prize money,” he said.
“He goes there in good form and his last run was a good run.
“I’m worried the ground is going to dry up in the Sky Bet Chase for him so this fills a bit of a hole.
“He’ll like the ground and it’s a small field, he should have a good chance.”
Kirby also has a runner in the weatherbys nhstallions.co.uk Novices’ Chase, with Bushypark due to make his third start over fences in the two-mile-seven-furlong event.
The gelding was a five-times winner over hurdles and made a victorious start to his chasing career with a debut success at Kelso in early December, but a subsequent run at Haydock later in the same month resulted in a well-beaten third.
Kirby could find nothing amiss with the bay following that performance and has every hope he will return to form at Lingfield.
“We were a bit disappointed with him last time, I thought he went there in very good form and the form has worked out from Kelso as the second-placed horse has come out and finished second in a Grade Two (Doyen Breed),” he said.
“He seems in good order, there’s nothing come to light so hopefully he can bounce back and he goes there in good form.
“He’s a tough little horse and I don’t think the race coming up quite soon will be an issue.”
Nicholls’ Broken Halo is well-fancied for the same race after his taking 19-length success in a novice race at Exeter on New Year’s Day, a performance that was his second start over fences.
“He was always going to be a chaser and he won very nicely on his second start over fences at Exeter on New Year’s Day, despite the trip being shorter than ideal for him,” Nicholls said.
“While this race is a step up in class for Broken Halo, he handles deep ground, is a stout stayer, and could run tidily.”
Kerry Lee is hoping the testing conditions will benefit Financier when he takes his chance in the racehorselotto.com Handicap Chase.
The nine-year-old returns to a two-mile trip after finishing seventh at Ascot on his seasonal debut when stepped up to two miles and three furlongs in the Howden Handicap Chase.
“He seems to be at his best on very soft ground and over two miles,” Lee said.
“It will be very sticky by Friday if there’s no rain but if anyone is going to handle that, he will.
“He seems to be very well at home and we’re trying to play to his strengths.
“He’s an absolute gentle giant, he’s about 18 hands and he’s just the most gorgeous horse.”