Itchy Feet could earn himself a crack at the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle with a bold showing at Haydock on Saturday.
Olly Murphy’s stable star reverts to the smaller obstacles for the William Hill Rendlesham Hurdle, having run exclusively over fences since October 2019, and also tests his stamina at three miles for the first time.
Earlier this season, the seven-year-old finished third in the Old Roan Chase at Aintree and second in the 1965 Chase at Ascot, before returning to the latter venue to finish second in a conditions chase a couple of months ago.
He suffered a broken blood vessel on his most recent outing, but Murphy expects to have a clearer idea of potential targets for the spring after this weekend’s Grade Two event.
He said: “He’s in good form and should handle the ground fine.
“Going over three miles for the first time is going to be a big question, but I think he’ll stay. I’ve wanted to run him over three miles for a while – he gets a nice weight allowance off a few horses in the race, and I’m looking forward to running him.
“He’d have to be running very well to warrant running in a Stayers’ Hurdle, but if he wins or runs very well that’s the route we’ll take.”
Itchy Feet is set to face seven rivals on Merseyside, including last year’s winner Emitom – who also switches back to hurdles following a spell chasing for Warren Greatrex.
David Pipe saddles bargain-buy Main Fact, who rattled off nine successive victories in 2020, the most recent of which came in the Grade Three Stayers’ Handicap Hurdle over this course and distance in November.
The Pond House handler believes the eight-year-old is better than he showed when tailed off in the Long Walk at Ascot on his latest appearance.
“He’ll love the ground, and we think he might be a little bit better going back left-handed,” said Pipe.
“I’m not sure he ran his true race at Ascot, but he was beaten a long way. We’ll find out on Saturday if he’s better than that.
“It looks a competitive race, and there’s a few with question marks. Our horse is in good form at home, and it will be interesting.”
Rebecca Curtis will be hoping a wind operation can help last year’s shock Stayers’ Hurdle winner Lisnagar Oscar bounce back from a couple of ordinary efforts so far this term, with Nicky Henderson’s On The Blind Side another to consider in an open contest.
The most valuable race on the card is the £75,000 William Hill Grand National Trial.
Pipe is represented by top-weight Ramses De Teillee, who was last seen finishing down the field in the Welsh Grand National.
“He made a mistake at the first fence at Chepstow and was always on the back foot after that,” said the trainer.
“He’s won at Haydock before, and conditions will suit. He’s got a lot of weight – so we’re taking 5lb off, with Fergus Gillard on board.
“If he turns up on his A-game then he’s got an each-way chance.”
Other contenders include Welsh Grand National runner-up The Two Amigos, and a pair of course-and-distance winners in Lord Du Mesnil and Perfect Candidate.
Lord Du Mesnil was beaten a long way in the Welsh National, but trainer Richard Hobson is optimistic of an improved performance.
He said: “It doesn’t really matter how fast they go. The thing is when it’s heavy ground, nothing’s going to go faster than him anyway.
“Obviously, we’ve had a few issues with him since Cheltenham (last spring), but he seems to be going the right way now.
“If he gets his ground at the weekend, and the way he’s been working, I would say he’d have a big shout.”
Perfect Candidate is in the twilight of his career at the age of 14, but proved he is no back number when winning at Haydock for the second time in November.
Trainer Fergal O’Brien said: “We’re looking forward to running him. There can’t be many 14-year-olds rated as high as he is now.
“If he can get round then he won’t be a million miles away. I suppose it all depends on if he can keep up with them.
“He owes us absolutely nothing. He loves Haydock, and Paddy (Brennan) knows him very well.”