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.
“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 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.
“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.”
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Harry Fry believes Metier has everything in his favour ahead of his bid for Grade One honours in the Unibet Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown.
A 150,000 guineas purchase last year after displaying smart form on the Flat in Ireland, the son of Mastercraftsman made an excellent start to his jumping career on his debut for new connections at Newton Abbot in October.
Metier doubled his tally with a dominant front-running victory at Ascot last month and is well fancied to complete his hat-trick in this weekend’s top-level feature.
“He’s in good form, he has form in the ground and a stiff two miles will suit him,” said Fry.
“We’re really looking forward to seeing if he can continue on an upward curve.”
The Michael Scudamore-trained Do Your Job won a couple of minor races at Ffos Las and Ayr in October, before filling the runner-up spot behind Llandinabo Lad in a Listed contest at Haydock.
The winner has since finished second in a Grade Two at Ascot to give the form some substance.
Scudamore said of Do Your Job: “He goes there in great form and didn’t run a bad race at Haydock. In hindsight, things probably didn’t quite go to plan that day. I’m not saying we’d have won, but with different tactics, perhaps we might have finished closer to the winner.
“The form doesn’t look too bad now. We probably have to step up again on Saturday, but there’s no reason why he shouldn’t handle the track and he’s handled that ground before.
“He deserves his place in the field.”
Ben Pauling’s Shakem Up’Arry, who is owned by football manager Harry Redknapp, brings plenty of jumping experience to the table as a second-season novice.
The Flemensfirth gelding chased home the brilliant Shishkin in a novice hurdle at Newbury last term, before finishing down the field in the Ballymore at the Cheltenham Festival, but he has subsequently turned in two sound efforts.
“I think he’ll run a massive race on Saturday. He’s a very nice horse who is 100 per cent a chaser for next season, but two miles on soft ground around Sandown is about as ideal as you could get for him really,” said Pauling.
“He’s in good form and had a solid run to finish fourth in a handicap at Haydock last time out. I hope he’ll run a nice race.”
Jane Williams saddles Galice Macalo, who after winning at Warwick and Stratford in October, finished runner-up in a competitive Listed handicap hurdle over this course and distance four weeks ago.
The trainer’s son Chester Williams takes the ride, and said: “I can’t wait to ride her – she is a very exciting mare. She has done everything right this season and was probably unlucky to be beaten by a good horse last time.
“She is very progressive. We know that the track and trip suit her well and she loves deep ground.
“She has got to go there with every chance. It would be lovely to get a Grade One on the CV.”
Grandeur D’Ame (Oliver Sherwood), Smurphy Enki (Chris Gordon) and Tile Tapper (Chris Honour) complete the field.
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Metier, impressive winner of his two starts over the smaller obstacles, is among 12 entries for the Unibet Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle at Sandown.
Harry Fry’s unbeaten novice has shown himself to be a bright prospect with victories at Newton Abbot and Ascot.
Connections must rate the Mastercraftsman gelding highly to put him in a Grade One at this early stage of his career.
Dan Skelton is three-handed at this stage in Saturday’s Grade One with Faivoir, Third Time Lucki and Wilde About Oscar – another who has won both hurdles starts.
Tom Lacey has put in Adrimel, also unbeaten in his two runs over hurdles – at Sandown and Haydock.
Completing the dozen are Do Your Job, Fifty Ball, Galice Macalo, Grandeur D’Ame, Shakem Up’arry, Smurphy Enki and Tile Tapper.
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Chantry House made his debut over fences a triumphant one in the Ascot Racecourse Supports Safer Gambling Week Novices’ Chase at Ascot.
Last season’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle third looked a natural on his first chasing start, running out a convincing winner of the two-mile-three-furlong contest.
Settled in behind the early pace, the Nicky Henderson-trained six-year-old had his task made easier when chief market rival Pic D’Orhy took a fall at the third-last.
Left with just outsider of the trio Up The Straight to beat, the 4-9 favourite only needed to be shaken up over the final two fences before crossing the line 26 lengths clear of his sole rival.
Henderson said: “He was having a really good blow. Nico (de Boinville) said coming out of Swinley Bottom he was taking his first blow. It’s quite tiring ground out there. I was really pleased with his jumping. It was good and tidy, but you have to be a bit careful going down that hill with one first time out.
“Once he pulled him out and said ‘come on, go for it’ he was quite relaxed and warmed to it all the way up the hill.
“You need to be fairly sure of a horse to bring them here first time.”
Assessing future plans for Chantry House – who is quoted at 12-1 for the Marsh Novices’ Chase in March with Coral and Betfair – the Seven Barrows handler hinted a return to Ascot next month for the Grade Two Jacquart Noel Novices’ Chase could be on the agenda.
He said: “He learnt a lot today and could come back here at Christmas.
“He certainly is not going to go down in trip and that was about ideal for now. One day he is almost certainly going to get further.”
Danny Kirwan got his career back on track with a front-running success in the Lexicon Recruitment “National Hunt” Maiden Hurdle.
The Paul Nicholls-trained seven-year-old went two places better than on his comeback at Aintree to secure his first victory in over two years.
Although favourite Time Flies By looked a serious threat late on, the 3-1 shot found plenty from the front to claim victory by three and a half lengths.
Nicholls – out of luck with Pic D’Orhy in the opener – said: “He has had plenty of problems and needed his first run at Aintree. I thought he came on a lot for that.
“It has been stop-start with him and it was nice he improved from that and he will improve again from today.
“He is a chaser in the making, but I guess we will stay over hurdles for the immediate future. He will make a lovely chaser one day. He will definitely have one more hurdle race I’d say, probably over a bit further.”
The Ditcheat handler has not ruled out pitching Danny Kirwan into Grade One company for the first time in next month’s Challow Hurdle at Newbury.
He added: “You wouldn’t be afraid to (run in a Challow Hurdle) on very testing ground, but we have two or three for that. Some of the younger ones wouldn’t want that and if the ground was heavy you wouldn’t rule something like that out.”
Harry Fry will explore big-race options with Metier following his stylish victory in the Play The Coral ‘Racing Super Series’ Introductory Hurdle.
The former Flat racer had little trouble following up his debut victory over hurdles as he gave Fry his third success in the race.
Always looking in control out in front, the even-money favourite pulled smartly clear from the last before defeating Tile Tapper by five and a half lengths.
Fry said: “We didn’t necessarily want to make it, but he has got form on the Flat. When it was pretty apparent there was going to be no pace, there was no point sitting behind off that.
“He just showed signs of inexperience, which he is entitled to as that is only his second time over hurdles. He was just having a good look at his hurdles out in front.
“What really impressed me was turning in – when Sean (Bowen) went for him he went again and attacked the last two. He is highly exciting and there is lots to look forward to.”
Fry is weighing up two potential targets for Metier, who was introduced at 25-1 for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle by Coral and Betfair.
He added: “It is a nice dilemma to have where we go next. Do we come back here in a month for the Grade Two (Kennel Gate) or maybe go for a Tolworth. We will see, but it’s a nice position to be in.”
Espoir De Guye put in a fine weight-carrying performance when returning to winning ways in the Coral Handicap Chase.
Last sighted failing to complete behind Imperial Aura at the Cheltenham Festival, the six-year-old – a winner at Ascot in December – was one of three still holding a chance on the approach to the final fence, which was dolled off due to damage sustained earlier in the race.
And the 5-2 favourite duly rallied in game fashion to get the better of Earlofthecotswolds by half a length.
Winning trainer Venetia Williams said: “He had a bit of bad luck at the Festival, as he got kicked at the start and it looked like it was going to be a false start and it wasn’t. It is great to bring him back to Ascot and pick up where he left off.
“I must admit I was a bit worried at the last. The fence was damaged and the chevrons were up, but for us in the grandstand all we could see was the white back of the chevron which blended in behind the white rail. For a few moments I was worried the race was void.
“I’ll speak to the owners now and see what our options are, then make a plan together.”
Buzz provided the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity with a financial boost after completing doubles for Henderson and De Boinville with a facile victory in the Coral ‘Fail To Finish’ Free Bet Handicap Hurdle.
Henderson said: “Thurloe Thoroughbreds have several horses in training, but with Buzz and a pair of two-year-olds 25 per cent of all the prize-money they win will go to the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity which is a fantastic gesture.”
On the even-money winner, he added: “He loves that ground and he had run well at Ffos Las. With ours, it’s funny – they are taking a bit of a race to get ready and there is a horse having his second run and it makes a big difference.
“We could come back here for the big handicap before Christmas or look at something at Newbury. He looked good there, but the race was run to suit him.”
The stands may have been empty, but that could not the gloss off victory for Charlie Todd, who celebrated his first Ascot winner aboard the Ian Williams-trained Tide Times (3-1) in the Coral Supporting Prostate Cancer UK Novices’ Handicap Hurdle.
Todd said: “I can’t quite believe it really. It’s such a shame there is no crowd or no one in the stands, but hopefully we will get them back soon. Take nothing away though, it’s great to get a winner at Ascot.”
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