Nicky Henderson believes he has two live chances in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury with top-weight Buzz and Mister Coffey.
Henderson, who has won the richest handicap hurdle of the season five times – one more than the great Ryan Price – has his fingers crossed Saturday’s meeting can survive the current cold snap.
He has booked promising conditional Kevin Brogan to help ease the burden on Buzz, while stable jockey Nico de Boinville will ride Mister Coffey.
“I like Mister Coffey a lot,” said Henderson.
“After he won on his debut last year, where he was impressive, we took him to Huntingdon – and because I didn’t think there’d be much pace on, I said ride him handy.
“Well, he literally took off with Nico. He ran the first mile as if he was in the St James’s Palace, not a novice hurdle at Huntingdon, so not surprisingly he didn’t get home.
“Since then we’ve spent a lot of time trying to re-educate him to settle. First time out this year at Sandown, he was great – it was very bad ground, but he was dropped out and came through to win comfortably. He was then third in a better race at Sandown.”
Buzz finished third in the Welsh Champion Hurdle first time out before bolting up at Ascot, for which he was handed an 11lb rise. But he still ran Not So Sleepy close last time out.
“We’re going to claim 5lb off Buzz with Kevin Brogan,” Henderson added, in a call hosted by Great British Racing.
“He’s got top-weight, so it seems sensible to claim – 5lb is the optimum claim, because 3lb isn’t enough and 7lb doesn’t get you enough experience in a race like this.
“Kevin has been riding very well – he’ll know what to do, and that 5lb is valuable. He works for Jonjo (O’Neill) and he came recommended from (agent) Dave Roberts, who said he was the man I needed.
“I won this race for Thurloe (Thoroughbreds, owners) with Sharpical, and they shared Geos with Pier Pottinger who won it too.
“He won too easily the first time he ran at Ascot. He didn’t used to do much in front and when he got there I thought he’d falter, but he ran away. If you are trying to get in off the right mark unfortunately that is not what you want to happen, so consequently we’ve rather shot ourselves in the foot.
“I think they are both the right types for this. I can’t say it has been a long-term plan, but we’ve said for a while this is where we’d go with both horses. They are genuine two-milers. Both in time might get further – but you need to stay well, and I expect the ground to be testing, so stamina will be required.
“They haven’t been laid out for it. They’ve run some very good races this season and have been getting on with the job.
“Thankfully I don’t have to pick one over the other – I honestly think they both have a good chance. Buzz might be the sharper of the two – but Coffey, now he’s learned to race, I think he’ll be very competitive.”
Paul Nicholls also holds a strong hand in the big handicap, with Wild Max, Friend Or Foe and possibly Thyme White.
“For Thyme Whyte I’ve been waiting for better ground over the winter, which is why you haven’t seen him since Newbury in November. He could do with the ground drying up a little bit,” said Nicholls.
“Both Friend Or Foe and Wild Max don’t mind soft ground and have been running very well.
“Wild Max won the last day, and Angus Cheleda will take 7lb off him. He’s in seriously good order and is improving.
“Friend Or Foe won at Wincanton and was hit by a big rise (13lb) from the handicapper and finished second at Sandown. He’s gone up again since Sandown, so he is right at the top end of his mark.
“He’ll have to improve again really, but he deserves to take his chance. I’ve got to talk to his owners and sort out who rides him. Ideally he could do with few pounds off his back, so we’ve got to decide on that one.”