Lisnagar Oscar gets a first chance to show his victory in the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham was no fluke when he returns to action in the bet365 Hurdle at Wetherby.
Rebecca Curtis believes her shock 50-1 winner of the three-mile showpiece at the Festival in March can dispel the doubters – and is looking forward to the seven-year-old making his seasonal reappearance on Saturday in a Grade Two contest registered as the West Yorkshire Hurdle.
“It’s great to get him out again. He seems in really good form at home,” said the Pembrokeshire trainer.
“Obviously Wetherby is a completely different track to Cheltenham. He loves Cheltenham, but at the same time I think he should run very well.
“He’s got the penalty to give away – but he’s won his Grade One, it’s racing and that’s only fair.
“He was a 50-1 shot last year, but hopefully we can get a better start this year and get him noticed for going back to Cheltenham again.
“He comes to hand quite quickly, so I thought we’d get him out. I didn’t want to wait until the end of November for him to start. It’s nice to get him going.”
Next Destination is a fascinating contender on his debut for Paul Nicholls, having been off the track since beating Delta Work in a Grade One novice hurdle at the 2018 Punchestown Festival for Willie Mullins.
Nicholls said: “He hasn’t run for 900-odd days, and we have got to start somewhere.
“I thought the ground will be nice at Wetherby. If he has a nice run and comes back safe and sound and has a good blow, we can then go chasing with him in three weeks’ time, which remains the main plan.
“He is fit, well and healthy – but this is just a starting point. He hasn’t had an away day like I would have liked to have given him, because the ground has been too quick.
“He has had problems, and we have had to train him a little bit with the handbrake on – so whatever he does he will improve enormously.”
The Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained Wholestone makes his first appearance since winning a novice chase at Cheltenham last November.
The nine-year-old has his first race over hurdles since April 2019 and was a force to be reckoned with in this discipline, having finished third in the Stayers’ Hurdle in 2018 and won three Grade Two races.
Twiston-Davies said: “It looks a hot race, but they all are! It’s a competitive race, but we’re always hopeful.
“He’s had a very minor problem. It was nothing serious, but he’s in good form now.”
Chapmanshype takes a huge leap from handicap company but arrives in good form, having won his last two races.
The six-year-old is also tackling three miles for the first time, but his trainer Jamie Snowden cannot wait to see how he gets on.
“It’s a big step up in class, but he’s won seven of his 13 starts,” said the Lambourn handler.
“He’s progressed well through the handicap ranks, and the form of his Kelso win looks good. He broke the course record carrying top weight, so he’s been progressing nicely.
“The step up in trip is a little bit of an unknown, but he’s bred to appreciate it and we go there with a horse in form.”
Decor Irlandais makes the journey from Northern Ireland, and his trainer Noel Kelly believes his regular traveller has each-way prospects.
The seven-year-old won at Catterick and was second in the Grade Two Leamington Novices’ Hurdle at Warwick last winter, but fell short in the Ballymore at Cheltenham on his last trip across the Irish Sea.
However, he has shaped well in both his outings since having a break, to be placed at Galway and then win at Killarney.
Kelly said: “Everything is good. He ran very well the last day at Killarney. Three miles and a bit of nice ground should suit him over there.
“He travels very well – he’s been over to England a few times. He should have an each way chance, definitely. He’s in good form.”
Verdana Blue is the star attraction in the bet365 Mares’ Hurdle. Nicky Henderson’s nine-times winner is rated upwards of 22lb superior to her six rivals and will be a red-hot favourite to go one better than when runner-up to Silver Streak at Kempton a fortnight ago.
Henderson said: “They just went quite slow at Kempton last time, and it turned into a sprint, which didn’t quite suit her. She had all the conditions in her favour, with the ground and the weights, and she did nothing wrong – she just got caught for a turn of foot.
“There are not many races for her – and as she came out of the race so well, this seemed an obvious race to have a crack at.
“You would like to think this would be easier, but there is no such thing as a penalty kick in racing like there is in football!
“The softer the ground gets, the worse it is for her, but you would like to think against this opposition she would get away with it.”