Sheila Lewis’ Straw Fan Jack will bid to build on his recent Cheltenham form with a tilt at the Grade Three Unibet Greatwood Handicap Hurdle at the track on Sunday.
The grey was last seen contesting the NHS Vaccinating Heroes Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle on October 23, where he was beaten just a head by Samba Dancer when carrying top weight.
That performance assured his trainer that the track at Prestbury Park was to his liking and so a return to the course has been scheduled for the weekend.
“That’s why we ran him there (Cheltenham) really, just to see, he’s done well round Aintree and Ascot,” she said.
“It was nice to take him to Cheltenham because obviously that’s the one we all want a go at, so we went to see if he liked it really.
“We were absolutely delighted – we were probably more delighted than the people that won! To have a horse of that class is fantastic and he is well worthy of going there again.”
The Greatwood will not be gelding’s first run in Graded company as he was sixth in the Grade One Mersey Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree in spring, but unlike many of his rivals he will remain a hurdler for the foreseeable future.
“I think he’ll be brilliant over a fence, but we also think he’ll still be competitive over hurdles, so why rush him?” Lewis said.
“I’ve seen some of the horses he was running against in novice hurdles go novice chasing, horses of his class, but I think we’re right to stay hurdling at the moment.”
Lewis trains a small string of horses from her yard in Powys and has taken a leap of faith by stepping away from the beauty salon she used to run alongside her training operation to concentrate fully on her horses.
“I’ve given up my beauty salon for Straw Fan Jack,” she said.
“Let’s hope he proves to be more profitable or I’ll be back in there!”
Elsewhere in the Greatwood Hurdle is Nicky Henderson’s No Ordinary Joe, who won twice over hurdles this summer, with Marie’s Rock also entered for the same stable.
Gary Moore could field a trio of runners in the returning Natural History, Botox Has, who fell over fences last time out and Haddex Des Obeaux, who has been in good form since joining the Moore yard.
David Pipe’s Grade One-winning hurdler Adagio is a possible runner, with Alan King’s Tritonic another graded contender in the race alongside Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Ballyandy.
Dan Skelton’s West Cork would running for the first time this term – a comment which also applies to Evan Williams’ Esprit Du Large, who was pulled up in the Kingwell Hurdle when last seen in February.
Philip Hobbs’ Persian War winner Camprond is also among the 24 contenders, as is Tom Lacey’s hat-trick seeker Glory And Fortune.
Jesse Evans represents Noel Meade, with further Irish horses entered in the shape of Denis Hogan’s Bua Boy, Charles Byrnes’ Advanced Virgo and the Tony Martin pair of Golden Spear and Tudor City.