Tolworth aim for Western Ryder as Cole Harden returns to training
Western Ryder, who impressed with a fluent victory at Cheltenham last Friday, will be pitched into Grade 1 company for his next start, according to Warren Greatrex.
The trainer also revealed that Cole Harden – who gave him his career highlight when winning the 2015 World Hurdle – was back in training and being aimed at the spring festivals.
Ridden by Richard Johnson, Western Ryder, who was fifth in the Champion Bumper last term, pulled clear to win a novice hurdle last week and is a general 20-1 chance for the Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle and 25-1 for the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham in March.
His credentials for those races will be tested over two miles in the 32Red Tolworth Novices' Hurdle on January 6.
Greatrex said: "He's been given a mark of 146, which puts him at the top end of the novice hurdlers, so the plan will be to head to the Tolworth and see where we are.
"We'll learn a lot more there, but after speaking with Richard and the owners [Albatross Club/Bryan Drew & Friends] we felt this was the right step.
"I think he's the highest-rated novice I've trained. Last year Keeper Hill was around 138 and Cole Harden was 135 as a novice, so he's well above them; he's got to be at the top of novice hurdlers over here and in Ireland I'd have thought.
"If you can keep two and a half miles up your sleeve until later down the line that's all well and good, and Richard said we'd probably be looking at two and a half in the end, but in winter ground two miles will be fine. Sandown with a stiff finish will be spot on."
Greatrex, who enjoyed even more weekend success when Keeper Hill won a Grade 2 novice chase at Doncaster last Saturday, was also buoyed by the return of Cole Harden to his Lambourn yard this week.
Off since finishing third in a beginners' chase at Worcester in August, Cole Harden will stick to hurdles and the trainer is optimistic the fire still burns inside the eight-year-old.
"He's had a winter break and is totally sound," he added. "He looks a bit woolly but we'll plan to get him back for the big spring festivals. We might be up against time for Cheltenham and the Stayers' Hurdle, but that will be the first port of call, and if not that then Aintree.
"He had an issue with a knee and was untrainable at the time, so on the advice of the vets we've given him time and he's been out since August. He's had a good rest, the vet looked at him last Friday and everything was fine, so we'll give it a go and try to get him back.
"He's been with my wife Tessa's mother in Cheshire and been on the walker for three weeks, so he'll start to be ridden from now and then we'll go from there."
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