We can be heroes just for one day - and just for the small matter of £100,000
Betfred Heroes Handicap Hurdle |Grade 3 | 2m7½f | ITV4/RUK
Switching back to hurdles from fences can pay off spectacularly and it's not just Buveur D'Air who could prove the point on Saturday.
Just over an hour after the dual chase winner warms up for his bid to repeat last year's success in the Champion Hurdle, Topofthegame has in his sights the joint-richest staying handicap hurdle of the season with £100,000 in the prize fund.
He looked to be travelling well when he fell on his debut over fences at Newbury in November but suffered a knee injury and his chasing career was put on hold.
The six-year-old hinted that was a winning move as he finished fourth in a strong running of the Lanzarote Handicap Hurdle at Kempton last month, staying on in a way that suggested he will be suited by this stiffer test of stamina.
Paul Nicholls, who has won two of the last seven runnings of this race, said: "He ran nicely at Kempton and was staying on strongly at the finish.
"He should improve for the step up in trip, but I don’t know why he's been raised 3lb for finishing fourth – that’s the down side. I’d be happy if they didn’t get any more rain."
Boy oh Boy
This could scarcely be a more different test for Melrose Boy, who went off 1-10 favourite for a four-runner novice hurdle at Fontwell last month and simply toyed with his rivals as he came home a 50-length winner.
But that effort is far from the only reason he was such a popular ante-post choice for this big-money handicap.
He is a progressive novice who's improved with just about every run over hurdles.
He proved he can handle a big field of handicappers when seeing off 18 opponents in a competitive conditional jockeys' event at Cheltenham in November and a cut suffered there left him short of a gallop when third in a good race at Newbury next time.
Trainer Harry Fry said: "The step up in trip should suit him and we hope he can be very competitive. It's a big prize, he handles conditions and we're looking forward to it. Any rain would be a positive."
Team with a 100 per cent recordFlemcara.
The 7lb claimer rode no more than four winners in any of the last three seasons but he's on six for 2017-18 already, thanks in part to three victories in a row on the six-year-old.
Cowley is unbeaten on the progressive stayer, who was beaten in all five runs for other jockeys, and trainer Emma Lavelle said: "They get on great together.
"Patrick rides him at home every day as well and they have a huge amount of confidence in each other, which is great.
"I'm probably one of the few people hoping for rain between now and then but Flemcara is entitled to have a crack at a race like this, having done nothing but improve from race to race this season."
What they say
Nicky Henderson, trainer of Beat That
He’s in very good form but I just wish he didn’t have top weight.
Evan Williams, trainer of Prime Venture and Buywise
Prime Venture is very badly handicapped but it's a valuable race and if we can pick up prize-money it would be fantastic. I'm keen to have a crack at the Grand National with Buywise and I thought a run or two over hurdles would sharpen him up a bit.
David Pipe, trainer of Taj Badalandabad
We're running him again quickly but it's a valuable prize. I hope it's not too soon. It's competitive but he won't mind the trip or the ground and we've nothing to lose.
Tim Vaughan, trainer of Theligny
He is up to 3m for the first time and we've always thought he was going to want the trip. We've always thought he was a nice horse, he ran well at Newbury last time and we hope he can step up on that.
Phil Middleton, trainer of Golan Fortune
He's gone up a stone but we're claiming 7lb off him. He's in great order and I think this is winnable. We've always thought he wanted 3m.
Colin Tizzard, trainer of Fourth Act
He was in at Wincanton on Thursday but there’s so much money on offer here that we decided on Sandown. He’s run in this type of race over fences before but his jumping has never been brilliant. He’s in very good form.
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