Whisper out to make big noise for Henderson in Clan Des Obeaux match
Whisper embarks on his second season over fences with a match against old rival Clan Des Obeaux in a graduation chase (3.30) that his trainer Nicky Henderson has farmed.
Twelve months ago, the classy Josses Hill extended the good recent run of favourites when landing the odds for the Seven Barrows team and other high-profile winners in recent years include the classy Smad Place.
On a mark of 157 over fences, Whisper is only 2lb shy of his rating in his hurdling pomp when he won back-to-back runnings of the Grade 1 Liverpool Hurdle at Aintree.
Since his switch to chasing a year ago, Whisper scored on his debut at Cheltenham and followed up on a return when accounting for Monday's sole rival Clan Des Obeaux by half a length in the Grade 2 Dipper Chase in January.
Taken straight to the festival after that, the nine-year-old did everything but win the RSA Chase in going down by just a nose to stablemate Might Bite.
Whisper then rounded off his first chasing campaign with another sound effort when second to the same rival in the Grade 1 Mildmay Novices' Chase at Aintree.
Henderson had three of the four five-day entries for the 2m4½f contest but says a match was inevitable: "It's a shame but I can't run any of the others. It'll be nice to get Whisper back on track.
"He was a progressive type last year and I don't expect him to need the run, although these races can be a bit tricky. If all goes well the plan would be to take him to the Ladbrokes Trophy Chase at Newbury next month."
Despite the sparse turnout, Henderson is keen these graduation chases remain in the book: "They're absolutely crucial for second-season chasers, especially with this type of horse, and it's important they continue to be put on. I always support this race and will continue to do so."
Sole opponent Clan Des Obeaux's form was a bit patchy after his encounter with Whisper, although he did win a little race at Exeter before disappointing when back up in class in the Grade 2 Future Champions Chase at Ayr in April when last seen.
Rated 9lb inferior to Whisper on BHA figures, he does have youth on his side as a five-year-old, while Whisper will be ten in a few weeks' time.
Trainer Paul Nicholls said: "He started his novice chasing season really well when winning a Grade 2 and then finishing second to Whisper, but then he lost his bottle a bit and started jumping right-handed. That could have been the result of struggling with his breathing, so we got that sorted over summer."
Since the operation, Nicholls has been pleased with what he has seen at home. He added: "He's been schooling nicely and looking more relaxed in his work. We had this race in mind for a while and there's plenty of improvement to come as he's still only a youngster."
Copper back on the beat
In the novice chase (2.25), which delivers the first of two matches on the Kempton card, seven-year-old Give Me A Copper bids to get the wheels back on his chasing career after his early exit at Kelso last month.
Sent off at 30-100 that day, the Paul Nicholls-trained chestnut dumped Sean Bowen when spooking at a pathway across the track, so hopefully there will be no repeat when they cross the all-weather course this time around.
Conti out to show brio
Nicholls looks set for success in Cumbria, where his fast-improving hurdler Brio Conti makes his first appearance over fences in a novice chase at Carlisle (1.30).
The six-year-old was beaten less than seven lengths when tackling Grade 1 company for the first time at Aintree in April. A promising type, Brio Conti evidently takes a lot of getting fit, to which end he has already had a racecourse gallop.
Easier for Odyssey
The graduation chase (2.35) at Carlisle looks a good opportunity for Evan Williams' chaser King's Odyssey to get his head back in front off a mark of 142 after some tough assignments in 2016-17.