Yanworth finally gets chance to strut his stuff over three miles
Ryanair Stayers Liverpool Hurdle (Grade 1) | 3m½f | 4yo+ | ITV/RUK
Better late than never, perhaps.
Yanworth began the campaign with connections eyeing the staying hurdling route, but the emergence of Unowhatimeanharry, who also runs in the colours of JP McManus, meant he was rerouted on the road to the Champion Hurdle.
That resulted in a Grade 1 success in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton for Yanworth, but he was put in his place by the McManus-owned Buveur D'Air in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham last month.
He now gets his chance over three miles and there is no difficult decision for rider Barry Geraghty as the ground is too quick for Unowhatimeanharry to take his chance.
Big shoes to fill
What Paul Nicholls, seeking an 11th trainers' title, wouldn't give to have another Big Buck's, who won this race four times from 2009 to 2012. He relies on Aux Ptits Soins and Ptit Zig.
It will be some training performance if Puffin Billy can defy an absence of 721 days to win, but it will be a popular outcome for Oliver Sherwood, who is due a change of fortune after a rotten start to 2017.
Horse for the course
Ballyoptic's sole success this term came in a Grade 3 handicap at Chepstow and he has since fallen twice before being pulled up in the Stayers' Hurdle at Cheltenham last month. However, he is the only course-and-distance winner in the field, having landed the Sefton at this meeting 12 months ago.
What they say
Nigel Twiston-Davies, trainer of Ballyoptic
He ran terribly last time but has come out of Cheltenham really well and if he comes back to his best he'd be bang there.
Warren Greatrex, trainer of Cole Harden
He's got a visor on for the first time. He's had it on at home and it seems to have sparked him up even more, which is good. All that is irrelevant if they over-water. I see the ground's good now, and if it's good he'll go very close. The key is the ground.
Nicky Henderson, trainer of Different Gravey
I thought he'd win this race last year and he's a very good horse, but he's just perplexing us a bit at the moment.
Paul Nicholls, trainer of Aux Ptits Soins and Ptit Zig
There's no significance in the jockey bookings. Sam [Twiston-Davies] won the French Champion Hurdle on Ptit Zig and Sean [Bowen] has won on the other. There's not much between them. Aux Ptits Soins has got to jump better than he did last time and if he does he'll run well. Ptit Zig goes well fresh and likes good ground.
Oliver Sherwood, trainer of Puffin Billy
I wanted to run him last Sunday at Ascot, but the ground was too quick. I've been screaming to get him on a course and it's not the ideal race, but I just want to get him on a track and see how he performs and see how he is. All the vibes are good at home and I'm happy with him, but I'm sure he's lost a bit of toe as he's got older and after a couple of years off.
Jonjo O'Neill, trainer of Taquin Du Seuil
He ran a great race at Cheltenham. In a handicap there'd always be something lower down the weights to hammer him, so he might as well take his chance in this Grade 1. Ideally he'd like a drop of rain.
Dan Skelton, trainer of Three Musketeers
We're trying him back over hurdles as I don't think he's fully committed over fences. He ran really well off a big weight in the BetBright at Kempton and was third in a Grade 1 on his last run over hurdles. I think he'll run creditably.
He's been in good order since Cheltenham. It was disappointing he could manage only seventh in the Champion Hurdle, but he didn't run badly. He just lost his place down the hill and then stayed on again, shaping very much as though he needs to step up in trip. So we're hoping for better. Yanworth has never been over three miles and you can't be sure they'll get it until they try, but he should stay, and the track will be no problem. He's in fine shape and schooled well on Monday.