Nicky Henderson is looking forward to seeing how Call Me Lord performs over three miles in the JLT Hurdle at Ascot on Saturday.
The five-year-old was hugely impressive on his final outing of last season in the two-mile-five-furlong Select Hurdle at Sandown, accounting for the admirable Lil Rockerfeller by 16 lengths.
His seasonal reappearance has been delayed, but he is now ready to make his belated return in a Grade One contest better known as the Long Walk.
Henderson said: “He had a bit of a hiccup in the summer. We thought he had colic, and we found a great crystallised ball inside him, and he had to have surgery to remove it. He was in a bit later than most, but he has done plenty of work.
“He really wants to go right-handed. We wondered whether we should give him one more try left-handed to see what he’d do, but even at home he still suggests he wants to go that way.
“I’m not confident about the trip, but that is why we are trying it. It was two-mile-five the last time at Sandown, and the ground was soft enough.
“He loves soft ground, but will he stay? Nobody knows, but you don’t know until you try it.”
Call Me Lord is one of three runners for the Seven Barrows handler, along with Top Notch and Soul Emotion.
Top-class chaser Top Notch is another horse returning to action later than planned after having a bad reaction to a flu jab, while Soul Emotion steps up in class on his seasonal bow after winning successive Sandown handicaps in the spring.
“Top Notch is 100 per cent now, but he had three weeks of feeling like he had flu. It affects one in a hundred horses,” Henderson added.
“He has got to go somewhere. He is in the King George, but you don’t want to go there first time out. There is the Ascot Chase later on.
“I’m not saying he is just out to have a run on Saturday, because he is in very good form.
“Soul Emotion will love the ground – but again, whether he stays three miles is guesswork.”
Jedd O’Keeffe’s stable star Sam Spinner was a dominant winner 12 months ago, but defends his crown with something to prove after unseating Joe Colliver when already beaten in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury last month, and headgear has now been applied.
O’Keeffe said: “The ground will be great, and obviously he loves the track – so those are positives, and we’re really happy with him.
“I can’t pretend I wasn’t disappointed at Newbury, not that he was beaten when he unseated Joe, more just the way he raced – there was a lack of zip, so we’re putting cheekpieces on just to create a little bit of a spark.
“His jumping was indicative of the whole day, a bit lethargic and behind the bridle – whereas at Haydock and Ascot last year it was his strong suit. Hopefully he’s in better form with a run under his belt, and the cheekpieces should help.”
Unowhatimeanharry was only third behind Sam Spinner in the Long Walk last year, having won the race in 2016.
However, he looked more like his old self when winning the Long Distance last month.
“He’s in better form than he was 12 months ago, that’s for sure,” trainer Harry Fry told At The Races.
“With an older horse like him that’s been a great servant to us, it’s really exciting to see him in good form – and we hope he can run another good race on Saturday.”
Paisley Park is an interesting contender for Emma Lavelle, stepping up in class after a fine weight-carrying performance in a valuable handicap at Haydock last month.
Lavelle said: “We’ve been very happy with him since Haydock.
“It was a question of either letting him run in another handicap under top-weight or having a crack at the staying division at graded level.
“I think he’s earned a crack at it. He seems to be improving and is growing up mentally all the time.”
Younevercall is in a similar boat for Kim Bailey.
The Yeats gelding was raised almost a stone in the weights after bolting up by 10 lengths in a Kempton handicap last month.
“He’s had one or two niggly issues. The owners have been very patient and waited a long time, so it’s great their patience has been rewarded,” said Bailey.
“It’s an incredibly tough ask. Even if it was good ground it would be a tough ask.
“Having said that, you’ve got to be in it to win – and he’s got plenty of time to get over it, and we’ll learn a lot more about him.”