Jolly’s Cracked It bids to take his tally at Ascot to five wins from seven starts and bridge a three-year gap when he lines up for the Betfair Exchange Trophy Handicap Hurdle on Saturday.
All but one of the nine-year-old’s five career victories have come at the Berkshire venue – and it was fitting that he made a triumphant comeback there four weeks ago, in his first race for nearly two years.
That was only Jolly’s Cracked It’s second run since he dead-heated with Sternrubin for this prize in 2015. The other came in this very race in 2016, when he put in a below-par performance behind Brain Power.
Trainer Harry Fry has been delighted with the horse since his return.
“Jolly’s Cracked It came out of his victory at Ascot in good form,” he said.
“It was great to see him roll back the years after 706 days off with a tendon injury.
“We had been pleased with him at home, but he still had it to do giving weight all round to some decent rivals. It was great to see the patience of his owners rewarded.
“He’s been favourite for the race, but the handicapper was quite impressed with his return putting him up 9lb. We’re back up to a very high mark, so he’s got to prove to be better than ever.
“He’s had plenty of time to recover. Hopefully all his problems are behind him now, and we can look forward to making the most of the rest of his career.”
A mistake two out put paid to any chance Nietzsche had in this race 12 months ago – but he could be a different proposition this time, judged on his victory in the Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham.
“It was great to win a big handicap hurdle like that at Cheltenham, and Nietzsche has come out of it in good form,” said trainer Brian Ellison.
“A lot of juvenile hurdlers lose their way in their second season. He was the same – and we didn’t know why, because he used to work so well.
“This year, he has returned to form and was a good second at Newmarket, which set him up well for the Greatwood. The tongue tie we put on him also helped.”
Martin Keighley is optimistic Forecast can continue on an upward curve after following a good second place to Paisley Park at Haydock with a 15-length success on heavy ground at Lingfield.
“Forecast is doing really well. Since he had a breathing operation, his form has improved with every run,” said Keighley.
“I am not quite sure what he beat last time at Lingfield, but he did it very easily. He handled the very soft ground well at Lingfield and hopefully a strongly-run two miles around Ascot should suit him well.
“Saturday offers a big prize, and we thought it was worth a shot at a race like this rather than going for another small race.
“There is a lot more rain forecast to arrive at Ascot, which will suit him. The horse is really well at the moment, and Conor Shoemark gets on brilliantly with him, so we are hoping for a big run.”
Nigel Twiston-Davies is hoping conditions are testing to boost Mr Antolini’s prospects.
“He’s done nothing wrong. He’s been first or second in nearly all his runs, so we’re hoping for a big run,” said the Naunton trainer.
“He’s proven over further. If it keeps raining, the ground will be quite testing, so that would be good and they should go a good pace.”
The sole Irish raider is the Emmet Mullins-trained Tornado Watch, who was second to Gordon Elliott’s Jury Duty in the Grand National Hurdle in America in October.
He showed he was over that trip when a fine fifth of 21 in a valuable handicap hurdle at Fairyhouse won by Wonder Laish.
“He’s been a great horse. He’s really done wonderful things for me this year,” said the County Carlow trainer.
“He’s won a few races, and we got a trip to America out of him – which was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
“He came back and ran well the last day in Fairyhouse. The pace and things didn’t work out for him, but we’re hopeful he’ll run the same sort of race and be bang there again on Saturday.
“Fingers crossed. He wears his heart on his sleeve. He’s a real old warrior, and I hope he’ll turn up for a battle again.”