Ian Williams is hoping First Assignment is up to his latest task and can complete a hat-trick in the £100,000 Betfair Exchange Stayers’ Handicap Hurdle at Haydock on Saturday.
The five-year-old has been in a rich vein of form this autumn, winning two competitive handicaps at Cheltenham.
His latest success came just a week ago, for which he has to defy a 5lb penalty. However, he is due to go up a further 8lb for future races, which is why Williams has decided to go against his usual instincts and run First Assignment quickly.
“First Assignment performed well at Cheltenham last time, winning comfortably. He has been put up 13lb by the handicapper, so he’s in this race officially 8lb ‘well in’,” said the Alvechurch handler.
“I never like running horses back over these sort of trips quickly, but he appears to have come out of his race well and from a handicap perspective would appear to be in the race off a nice mark.
“He’s got it all to do, but is due to go up another 8lb.”
Emma Lavelle has had this race in mind for Paisley Park for some time – but admits having to give First Assignment weight will be tough.
“He’s in great order. He has obviously got a bit of weight to carry, but he’s a decent-sized horse,” she said.
“He won on good, good to soft at Aintree. I’m just hoping the ground is going to be safe up at Haydock.
“He’s a nice horse. This has been the target race since Aintree and hopefully it will work out. He’s been fine since then and is very straightforward.
“This was always the plan. I wanted to get a run into him before we went to Haydock and it’s worked well. It’s going to be tough giving that weight to Ian Williams’ horse, but I think our horse is nice.”
Tom Symonds believes Bobo Mac has sound claims in the eight-runner affair, after an encouraging first run following wind surgery.
The seven-year-old ran the in-form Jersey Bean to four lengths at Newbury, with good performers such as Moon Racer and Splash Of Ginge behind him, on what was his first start since being successful at Warwick on April.
“I was very pleased with his prep run at Newbury. It was kind of boosted on Thursday by the winner (runner-up under top-weight at Market Rasen),” said the Ross-on-Wye handler.
“He’s fine, but we’d like some rain.
“He goes there with every chance. It’s sad it’s cut up so much, but we’ll see.”
Irish interests are represented by the Gordon Elliott-trained Folsom Blue, who was unlucky when fourth in the Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse and has been absent since being unplaced over hurdles at the Punchestown Festival in April.
At The Races presenter Gary O’Brien is part of the owning Core Partnership and said: “This race has been the plan for a long time, but like most people we were really expecting the sort of ground you normally get at Haydock at this time of year to help make it more of a test of stamina.
“On the other side of the coin it’s cut up a bit from the five-day stage, so we’d be hoping he can pick up some prize-money at least.
“The trainer has been happy with him and he travelled over fine.”