Jedd O’Keeffe admits attempting to win the Ladbrokes Long Distance Hurdle with Sam Spinner first time out against race-fit rivals at Newbury might be a tough task.
The six-year-old progressed rapidly through the ranks last season, beginning life in the Silver Trophy at Chepstow off a handicap mark of 136 and ending up being sent off favourite at the Cheltenham and Aintree Festivals in Grade Ones.
That was down to his victory in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot in December, and given his age hopes are high he can improve again this term.
“I think we’ll be OK ground-wise, so we’re all set,” said O’Keeffe.
“The Grade One penalty makes life tougher and his two main dangers, Unowhatimeanharry and Wholestone, have both had a run at Aintree and both ran really well – and Unowhatimeanharry doesn’t have a penalty, so in that respect it will be tough.
“What I hope is that given he’s still relatively inexperienced, there’s more to come this season. Things have happened very fast for him, his novice year was cut short by a foot problem and then he shot up through the ranks last year when he was still inexperienced.
“What we’re hoping is that he’s stronger, wiser and more clued-up. The signs at home are very good and the rider (Joe Colliver) is telling me he feels like that, but we’ll find out when we get him out there.”
Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Wholestone was a very smooth winner on his comeback at Aintree over two and a half miles, beating Fighting Fifth-bound Vision Des Flos.
Consistent all last season bar one blip in the corresponding race 12 months ago, he won the Relkeel Hurdle and went on to be third in the Stayers’ Hurdle and second at Aintree.
“I was delighted with him at Aintree, he won really well,” said Twiston-Davies.
“I don’t think it’s a case of him getting any quicker, he’s always had plenty of pace, but he stays really well, too.
“He’s so consistent, always runs his race and is a joy to train.”
Third behind Wholestone at Aintree was Harry Fry’s Unowhatimeanharry, who was once the benchmark in the division but turns 11 in a few weeks.
“He’s all set to run and we’re looking forward to it,” said Fry.
“Two-and-a-half was a bit too short for him at Aintree, but it was a good comeback run and he was staying on all the way to the line.
“Stepping back up to three miles will suit him, he’s mad fit and he doesn’t carry a penalty for the first time in this year’s renewal.
“I hope he’ll be right in the picture.”
Fry also runs Momella, who was with Dan Skelton last season, with Evan Williams’ Clyne and Jamie Snowden’s Monbeg Theatre also in the eight-runner field.