Nicky Richards expects to have a clearer idea of Ribble Valley’s potential in this season’s novice hurdle ranks after his appearance in the Sky Bet Supreme Trial at Ascot.
The six-year-old has been hugely impressive in winning four of his five starts to date, but faces a significant step up in class for Friday’s Grade Two contest run over just shy of two miles.
The Westerner gelding’s only defeat thus far came when sixth in a Listed bumper at Cheltenham in November last year – won by Colin Tizzard’s Master Debonair, who reopposes on Friday.
“It’s a good race, but we’re looking forward to running him and furthering his education,” said Richards.
“He’s done nothing wrong apart from the run at Cheltenham, and I think you can put a line through that because he ran too bad to be true. I hope that’s the case, anyway.
“He’s in grand fettle and he’s ready to step up in class.
“We’re fairly convinced he’d prefer better ground, but he has won in rotten ground the last twice.”
Master Debonair returns to Berkshire four weeks after a dominant display over the course and distance.
Tizzard said: “He’s come out of his last race well – it was a smart little performance.
“He’d run really well at Cheltenham the time before to finish second – he just got a little bit tired.
“It’s nice to have form around there. He was a Listed bumper horse, who I think is probably our leading chance for the Supreme.”
The Paul Nicholls-trained McFabulous was a disappointing seventh when favourite for the Listed bumper won by Master Debonair 13 months ago, but bounced back to win at Newbury in March and then in Grade Two company at Aintree in April.
Odds-on backers had their fingers burnt when he suffered defeat on his hurdling bow at Chepstow last month, but Nicholls expects significant improvement.
“On testing ground I think he will get away with two miles around Ascot, but he wants further really,” said the champion trainer.
“He has improved massively for the run at Chepstow, and we’ve done a lot with his jumping because he didn’t jump that well that day.
“He will keep on improving – he has just not been a natural at jumping. Some are natural and take to it brilliantly, whereas he has been a little bit soft and taken a bit of time, but he has done a lot of jumping since Chepstow.
“He’s one that will get better as the season goes on.”
The small but select field is completed by Nicky Henderson’s Time Flies By, who makes his hurdling debut in a race his trainer has won four times in the last eight years.