Evan Williams is hoping Quoi De Neuf will come of age in the Betfair Exchange Trophy Handicap Hurdle at Ascot on Saturday.
The five-year-old caught many punters’ eyes when going close in the Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham with limited experience over jumps.
After travelling stylishly throughout the competitive handicap, Quoi De Neuf was in second place over the final flight and held every chance.
However, he was not streetwise up the punishing hill, had to be switched a couple of times by jockey Adam Wedge and had to settle for fourth place.
Even so, he was only a length and three-quarters behind the winner Harambe. It was a step up from his encouraging seasonal reappearance at Chepstow in October and Williams is happy to have another try at a big pot.
“He’s in grand old shape. It’s worth a crack. He’s run two great races this season, so I’m pretty keen to have another go. It’s a good prize,” said the Llancarfan handler.
“The horse ran a very good race at Cheltenham. It’s very difficult for those horses without that much experience to hold their own in such competitive races.
“He got a lost a bit up the hill. It was a big ask and it will be tough on Saturday. The ground will be very testing, but those type of races are very difficult to win.
“You could only be happy with him and hopefully there’s more to come.”
Harambe takes his chance for Alan King, after his participation had been in doubt at one stage earlier in the week, when he was found to be lame on Tuesday.
He was sound 24 hours later, however, and was given the green light after a workout on Friday morning.
Not So Sleepy made all the running over this course and distance a month ago and will try to repeat the trick in this harder contest.
His trainer Hughie Morrison landed the first running of this contest with Marble Arch in 2001, when it was known as the Ladbroke.
“Not So Sleepy has been in great form since his win at Ascot last time. He schooled last week and is set to go again,” said the East Ilsley handler.
“We went to Ascot for some fun last time out and were delighted when he won. That is how we will be treating Saturday’s race once again – he is a slightly quirky performer and we just have to see how he goes.
Fourth in the Cesarewitch on his last run – Not So Sleepy digs deep to fend off his challengers and make a successful switch to hurdles at @Ascot under @JohnnyBurke2 for Hughie Morrison… pic.twitter.com/GfGOQd8CcC
— At The Races (@AtTheRaces) November 22, 2019
“He has usually gone well with some cut in the ground, so it should be fine for him on Saturday.
“It will be very different to when Marble Arch won, as that day the course had to survive a frost inspection!”
Dan Skelton expects Mohaayed to put up a strong defence in his bid to repeat last year’s victory in this race.
“This has been the plan for Mohaayed to come back and defend his title,” said Skelton.
“He enjoyed a great year last season winning this and the County Hurdle at Cheltenham and hopefully he can produce a big performance.
“He ran a creditable race in the Greatwood on testing ground.”
Paul Nicholls was delighted with Tamaroc Du Mathan’s first run in this country when the French import was second on this course a month ago.
The Ditcheat handler is hoping the four-year-old will handle the expected testing conditions and prove up to the test.
“He ran very well behind Master Debonair at the track last time. We hadn’t took him anywhere for a gallop and we thought we had to get a run in somewhere to get a handicap mark,” said Nicholls.
“I said to Johnny (de la Hey, owner) after that we will go straight back to Ascot for this race.
“Whether he will go in deep ground, I don’t know. We will know afterwards whether 135 is a good mark, but I’d say he is a fair horse.”
Nicholls also saddles Scaramanga, a winner at Wincanton two weeks ago.
Connections of Whoshotthesheriff are optimistic of a good run from the Phil Kirby-trained five-year-old after two promising efforts this term.
Kirby said: “He’s a lovely horse and has done nothing wrong this year. Obviously it’s a big ask, but I think he deserves to take his chance.
“The ground is heavy. Would he prefer it a bit better? Possibly, but we’ll find out.”