Owner Dai Walters is looking forward to seeing Al Dancer put his unbeaten record for the season on the line in the Betfair Hurdle at Ascot.
After rounding off his previous campaign by finishing fourth in a Grade Two bumper, the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained six-year-old is three from three since having his attentions to turned to jumping obstacles – scoring at Carlisle and Ffos Las, before dominating his rivals in a Cheltenham handicap.
The handicapper reacted by handing Al Dancer a 12lb hike, but Walters is nevertheless expecting a bold show in Europe’s most valuable handicap hurdle – which was switched to Ascot following the abandonment of Newbury last Saturday during the outbreak of equine influenza.
He said: “They are very happy with him. It’s all dreams at the moment.
“He hasn’t done anything wrong and he’s a well-built horse – a typical Nigel Twiston-Davies horse.
“If he’s good enough, Nigel will find it out. Fingers crossed, he’ll run a big race.”
Twiston-Davies has won the Betfair Hurdle twice in the last five years, with Splash Of Ginge causing an upset in 2014 and Ballyandy justifying favouritism in 2017.
The trainer’s son Sam Twiston-Davies was on board Ballyandy, and is hoping to double up aboard Al Dancer.
“We’ve won it twice recently and this is Al Dancer’s test for the Supreme (Novices’ Hurdle),” the jockey told Racing TV.
“There’s a lot of questions, because he’s rated higher than our other winners. But given what he does on the gallops, you wouldn’t be too worried about a mark of 141 – you’d hope he’d be a bit better than that.
“We’ve run him on soft and on better ground, and he was very good at Cheltenham last time.
“Heading into the Betfair, he’s got a lot of boxes ticked.”
Having struck gold with Zarkandar in 2012, Paul Nicholls is double-handed in his bid for a second Betfair Hurdle success.
The Ditcheat maestro’s chief hope appears to be Getaway Trump, who was well-beaten on his hurdling debut at Chepstow but has since won at Plumpton and Exeter and chased home Champ in the Challow Hurdle at Newbury.
Nicholls said: “He has been a mightily improved horse this season. He would have gone close to winning at Chepstow first time out before he made a bad mistake, and then he won his next two before he was second in the Challow over Christmas.
“He has Grade One form and is improving. On Saturday they will go a good gallop, and we know he stays.
“He is second-favourite (behind Al Dancer), and I’d like to think he has every chance.”
Getaway Trump is joined by stable companion Mont Des Avaloirs, who was disappointing when favourite for a similarly competitive event over this course and distance in December.
“We’ve kept him particularly for this race, because he likes a fast-run race, and a big field will suit him,” Nicholls added.
“Lorcan Williams will take a handy 5lb off him and he is good on those horses that are a bit keen.
“He is a big each-way price.”
Alan King also fires a twin assault, with both top-weight Lisp and William H Bonney in the mix.
He said: “Lisp has been very progressive this season and is in good form.
“I’d prefer it if we were going left-handed – as we would have been at Newbury – but he has run well at Ascot before and hopefully he will again.
“William H Bonney has done well so far this season – winning at Hereford and Huntingdon.
“This is a step up in class for him, but he seems well.”
Didtheyleaveuoutto has won on each of his two previous visits to Ascot, but returns with something to prove after finishing down the field behind Mister Fisher at Kempton on Boxing Day.
Trainer Nick Gifford said: “The race being moved from Newbury to Ascot doesn’t bother me too much at all, obviously.
“I hope the ground keeps drying. He’s in good form – and with Barry (Geraghty) going to Ireland, Will Kennedy will ride him.
“He’s a hard horse to get a handle on, because he doesn’t catch pigeons at home. Whether he was just a bit flat at Christmas and the race came too soon, I’m not sure. We’ll find out on Saturday, I suppose.
“I think this is the perfect race for him, and we’ll have a better idea of where we’re going with him afterwards.”
The Philip Hobbs-trained Zanza and Gary Moore’s pair of Distingo and Ar Mest also feature in a 14-strong field.