Nicky Henderson, JP McManus and Barry Geraghty will be hoping for a different outcome in the Ballymore Leamington Novices’ Hurdle at Warwick with Birchdale after Rathhill’s disappointment last weekend.
With just one hurdling run under his belt, Rathhill was a short price for the Grade One Tolworth Hurdle at Newbury, but found the competition too hot and the ground too soft at Sandown.
Birchdale was also impressive on his hurdling debut, over this course and distance, and the form has stood up well with the second and third coming out and winning since.
“We saw last week how big a step up in class it is from the maiden hurdles into graded company,” said McManus’ racing manager Frank Berry ahead of the Grade Two affair.
“It looks a competitive race and we’re hoping he’ll have learned plenty from his debut.
“He’s won over course and distance, which should help a bit, and he goes there in good form.
“We’re hoping for the best, but it does look competitive.”
The highest-rated runner in the race is the Philip Hobbs-trained Tidal Flow, who beat another Henderson hotpot, Downtown Getaway, despite conceding weight at Newbury.
He has only lost once in a four-race career to date and owner Garth Broom feels he had an excuse that day.
“We were thrilled with him at Newbury, we know how much they thought of Downtown Getaway in Ireland because we bought the horse who finished second to him in a bumper at Fairyhouse (Remastered),” said Broom.
“There looked to be plenty in that Newbury race, we had a penalty but still won.
“He’s a chaser in the making, but he’s come on in leaps and bounds. He was a little disappointing in his second bumper, but they had a bit of a virus last season and he had five months between races.
“He’s been unbeaten otherwise, so the hopes and dreams are still there.”
Colin Tizzard’s Rockpoint was a Grade Two winner last time out and concedes 5lb all round, while Henry Daly’s Stoney Mountain is another with leading claims.
The Listed McCoy Contractors 2019 Construction News Award Finalist Hampton Novices’ Chase has only attracted four runners and none can be ruled out.
Henderson and McManus team up once more with Ok Corral, runner-up in the Albert Bartlett last March and a winner on his chasing debut at Plumpton.
Fairly advanced in years for a novice at nine, he will be ridden by leading amateur Derek O’Connor, suggesting he could be heading for the National Hunt Chase for amateur riders over four miles in March.
“He’ll certainly have an entry in the four-miler and at this stage it’s a possibility, but it’s still a long way away,” said Berry. “Derek will ride him and we’ll see how things go in the meantime.
“He showed his stamina last year in the Albert Bartlett and it was pleasing enough at Plumpton on his chasing debut.
“Hopefully he’ll have learned a bit that day and he goes there in good form. Hopefully it all goes well.”
Giving 5lb to the other three is Kim Bailey’s Rocky’s Treasure, four from five over fences with his only defeat coming against Santini.
“We chose this race over the Classic Chase on the same card so he stays in novice company, but it’s a competitive little contest,” said Bailey.
“He’s giving weight away and you couldn’t rule any of the others out, so we’ll find out how good he really is.
“Hopefully his experience will count for something.”
Paul Nicholls runs Secret Investor, who was no match for Bags Groove on his chasing debut but who did win the Grade Two Persian War Novices’ HUrdle on his seasonal return.
Colin Tizzard’s White Moon completes the field and having opened his account over fences on New Year’s Day at Exeter over two miles he steps up the three.
Owner Broom said: “We think he’s good enough to be an RSA horse, so that’s why we’re stepping him up in trip.
“He’s won a point, but we felt he needed a confidence boost which was why we dropped him to two miles at Exeter.”