Harry Fry is looking forward to watching If The Cap Fits defend his crown in the Coral Hurdle at Ascot.
Having filled the runner-up spot in the Elite Hurdle at Wincanton on his first start of last season, the Paul and Clare Rooney-owned seven-year-old went one better in this near two-and-a-half-mile Grade Two 12 months ago.
He went on to finish third over two miles in the Christmas Hurdle and second in the National Spirit Hurdle over almost two and a half miles before claiming Grade One glory on his first start over three miles at Aintree in the spring.
“The more it dries out the better, because he wouldn’t want it too testing,” said Fry.
“It was his first try at three miles that day at Aintree, and he really thrived – hence why we are sticking to hurdles, and we’ll see where he can take us this campaign.
“He won this race last year. We thought it was a nice starting point again, and we will build from there.
“He seems to be in good order at home, so I hope he will run a nice race on his comeback.”
If The Cap Fits renews rivalry with the Dan Skelton-trained mare Roksana, who was beaten just a head in a thrilling finish to the Stayers Hurdle at Aintree.
The daughter of Dubai Destination also has the benefit of a recent run, having finished a neck second to the popular Top Notch at Aintree a fortnight ago.
Skelton has decided to run his charge at Ascot, rather than wait for a Listed mares’ hurdle at Kempton on Monday.
“Harry (Skelton) rode at Kempton last week, and it was good ground, but she wants a bit more cut in it,” said the trainer.
“It’s Grade Two and worth a lot of money – whereas with the greatest respect to Monday’s race, it is worth a lot less.
“I hope she will step forward for the run at Aintree, because she always needs at least a run to put her straight.”
The market is headed by Nicky Henderson’s Call Me Lord, who makes his first competitive appearance since finishing third under top-weight in the Imperial Cup at Sandown in early March.
Henderson said: “It was a bit of a frustrating season last season, because he had a few niggly problems that kept him out of action, but he finished on a good note in the Imperial Cup.
“He is in very good form, but it is a very good race. It is probably an ideal trip, beause he stays two-five around Sandown.
“The only thing he has to do is go right-handed, so our hands are fairly tied as to what we can do – you wouldn’t want to go the other way round.
“I think distance and soft ground doesn’t matter to him, but the right-handed bit does. Handicaps are not much use to him now, so we have to come into these type of races and see how far we can climb.”
Le Patriote is a winner over the course and distance for Dr Richard Newland – and rounded off last season with victories at Cheltenham and in the Swinton Hurdle at Haydock.
“He’s training well, but it’s his first run of the season and it is a step up in class for him,” said Newland.
“I’m very happy with him. Whether he’s up to this level or not, I’m not sure, but we might as well find out now.
“It won’t be easy for him, giving weight to the likes of Call Me Lord, but I’m hopeful he’ll give a good account of himself.
Ali Stronge’s Blu Cavalier and Neil King’s stable star Lil Rockerfeller complete the six-strong field.