Evan Williams is confident Silver Streak merits his place as a bona fide “Grade One contender” in this year’s Unibet Champion Hurdle.
The gallant grey more than justified his presence on day one of the Cheltenham Festival 12 months ago, staying on to finish third behind ill-fated champion Espoir D’Allen.
But Williams insists there is much more top-level substance this time to both Silver Streak’s form and his preparation to bid again for the top hurdling prize of the season.
“Last year, he was campaigned as a handicapper – and he won his handicaps, and ran well in defeat in some others,” said the Glamorgan trainer.
“This year, we have campaigned him like a Grade One contender. I’m saying ‘contender’, because he hasn’t won a Grade One – so we can’t pretend that he is a Grade One horse (yet).
“But there is no doubt, he’s run in two Grade One races this year, very rich Champion Hurdle trials – and to my eye, and perhaps I am biased, he’s run very, very well.
“So whereas last year, I didn’t think he deserved to take his chance in the Champion Hurdle, I’m far more confident – in fact, I’m very confident, that he deserves to be in the field, and he’s had an ideal preparation to run in a Champion Hurdle.”
Since finishing a busy 2018/19 campaign with an underwhelming run in fifth over two and a half miles at Aintree, Silver Streak has been at the top of his game in just three starts at the minimum trip this season.
Williams has prescribed a deliberately sparing campaign, happy to send the seven-year-old straight to Cheltenham next month following his second to ante-post Champion Hurdle favourite Epatante at Kempton over Christmas.
Silver Streak, previously a comfortable Listed winner at Kempton in October before moving back up to Grade One level to finish third in Newcastle’s Fighting Fifth, is widely available at 25-1 to go two better at Cheltenham.
Williams added: “I think there’s a lot of horses that you could throw a blanket over as far as ratings are concerned – but we’ve been prepared like a Grade One horse, and I think that preparation is paramount in a race like that.
“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this year his best form was around Kempton – he looked good around there, and was (then) good in defeat around there.”
Silver Streak may, arguably, be more at home on a sounder surface than he found at Cheltenham last year or since.
“I don’t think (good) ground would inconvenience him,” said Williams.
“But the ground in Cheltenham will be what it is – it’s going to be on the soft side, so you have to handle that.
“He’s just a good, tough, genuine horse who will handle that type of ground.”
Williams is adamant Silver Streak’s prospects will be best served without another prep run.
“Yes, 100 per cent,” he said.
“I was always going to do things like this – it was my intention to train him like a Grade One horse this year, and he hasn’t done anything to say that he’s not that at the moment.”
Esprit Du Large is another major Festival hope for Williams – and unlike his stablemate, the hugely-promising novice chaser already has a Grade One victory to his name.
That came over the minimum trip in Sandown’s Henry VIII in early December – and despite an earlier success over three furlongs further at testing Exeter, the trainer confirms the intention is to run in the two-mile Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy rather than the Marsh Novices’ Chase.
“I prefer to go for the Arkle,” he said on Wednesday.
“He will go for that – that’s what I would want to do, anyway.
“He worked this morning, and I was very happy with him.
“There’s no doubt he stays further, not even a question mark – he probably wants further.
“But I’m very, very keen (on the Arkle) – I think it will be very, very competitive, they’ll go very fast, and I’d be very keen to run over that trip.”
Esprit Du Large is another who will not need another run in the meantime, having satisfied Williams with his three performances over fences to date.
“Yes, definitely,” he said.
“I’ve got no queries about that whatsoever, no worries at all.”