Olly Murphy reports Thomas Darby to be at the top of his game ahead of the Stella Artois National Spirit Hurdle at Fontwell on Sunday.
The seven-year-old delighted his trainer when defying the steadier of 11st 12lb in a competitive handicap hurdle at Ascot last month, after two placed efforts when tried over fences.
Murphy is sticking to the smaller obstacles with Thomas Darby for the time being, with the Grade One Aintree Hurdle seen as the ultimate objective this season.
Thomas Darby is likely to skip Cheltenham, where he was second in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle last season. His only entry is in the Unibet Champion Hurdle.
“He’s in great form. Aidan Coleman had a sit on him on Friday morning and schooled him,” said Murphy.
“I’m really looking forward to running him. It’s great prize-money and hopefully he’ll run a big race.”
The biggest danger to Thomas Darby in the Grade Two heat could come from Quel Destin.
Paul Nicholls’ admirable five-year-old took his tally to eight when beating Call Me Lord in the Contenders Hurdle at Sandown three weeks ago.
He tries two miles and three furlongs after fading on the run to the line when fifth to Summerville Boy in the slightly longer Relkeel Hurdle at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day.
William Henry, who was third in the Relkeel, takes his chance for trainer Nicky Henderson.
Jane Williams steps Monsieur Le Coq up in trip and down in class after the six-year-old found the company too hot when seventh of nine behind Honeysuckle in the Irish Champion Hurdle.
Chesterfield, trained by Seamus Mullins, completes the list of five runners.