Olly Murphy feels Thomas Darby “has a point to prove” when the seven-year-old lines-up for the Matchbook Holloway’s Handicap Hurdle at Ascot on Saturday.
Runner-up in last season’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, things have not gone quite to plan in two runs over fences this term so Murphy has decided to put him back over the smaller obstacles and try him over a longer trip.
“He seems in good form. The ground will be a slight concern, but he did run well in the Supreme when the ground was slow,” he said.
“I’m looking forward to stepping him up in trip. He’s obviously got a lot of weight and he’s got a point to prove.
“He ran very well over fences at Warwick and my horses weren’t quite right when he ran at Kempton, but he’s in good form and we’ll have a good idea where we’re going to go for the rest of the season after Saturday.”
Evan Williams is hoping Bold Plan can defy a rise of 10lb for winning at Haydock in November.
“I thought he ran a very good race at Haydock. The handicapper hasn’t missed him and he has gone up a few pounds for standing in his box, but Phil Kirby’s horse (Whoshotthesheriff) has run very well at Ascot since, so he probably deserves it,” said Williams.
“He ran very well in testing conditions at Uttoxeter last season, so I don’t think that will be a problem. I don’t have any issues with the ground or the track, to be honest.
“I think it’s just a question of whether he’s good enough off his new rating – and the only way to find out is to run him.”
Nigel Twiston-Davies does not expect the rain-softened ground to be an issue as Ballymoy bids to lift this prize for a second time.
“He won it last year and he should have a good chance again, I think,” said Twiston-Davies.
“He’s in good form and the testing ground shouldn’t be a problem for him.”
Richard Hobson is just pleased to get Allysson Monterg back on the racecourse in the bet365 Handicap Chase after being absent since finishing fourth in the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham.
“He’s got loads of ability, but he’s going to need it. He’s been off for a year and it’s not like he’s coming back in a Mickey Mouse race – there’s some good horses in there,” said Hobson.
“He’s been plagued with injuries all his career, it’s such a shame.
“For me he’s a Grand National horse, that’s the aim. He’ll stay four miles all day, but I think this trip is fine for his first run back and if he nicks a place, I’ll be happy.
“He was going great in the Cotswold last year and did a tendon coming down the hill, the same one he’d done before.”
Other smart performers among the 11 runners are Kildisart, Happy Diva, Flying Angel and Espoir De Guye.