Ballymore Novices' Hurdle (Grade 2) | 2m5f, 4yo+ | ITV4/RUK
Colin Tizzard enters the November meeting with his string in fine fettle and Darlac holds strong claims of giving the trainer a first win in this race.
The Tizzard team have won with ten of their last 21 runners, a run featuring five winners on Sunday and a four-timer at Exeter on Wednesday, and are looking to translate their quantity of winners into Grade 2 success with Darlac, who won effortlessly by 17 lengths at Fontwell last month.
Tizzard said: "He bolted up at Fontwell last time in what was probably a moderate contest. He's taking a big step up but will not mind the ground and deserves to take his chance."
Speaking in his Coral blog, Joe Tizzard, assistant trainer, said: "He couldn’t have been more impressive at Fontwell and Dickie Johnson was keen to ride him again. He’s done some lovely pieces of work, and it really wouldn’t be a surprise if he shook them up here."
Nicky Henderson won this race 12 months ago in dramatic fashion with On The Blind Side and is represented by Patricia Pugh's Pym, who tackles a new trip after finishing second over 1m7½f at Ascot.
Henderson said: "Going up in trip will help. The winner just got a run on him at the second-last at Ascot and I’d say two miles is a touch too short now. He’ll love two and a half miles."
Fergal O’Brien runs second-season hurdler Coolanly, who fell early in the Grade 2 Persian War Novices’ Hurdle at Chepstow last month.
O'Brien will be hoping the six-year-old can follow a path resembling that of stablemate Poetic Rhythm, who finished third in this race last season before capturing a first Grade 1 for the trainer.
He said: “We’re looking forward to him running, it didn’t go to plan at Chepstow but we think he’s a lovely horse. He ran okay at the festival last season.
“It'd be our hope that maybe we could end up in a decent Graded race, but we’ll get this out of the way first and see how we go.
“Ideally – like everyone else probably – we’d like a bit of soft ground, but as long as it's safe ground he’ll take his chance."
Coolanly is not the only runner to differ from the typical novice profile as Double Treasure, a four-time winner over fences, dwarfs his rivals for experience and enters the race as the highest-rated horse.
His trainer Jamie Snowden said: "He won four chases last year and needs the good ground. He ran well to be second in the Persian War last time and this was the logical step after that."
Nestor Park, who finished down the field in the Champion Bumper at last season's Cheltenham Festival, makes his hurdling debut.
His trainer Ben Pauling said: "He'll only run if I'm happy with the ground. He needs practice for his targets over Christmas, but I think he'll run nicely."