Ballymore Leamington Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 2) | 2m5f | 5yo+ | ITV4/RUK
Many a future star has graduated from the Leamington Novices’ Hurdle over the years, including subsequent dual Grade 1 hero The New One who triumphed in 2013.
The New One was sent off odds-on favourite when running out an impressive winner of this race, and stablemate Count Meribel could also start market leader based on a highly progressive profile of three wins from his last four starts.
The Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained six-year-old has improved with each run, and put up a career-best performance in defeat at the hands of Kilbricken Storm at Cheltenham last month.
That was over three miles, and Twiston-Davies believes the drop back in trip will be in his favour.
“Count Meribel has done ever so well this season,” he said. “He seemed to be outstayed at Cheltenham so we’re dropping down to two miles and five furlongs. I’m looking forward to the race.”
Count Meribel’s three wins this season have come at Carlisle (twice) and Ascot, where he put up an excellent display to slam Perfect Harmony by eight lengths.
Nicky Henderson’s Mr Whipped is also sure to have plenty of supporters in receipt of 3lb from Count Meribel.
Unbeaten in two starts since joining the champion trainer, the son of Beneficial stayed on strongly over 2m4½f at Newbury last time to beat Gowiththeflow by three lengths.
Henderson said: “I like Mr Whipped. He did what he had to do at Kempton, which was easy, and I was impressed with him at Newbury. It was soft ground there, and he stays the trip. It's a step up in grade, but I think he is ready for it.”
Chooseyourweapon also lines up with an unbeaten record after two victories on testing terrain at Chepstow.
“It’s a tough race and a massive step up in class, but I’d rather run him in a race like this with no penalty,” trainer Evan Williams said. “He’s a very nice horse.”
Emma Lavelle reports that Paisley Park, a fluent seven-length winner on his hurdling debut at Hereford last month, has been showing all the right signs at home ahead of this step up in grade.
“I was really impressed with him at Hereford,” she said. “He has improved in his work since that run, and has improved in his schooling as well.
“Paisley Park is a nice horse, and deserves to take his chance in a race like this.”
Cave Top, winner of three handicap hurdles for Oliver Greenall this season, during which period his official rating has rocketed from 110 to 132, confirmed he is still on the upgrade by beating Crucial Role by two and a quarter lengths at Uttoxeter last month.
David England takes the mount for the first time.
The Dan Skelton-trained Knight In Dubai, a comfortable winner of a Wetherby novice hurdle last month by four and a half lengths from subsequent scorer Game On, completes the six-strong field.