The wraps come off Defi Du Seuil as top stayers seek to end his winning run

Coral Hurdle (registered as the Ascot Hurdle) | 2m3½f | Grade 2 | ITV/RUK

The Ascot Hurdle has been won by some wonderful horses. Faugheen, Annie Power, Baracouda and Dawn Run are just four of the superstars who have added their name to a roll of honour that last season's outstanding juvenile Defi Du Seuil now seeks to join.

Through a fabulous campaign, the JP McManus winning machine was unbeaten in seven starts, claiming the spring championship events at Cheltenham and Aintree in style.

As a best-priced 9-1 shot for the Unibet Champion Hurdle, he returns to action at Ascot rather than Cheltenham, with connections having bypassed their original target, the Greatwood Hurdle.

"Our overall consideration was he was likely to have a harder first race of the season in the Greatwood than he probably would at Ascot," said trainer Philip Hobbs.

"As things have turned out, he's also certainly a shorter price for this race than he would have been last weekend."

Although yet to be beaten over hurdles, Defi Du Seuil has never run over the 2m3½f trip he faces on Saturday.

So is he fit enough to win and does he have the stamina?

"I couldn't be happier with him," said Hobbs. "He's a pretty clean-winded horse and we wouldn't want to be running him if he wasn't pretty fit, but I'm also sure he'll come on a little bit for the run.

"The trip is an unknown. However, most juvenile hurdlers who do well want a longer trip eventually, so it shouldn't be an issue."

For his second start of the season Defi Du Seuil will go down in trip. L'Ami Serge will head in the opposite direction having enjoyed his finest hour when winning the 3m1½f French Champion Hurdle under a sensational Daryl Jacob ride in June.

With Jacob at Haydock, Nico de Boinville takes over on L'Ami Serge, who used to have something of an unfortunate reputation for being a tad soft under pressure.

Trainer Nicky Henderson is quick to his defence.

He said: "People called him names but they should have called me names. I was running him over the wrong trip, although in my defence he did finish second in last season's County Hurdle.

"We'll be going back up to three miles, and this is the obvious route into the Long Walk, but if we ran him over three miles first time out he would tank. He's so fresh and well that no-one could hold him.

"At least over this trip they should go a better gallop. For that reason it looks a nicer race to start his season. He's a big horse, though, so there will be improvement."

Like L'Ami Serge, Lil Rockerfeller wants three miles, as he showed when defeating everything apart from Nichols Canyon in the Stayers' Hurdle.

At Wetherby three weeks ago he was well beaten, but his team reckon that was a fitness flaw. This time he is fully fit and, according to part-owner Andy Smith, Trevor Whelan's mount, second in this race last year, will be attempting to run the race out of Defi Du Seuil.

"Defi Du Seuil and L'Ami Serge are giving us weight," said Smith. "Defi also started out in mile-and-a-half bumpers and has never run this far. We want to be getting him into the home straight and making him show that he stays. We need to be positive and we will be positive."


Smith added: "He's a big horse and I don't think he was as straight as we thought at Wetherby. He just got a bit tired. Even so, last year he came on that much from the Wetherby race that he led Yanworth over the final flight at Ascot. I also don't think it was a bad race at Wetherby this season.

"I have a feeling he loves Ascot. I think this is our track and I think this is going to be our day. I'm feeling confident."

If those linked to Wakea and Dicosimo feel confident they know something we do not. However, they add interest, given both could help ensure this is a proper stamina test.

Karl Thornton, trainer of Irish raider Wakea, said: "It's going to be a tough task but the ground will be better than it is at home and that will help. There's plenty of prize-money on offer and we're hoping to get some of it."