Henderson two-handed in a bid to land valuable finale again

Racing Welfare Handicap Hurdle l Grade 3 l 1m7½f l ITV4/RUK

Nicky Henderson landed the one-two in this a year ago with Brain Power and Consul De Thaix and could well repeat the feat with Charli Parcs and Verdana Blue.

The master of Seven Barrows also collected the valuable contest, which was run as the Ladbroke until 2015, with Sentry Duty (2008) and Jack The Giant (2007).

Charli Parcs, who is one of two runners in the JP McManus colours, looks to have an obvious chance after chasing home the classy High Bridge at Listed level at Newbury last month but his stablemate Verdana Blue should not be underestimated after her emphatic win at this venue last time.

Henderson said: "My biggest concern for Charli Parcs and Verdana Blue is the ground. I understand why they have it as the last race but both horses would ideally want better ground than this. Being the last race of a two day meeting might not help them." 

There has never been a Welsh winner but Evan Williams fires two bullets at the target with the four-year-old pair Silver Streak and Evening Hush.

He said: "Silver Streak had a proper holiday in the summer and came back a different horse. He's improved physically and it was no surprise he won on his comeback at Chepstow. It's a great old race to be involved in and hopefully he can run well."

A two-time winner last winter, stablemate Evening Hush did not pull up any trees when beating just one home on her return at Sandown recently and Williams was quick to voice his thoughts on the matter.

"I think the handicapper got the juveniles wrong last year and overrated them as I've not seen many run very well this season and that includes Defi Du Seuil. The four-year-olds generally have struggled in Graded races this winter and they could all do with coming down a few pounds."

King for another day

Alan King last won this with Raya Star in 2011 and is back for another tilt with the improving Elgin although the stats are against him as no topweight has won this for over a decade.

”It’s fair to say that Elgin has surprised me, and I hope he continues to do so," King said. "He has manned up a lot this season and battled all the way up the run-in to win here in November, and he then dispelled my fears that the Greatwood Hurdle might come too soon with another marvellous success."



Elgin winning the Greatwood at Cheltenham, photo Liesl King


The trainer added drying ground could be a welcoming factor for the topweight. “I've never seen Elgin as a soft ground horse and I feel he won despite the conditions at Cheltenham rather than because of them.

"Wayne [Hutchinson] was brilliant in giving up the outside to no-one in an attempt to get what decent ground there was. He's had a break since the Greatwood and worked very well last week, so he goes there in super form.”

Usual Irish challenge

The Irish have won this twice in the past five years with the Gordon Elliott pair Cause Of Causes (2012) and Bayan (2014) and have three representatives headed by Bleu Et Rouge.

The six-year-old did not cover himself with glory on his return to hurdles at Fairyhouse this month but has high-class form to his name including when winning a Grade 1 last year.


Trainer Willie Mullins said: "We switched him back from fences for his first run of the season at Fairyhouse early this month. He should have come on for the run and is in good form. The track and the ground should suit. He was a Grade 1 winner as a novice two seasons back and, hopefully, he'll go well."

Gordon Elliott is back with the lightly weighted Veinard, who needs to step up on what he has shown so far this season.

"He's in good form and while he hasn't won for some time, he has run well in some big handicaps in the past. Hopefully, things might fall his way this time. He's in very good form," Elliott said. 

Mullins has two 

Seamus Mullins provides the only link to last year's race with his two runners Fergall (third) and Chesterfield (eighth) who ran very respectably behind Brain Power a year ago and are back for more.

Punters will be taking a leap of faith with the pair as both have been out of form so far this year. 

What the others say

Tom Mullins, trainee of Top Othe Ra
I'm putting a line through his last run at Fairyhouse. We scoped him and found that he had swallowed a lot of kickback. The nicer ground should suit and we've very happy with him.

Brian Ellison, trainer of Nietzsche
He ran well enough on his comeback at Cheltenham to suggest he retains his ability and has worked well at home since. He's come on since then and goes there with an each-way chance.

Kerry Lee, trainer of Magic Dancer
Obviously it's a huge step up in class from winning a boys' race and then a 0-125 handicap at Cheltenham but he has a low weight and goes there with a small each-way chance. He wouldn't want the ground to be drying out too much.