JLT Reve De Sivola Long Walk Hurdle | Grade 1 | 4yo+ | 3m½f | ITV4/RUK
Unowhatimeanharry has become a somewhat lengthy byword for consistency among the ranks of staying hurdlers since landing the Albert Bartlett at the festival in March 2016.
The nine-year-old's runner-up effort behind 40-1 chance Beer Goggles last month – where Unowhatimeanharry was conceding 6lb to the winner – was only a second defeat since that novice triumph and his record in level weights Grade 1 contests is three from four.
"We are coming off a defeat in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury, but he’s in good order and we’ve met most of the opposition before so we know what we are up against," Harry Fry wrote in his Betway blog.
"Last time we just weren’t good enough on the day to give weight away to Beer Goggles but we are on a level playing field this time around with it being a Grade 1."
PROS The winner of this race 12 months ago and clear top of these on ratings
CONS Unlikely to be improving at the age of nine and is occasionally vulnerable to horses previously unexposed at staying trips.
As recently as last March L'Ami Serge was being campaigned as a two miler, failing only narrowly in the final strides to land the County Hurdle off top weight.
Previously quite headstrong, Daryl Jacob and Nicky Henderson have done a wonderful job in teaching the son of Kings Theatre to drop the bit, allowing him to capture the Grand Course de Haies at Auteuil last June on his first attempt at an extended three miles.
"L'Ami Serge is a proven Grade 1 horse and won the French Champion Hurdle over three miles, which probably surprised us a little bit on the day," said Henderson.
"This is his first chance to try it in England but he is in very good form and ran very well at Ascot over a shorter trip last time. Settling him will be the key to the whole thing."
PROS A proven Grade 1 staying hurdler who, should Jacob be able to settle him, has a proper turn of foot.
CONS Much depends on whether he settles as kindly as he did through the first mile at Auteuil.
Henderson's other runner, Thomas Campbell, has been a revelation since stepping up in trip, completing back-to-back victories in handicap company at Cheltenham in October and November
Thomas Campbell winning at Cheltenham's November Meeting, photo Liesl King
Henderson said: "Thomas Campbell has gone straight to the top of the handicap with two very good performances at Cheltenham and really, there is no halfway house. He has got to come into a Grade 1."
PROS Has looked very good in two starts at around this trip and is much less exposed than most of these.
CONS This is clearly a big step up in class against proven Grade 1 performers.
It is hard to believe Lil Rockerfeller is not yet seven years old, his heart-on-the-sleeve running style seems to have been a feature of top class staying hurdles for longer than that would suggest.
Narrowly denied the ultimate prize at Cheltenham by Nichols Canyon in March, things didn't go right for Neil King's charge at either Punchestown or on his seasonal return at Wetherby, before getting back to winning ways when holding off L'Ami Serge over an extended 2m3f here last month.
PROS His very best form puts him within a pound or two of the best on RPRs and will make sure any suspect stamina is found out in his rivals.
CONS Needs to have improved since finishing second in this race 12 months ago.
A trio of novice successes spread between Newcastle and Catterick might not have hinted too strongly that Sam Spinner would be facing Grade 1 company before the year's end.
But then this isn't a regular racing script. This horse has fully repaid owners Paul and Caron Chapman's faith in trainer Jedd O'Keefe, who previously suffered with throat cancer, and faced financial ruin before the couple's investment in his yard.
After a near miss on his open company debut in the Silver Trophy at Chepstow, Sam Spinner obliterated a high-quality lineup in a Grade 3 handicap at Haydock on his first try at a staying trip.
"I don’t think I’m known for exposing our horses to targets that are way beyond their reach," said O'Keefe.
"We didn’t have a lot of choice because handicaps will be tough off his current mark. He is a horse who has suddenly learnt his job and we may see a bit more improvement for this slightly longer trip. I don’t go into tomorrow’s race expecting we are going to win but I'm hoping for a good run."
Agrapart found speed an issue in France on his seasonal reappearance but there wouldn't be a dry eye in the Williams house should Lizzie Kelly guide him to victory in the race that bears their three-time winner Reve De Sivola's name.
Taquin Du Seuil seems to have been revived back over hurdles, although a strict reading of pounds and ounces leaves him with something to find on his third placed effort behind Unowhaitimeanharry at Newbury.
The World's End can be expected to improve on his seasonal reappearance behind Sam Spinner, having won a Grade 1 as a novice last season.
"I'm hoping we can put a line through Haydock," said Tom George. "It's ultra-competitive and this will tell us a lot about where we go with him."
Ubak returns after a 13-month absence, having last been seen when fourth to Unowhatimeanharry in the 2016 Long Distance Hurdle.