TRAINER Neil King does not view the drop in trip as a negative for his stable star Zeroeshadesofgrey as he tackles the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham this afternoon.
Eight go to post and none can be ruled out with certainty but King’s grey boasts the highest rating in the race on the back of three bloodless wins over timber.
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Two of those victories have been over three miles, but King has seen enough on the gallops to convince him his top-class prospect will not be inconvenienced.
“He’s dropping down in trip and it’s quicker ground than the last twice, but he’s in great form and took his last race really well,” said King.
“I honestly don’t see it being a problem. He shows speed at home so the fact he’s been winning over three miles in heavy ground at Uttoxeter suggests to me he’s got class as well.
“He’s the highest rated but hasn’t been off the bridle over hurdles – his bumper form helps concrete his rating I think.
“I think he’s earned a crack at a race like this and I’m really looking forward to it.”
Nicky Henderson runs Different Gravey, a winner on his Rules debut at Newbury, and Birch Hill, who was pulled up on his hurdling bow.
“These are two very nice horses and I honestly couldn’t split them,” he said.
“Different Gravey looked a nice prospect when winning at Newbury, but that was over two miles and now he is stepping up to two and a half.
“Birch Hill just didn’t jump last time for some reason, but he shows plenty at home.”
Barry Geraghty rides Different Gravey but he is fearful he could be on the wrong one.
“He won well at Newbury and looks a nice sort,” said Geraghty.
“But Birch Hill, if you ignore his Huntingdon run, could easily beat me getting 10lb. His form in a Cheltenham bumper is very smart and he just never jumped at Huntingdon for some reason.
“I could quite easily be on the wrong one, but you can’t ride them all.”
Harry Fry has always rated Thomas Brown highly but a jumping error cost him vital momentum at Newbury last time.
“In fairness, he did very well to stand up at the third last given how wrong he met it. He was giving the winner lumps of weight so it was a very solid performance,” said Fry.
“We had him in the Challow earlier this week but, looking at the ratings for that, he would have had it all to do so we came here instead.
“Saying that, it looks very competitive, as all Cheltenham novice hurdles are.
“Quite understandably, when you have a nice novice hurdler, you want them to get as much experience as they can of the track if they are going to go there in March.
“He doesn’t want extremes of ground so good to soft should be perfect for him.”
Colin Tizzard runs Robinsfirth, a bumper winner who scored on his hurdling debut at Exeter
“It’s obviously a huge step up in class but he’s only raced three times and won twice,” said Tizzard.
“He’s a lovely big horse and we’re running him to see where we stand against the good ones.
“It’s a similar situation to Native River in the Challow but, whereas he is only four, this lad turns six tomorrow so ought to know a bit more.
“This looks hot, a few have re-routed from the Challow, but we’ll know more after it.”
Tom O’Brien is looking forward to riding the Philip Hobbs-trained Brother Tedd, a winner of his last two after coming to grief on his debut over obstacles.
“He fell on his first run [over hurdles] at Fontwell, but he’s won his next two really well,” said O’Brien.
“He looks very progressive and we’ll go there hoping for the best.”
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