Pettifour and Lough Derg look set to take their chances in the £42,500 Grade Two John Smith’s Hurdle (3.00pm), run on the second day of the bet365 Charlie Hall Chase Meeting at Wetherby on Saturday, November 1.
The three mile and one furlong contest is the first major test of the season for some of the country’s leading staying hurdlers and is the second race of the prestigious Order of Merit series - a season-long narrative of races that rewards racing’s top Pattern race performers over jumps.
Six-year-old Pettifour enjoyed an exceptional first season over timber, winning in novice events at Hereford and Newbury before a stunning triumph in the Grade One Sefton Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree on his latest start in April.
Trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies, who saddled Redemption to win the John Smith’s Hurdle in 2006, hopes that Pettifour can make the step up from novice company and prove himself against some of the top staying hurdlers this season.
The Naunton-based handler said: “We will enter Pettifour in the John Smith’s Hurdle and the plan is to run in the race. He’s been fine over the summer and we are looking to see how he gets on against some more experienced opposition.
“I was delighted with the way he improved with every race last season, especially his Aintree victory, which was only his third start over hurdles.
“We would ideally like good racing ground and we will use the race to try and find out if he is a serious contender for the top staying hurdles throughout the season, including the Ladbrokes World Hurdle (at the Cheltenham Festival) in March.
“But we will hopefully start him off at Wetherby and take it from there.”
The John Smith’s Hurdle is also a possible target for the David Pipe-trained Lough Derg, who finished third behind Black Jack Ketchum and Faasel in last year’s race. The eight-year-old went on to triumph in the Grade One Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot in December before returning to the Berkshire course to defy top weight in the Grade Two Holloway’s Hurdle the following month.
He also defeated 2006 Ladbrokes World Hurdle winner My Way De Solzen in the Grade Two National Spirit Hurdle at Fontwell in February and finished second behind Kauto Star in last season’s Order of Merit series.
Pipe commented: “Lough Derg will be entered in the John Smith’s Hurdle and he’s a possibility for the race. He’s in good form and will have no problem with fast ground. He likes it quick and ran at the course in last year’s race, when the ground was good to firm.
“If he keeps winning like he did last year then we would definitely think about the Order of Merit but we could start him off at Wetherby and see how he goes from there.”
The John Smith’s Hurdle has been won by some of the leading hurdlers of recent times including 1997 scorer Pridwell, who was trained by David’s father Martin and went on to beat the legendary Istabraq in the Grade One Aintree Hurdle later that season.
Irish raider Boss Doyle finished second in the bet365 Charlie Hall Chase on his first visit to Wetherby in 1998 but returned two years later to triumph in the John Smith’s Hurdle before repeating the feat 12 months later. The Mouse Morris-trained gelding tried for a hat-trick in 2002 but could only finish second to Brother Joe.
The Howard Johnson-trained Inglis Drever was successful in the race in 2005, having won the first of his three Grade One Ladbrokes World Hurdles at Cheltenham the previous season, while last year’s race was won by Grade One novice scorer Black Jack Ketchum, who battled to a neck victory over Faasel.
The other Order of Merit contest on Saturday’s fantastic seven-race card is the £90,000 bet365 Grade Two Charlie Hall Chase (3.35pm), a three mile one furlong contest that has been won in recent years by outstanding chasers such as One Man, See More Business and Our Vic.
Last season’s race went to Ollie Magern, who made all of the running to defeat State Of Play and Monkerhostin. All three horses are set to return this year in what promises to be another fascinating renewal.
Saturday’s card also includes the second running of the £40,000 Listed bet365 Best Odds Guaranteed Mares’ Hurdle (2.20pm), which was created last year as part of a series of six new mares’ only Pattern races designed to increase the opportunities available to mares.
The inaugural running went to Annie’s Answer, who provided local trainer Jane Makin with the biggest success of her career by getting the better of the David Pipe-trained Gaspara in a thrilling finish.
Friday’s six-race card includes the extended two-mile £18,000 Listed Weatherbys Bank Wensleydale Juvenile Novices’ Hurdle (2.10pm), and the Listed bet365.com Handicap Chase (2.45pm), run over an extended two and a half miles, won last year by Wetherby specialist and subsequent Cheltenham Festival scorer Mister McGoldrick.
“However, despite minimal rain, the remedial work we undertook on the new areas of the track in September continues to show signs of improvement and the watering will only add to that and all being well the ground will be very similar to that which we had on our previous fixture.
“I was delighted with the level of support shown by owners, trainers and jockeys prior to and during our first meeting of the new season and I am looking forward to seeing some fantastic racing action throughout the two days of the bet365 Charlie Hall Chase Meeting.”
Advance tickets are selling very well and can be purchased by calling the course on 01937 582035 or online at www.wetherbyracing.co.uk.
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