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Connections of Birchdale are hoping the once-raced five-year-old can deal with a big step up in grade when he lines up for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham on Saturday.
The Nicky Henderson-trained son of Jeremy did what was asked of him on his debut under rules when landing a 17-runner maiden event at Warwick by four lengths from stablemate Clarendon Street.
A good run had been expected as he was sent off the 9-4 favourite that day and the runner-up has boosted the form by winning his only subsequent race since.
“He won nicely last time. Nicky is very happy with him and hoping for a good run,” said Frank Berry, racing manager to owner JP McManus.
“It’s a big step up and we’ll know a lot more about him after the race. We’re hoping for the best.”
Birchdale is around a 20-1 chance for the race of the same name at the Festival in which Champ, in the same ownership, is as short as 7-2 market leader on the back of his victory in the Grade One Challow Hurdle at Newbury.
His rider Barry Geraghty said in his blog for www.attheraces.com: “He was very good at Warwick and the race has worked out well with the second, third and fifth all winning since.
“I liked the style of his win and he did it like one that would progress from it.
“This is a good test for him, there are some very smart prospects in opposition. Jarveys Plate was impressive last time in beating a horse of Nicky’s that was well fancied and Brewin’Upastorm has also looked a nice horse.
“He is giving up experience to both of them and if he can rise to the challenge, it will put him bang up there with the likes of Champ. I’m really looking forward to riding him and finding out how he measures up in this company.”
Brewin’Upastorm, who was fourth in that race, takes his chance for trainer Olly Murphy.
“I have been very happy with Brewin’Upastorm since Newbury,” he said.
“He has improved from that run and we are looking forward to running in him in what looks a good renewal.
“He is still very unexposed. The Challow was just his second start over obstacles and it was a good run.
“If Saturday’s race is run at a truly championship pace, that will suit him.”
Nelson River bids to enhance his reputation in the JCB Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle.
Tony Carroll’s four-year-old did score on the Flat but has been transformed by the switch to jumps and is unbeaten in two races.
After making a successful debut at Bangor, Nelson River burst on the scene with a victory on this course last month.
“Nelson River is in good form. It was a tough performance at the International (meeting). He is only learning still and has come away from it well,” said Carroll.
“How he gets on at the weekend will obviously determine possible targets in the spring. He is an interesting horse and this will be another test for him.
“It is possible he may want further in time, but at the same time he is still learning about life – he is a very raw type of horse.
“We will probably go back on the Flat with him as well in the future.”
Our Power has won two of his three starts over hurdles and his trainer Alan King is looking forward to seeing how he fares in this company.
“I was delighted to see him back in the winning groove at Newbury last time, having bumped into a smart horse (Fanfan Du Seuil) at Exeter previously,” the Barbury Castle handler told www.alankingracing.co.uk.
“Going left-handed seems to suit him better, he outstayed the runner-up at Newbury and while this is a step up in class, we will learn more about him here.”
King saddles Azzerti in the Timeform Novices’ Handicap Chase and feels the seven-year-old will relish the step up to two and a half miles.
“He was never stronger than at the finish when winning over two miles and one at Ascot last time, so going up in distance should suit him well. He is a progressive chaser,” he said.
Kayley Woollacott believes The Kings Writ will not be out of place in the Spectra Cyber Security Solutions Trophy Handicap Chase.
The eight-year-old won nicely at Exeter last time after tumbling at the last fence at Chepstow when looking to have the race at his mercy.
“Cheltenham will be a step up in grade, but he has been running well all season and deserves his chance in a better race. We have always really rated him at home and we hoped there was improvement there,” said Woollacott.
“I think he is quite flexible in regards trip, but he does travel very well in his races, which is why we have brought him back in trip this season. Over three miles, they do not go quickly enough for him in the first half of the race.
“Two and a half miles seems to suit him well and I think that has brought out quite a bit of improvement.”