Trainer Rebecca Curtis believes the fact Tony McCoy will be reunited with At Fishers Cross in today’s Wessex Youth Trust Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot is a massive plus.
While Curtis absolved McCoy’s replacement Barry Geraghty of any blame on his seasonal reappearance at Newbury, the champion jockey knows the six-year-old very well having been on board for seven of his eight career wins.
At Fishers Cross confirmed himself as the best staying novice with wins at Cheltenham and Aintree last term. But his jumping was sloppy at Newbury and there was no guarantee he would have reeled in Celestial Halo first time out when he made a bad blunder two from home.
The two horses were due to clash again at Ascot but Paul Nicholls’ mainstay was ruled out on Friday morning with a foot infection.
Curtis said of At Fishers Cross’ Newbury fall: “It did look quite a nasty landing and I thought he might be sore the next day, but he was absolutely fine.
“AP (McCoy) will have been gutted (to not have been able to ride) but it will be his ride for the rest of the season.
“It was just unfortunate it clashed with My Tent Or Yours that day because AP has got a great partnership with him.
“He knows the horse really well, but it was nothing to do with Barry (Geraghty) riding – it was just one of those unfortunate things.
“At Ascot, with that run under his belt, he should jump a lot better, I hope.
“This was always the plan. Newbury was his prep run before the Long Walk. Thankfully he’s fine after Newbury and will come on for it.
“He came back really good after his summer break. He’s definitely a bit stronger physically, I’d say, and being a six-year-old you’d hope he’d keep improving with a bit of age.
“We’re really happy with him. He’s exactly where we want him and we just hope he’ll jump a lot better. With soft ground and that run behind him, he should do that.”
McCoy believes the recent rainfall has been a bonus, but feels At Fishers Cross still has a fair bit to prove.
He said: “I’m looking forward to him. A little bit of rain will probably help his cause, but he needs to get back on track after what happened at Newbury.
“He was unbeaten last season and those horses are hard to come by, but he has got to step up on what he’s done.
“He’s taking on the big boys, but he has got another chance to prove himself here.”
In the absence of Celestial Halo, Nicholls now relies upon Salubrious, who only ran a week ago when second to More Of That in the Relkeel Hurdle.
At Fishers Cross is, however, likely to have most to fear from last year’s Long Walk winner Reve De Sivola, trained by Nick Williams.
The eight-year-old came from an uncompromising position to win a Grade One in France at the start of November but was a long way behind Celestial Halo at Newbury.
“The rain will help him, but it will also help At Fishers Cross,” said his owner Paul Duffy.
“He did very well last year at Ascot, but we go there with hope rather than with any expectation.
“At Fishers Cross on his form from the previous year is going to be hard to beat, but he’s got to get round as well as he did then.
“We’re hopeful and we’re going to give it a good shot.
“It’s one race at a time and we are going to think carefully after this race and see where we go, but, as always, he’ll be doing his best.”
Time For Rupert was a top-class staying hurdler three years ago and pushed Big Buck’s close in the 2010 World Hurdle.
Since then, however, he has been chasing with a mixed degree of success, with the undoubted highlight a fine fifth to Synchronised in the Gold Cup.
Off the track since November 2012 after a growth was found close to his brain, Webber has his eyes on a tilt at the Grand National but Time For Rupert’s owners still need convincing.
“Since his well-documented problems and his operation he has not missed a day since August,” said the Mollington handler.
“He’s done lots of work and while I would obviously expect him to improve for the run I expect him to run well.
“We mustn’t forget that when he last ran over hurdles he got closer to Big Buck’s than many others have since.
“Denis (O’Regan) has been schooling him and ridden him in work and feels all his old ability is still there. I think he looks an ideal National type to me but the owners still need convincing.
“Were he to run a big race, though, and with Big Buck’s having missed a year we may be tempted to stay hurdling.”
The field is completed by the mare Tweedledrum, who has upwards of 30lb to find on official figures to get involved.
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