Dual Champion Hurdle hero Buveur D’Air is the star attraction in the bet365 Morebattle Hurdle at Kelso on Saturday.
Nicky Henderson’s stable stalwart can count two Champion Hurdles, two Fighting Fifth Hurdles, a Christmas Hurdle and a Punchestown Champion Hurdle among his 17 career victories.
He was sidelined for well over a year after suffering a nasty injury when bidding for a Fighting Fifth hat-trick in 2019, but returned last season with two sound efforts in defeat – finishing second in the Champion Hurdle Trial at Haydock and fourth in the Aintree Hurdle.
Henderson has taken his time before bringing the 11-year-old back to the track this term and has not even entered him for the Cheltenham Festival as he instead targeting a return to Aintree next month.
“It’s great to see him back out again. Nicky is very happy with him. Hopefully he’ll come on for the run, but it’s great to see him out again and get him started,” said Frank Berry, racing manager to owner JP McManus.
“He’s not getting any younger, but it will be interesting to see how he runs. Hopefully he’ll run a nice race.
“We’ll get that out of the way and it would be nice to see him finish off the season somewhere.”
Chief among Buveur D’Air’s rivals is the Harry Fry-trained Metier, who got back on the winning trail in the mud at Lingfield in January.
Fry has been pleased with last year’s Tolworth Hurdle winner since and any rain is an obvious plus to his chance this weekend.
“We were delighted with him at Lingfield. Obviously he’s gone up in the weights as a result, as you would expect, but we’re very happy with him,” said the Seaborough-based trainer.
“There’s a damp forecast and we just hope they get the top end of the range in terms of their rainfall amounts – the more rain the better for us.
“It’s another very competitive handicap hurdle, as you would expect when there’s a very good prize on offer. We’re happy with our horse and hope he can build on what he did at Lingfield.”
A total prize fund of £100,000 is up for grabs in the Kelso feature, with a further £100,000 bonus on offer if the winner can follow up in any race at the Cheltenham Festival.
Emmet Mullins-trained Irish raider The Shunter managed to pull off the double last season, but Fry is keen to get this assignment out of the way before deciding whether Metier could bid to repeat that feat.
Fry, who has entered Metier for the Coral Cup and the County Hurdle, added: “We’ll be trying to win at Kelso first and we’ll worry about things like that afterwards, if we’re lucky enough to win.”
Brian Ellison’s Cormier won at Cheltenham in January and is in the same two handicaps as Metier at the upcoming showpiece meeting.
On his chance, Ellison said: “It’s very competitive, but he’s been a grand little horse and seems in good form.
“We’re hoping for a good run and obviously we could go to Cheltenham afterwards.”
Other contenders include Jessica Harrington’s Autumn Evening, who finished third at last month’s Dublin Racing Festival, and Saint D’oroux, who won at Kelso on his latest outing for Stuart Crawford.