Timeform preview Saturday's Betfair Stayers' Handicap Hurdle at Haydock and pick out two bets...
"He raced keenly throughout and still looked raw on his first handicap start, so should have more to offer with that under his belt."
In its old guise as the 'Fixed Brush' hurdle, Saturday's Stayers' Handicap Hurdle often acted as a precursor for embryonic chasers before they went over the bigger obstacles, with recent winners including the enigmatic brothers Grands Crus (2010) and Gevrey Chambertin (2013), with the fellow David Pipe-trained French recruit Dynaste winning in between (2011). Other notable winners include According To Pete, Diamond Harry and the Francois Doumen-trained Millenium Royal.
Heading the betting this year is the Tom George-trained The Worlds End who enjoyed a good novice season over hurdles in 2016/17, his wins including the Prestige Novices' Hurdle over C&D and, after falling when still in contention in the Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham, the Sefton Novices' Hurdle at Aintree (by half a length from Beyond Conceit). A strong traveller who remains open to improvement, he is very much shortlist material from a handicap mark of 149.
Hot on his heels in the betting are No Hassle Hoff and Minella Awards. No Hassle Hoff showed useful form last season and was value for extra when winning a handicap at Uttoxeter (well backed, by one and a quarter lengths from Oscarteea) on his return last month. Still relatively unexposed as a staying hurdler, the Dan Skelton-trained gelding remains of interest despite a 7 lb higher mark.
Minella Awards won the EBF 'National Hunt' Novices' Handicap Hurdle Final at Sandown before following up in a 25-runner handicap at Punchestown (by a length from No Comment) in 2016/17. He improved in leaps and bounds last season and should have more to offer on just his fifth start under Rules, though - like several of these - his future probably lies over fences.
Though he would have an obvious chance, the progressive Thomas Campbell had a hard race when successful at Cheltenham at the weekend and is probably doubtful to travel north, so Sam Spinner is of more interest. He won three of four starts in novice hurdles in 2016/17, and shaped well after eight months off when half a length second to Court Minstrel in the Silver Trophy (two and a half miles) at Chepstow last time, losing momentum at the last before rallying and almost getting back up. He raced keenly throughout and still looked raw on his first handicap start, so should have more to offer with that under his belt. The Nick Williams-trained Le Rocher was well held in that Chepstow handicap but, a winner at Uttoxeter last season, he possibly needed the run after eight months off. Representing a yard with a good record in the race, he cannot be discounted if building on that here.
Silsol won the West Yorkshire Hurdle at Wetherby when last seen 392 days ago, but this looks a tough reappearance, while Monksland would have a fair chance on Timeform weight-adjusted ratings if travelling over from Ireland just 13 days after finishing last of four to Apple's Jade in the Lismullen Hurdle at Navan.
Perhaps more pertinent dangers, though, are Hello George and Champers on Ice. The former matched the form of his Newbury win when second to Kris Spin at Ayr earlier this month, suited by the longer trip, while Champers On Ice showed useful form over hurdles in 2015/16, winning novices at Newbury and Cheltenham. The David Pipe-trained gelding ran to a similar level in his first two starts over fences last season and, though failing to meet expectations in that sphere subsequently, looks potentially well treated on his return to hurdling.
At a price, Back Theo's Charm could run well. The seven-year-old's chasing career hasn't really taken off, beaten again at Plumpton on his return last month, but his trainer is in good form at present. Theo's Charm ran as well as ever in first-time blinkers when third over C&D in February and, proven on testing ground, he could bounce back to his best despite a 3 lb higher mark here.