Timeform's Adam Houghton previews the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot on Saturday.
"Has the physical scope for plenty more improvement and who shaped as if this longer trip will be well within range..."
The Reve de Sivola Long Walk Hurdle is the feature race on Saturday's card at Ascot and has been renamed this time around in honour of the horse who won each of the 2012, 2013 and 2014 renewals for the Nick Williams yard.
A veteran of 47 races under Rules, Reve de Sivola met a sad end after suffering internal bleeding at Kelso in March, but will be remembered as a true warrior.
Similar comments also apply to Unowhatimeanharry in many ways. Trainer Harry Fry has squeezed every possible inch of improvement out of the rising 10-year-old since he joined from the Helen Nelmes yard for the 2015/16 season, the gelding racking up a sequence of eight consecutive victories, including this race 12 months ago. He did so in similar, albeit more workmanlike, fashion to Thistlecrack in his ground-breaking season, going without much of the fanfare, too.
Unowhatimeanharry may have received more plaudits had he not met with defeat in the Stayers' Hurdle at Cheltenham in March, or maybe it is because he does not go about his business with quite the same swagger. However, the facts show that he is a three-time Grade 1 winner and, though beaten again in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury last time, he was attempting to give 6 lb to the winner Beer Goggles and ultimately did little to dent his prospects in races of this nature.
Like Reve de Sivola in years gone by, he will be scrapping hard to defend his crown on Saturday, though there are no shortage of contenders aiming to assume the mantle of top dog among the staying hurdlers. Lil Rockerfeller is another battle-hardened sort and actually has a verdict over Unowhatimeanharry already, having had that rival three and a half lengths behind when the pair chased Nichols Canyon home in the aforementioned Stayers' Hurdle.
That represented a career-best effort for Lil Rockerfeller and he showed the benefit of his reappearance with a dominant victory in the Coral Hurdle at this venue (by one and a half lengths from L'Ami Serge) last time, for all that he was ideally position given how the race developed. Also second to Unowhatimeanharry in this race 12 months ago, the return to 3m will be in his favour and he looks sure to give another account.
There is no guarantee that Neil King's charge will be able to confirm the placings with L'Ami Serge here, however, the runner-up having been conceding 6 lb on that occasion. L'Ami Serge was given plenty to do as it turned out, too, jockey Nico de Boinville seemingly focusing more on hot favourite Defi du Seuil than the gutsy frontrunner getting a freebie, and he did well under the circumstances to finish as close as he did.
The winner of the Grande Course de Haies d'Auteuil (by one and a half lengths from Alex de Larredya) in June, where he settled much better in a first-time hood, L'Ami Serge is also likely to benefit from the return to further, still unexposed at around 3m, and is entitled to be thereabouts on form for Simon Munir and Isaac Souede, who are enjoying a fantastic season already.
Sam Spinner, on the other hand, represents a team for whom big-race successes are far harder to come by, but needs respecting nonetheless in this exalted company. He did followers of this column a favour when making all in a competitive handicap at Haydock last time - by 17 lengths from the Dutchman, with The Worlds End well held in eighth - and that level of performance suggests he can be competitive at graded level, with the prospect of yet more to come now stepping up to 3m.
Indeed, for evidence of how a how step up in trip can help a horse, look no further than Thomas Campbell. Akin to Sam Spinner, he was another identified in the latest Horses to Follow book as "a sure-fire improver for a stiffer stamina test", and has lived up to his billing with a brace of comfortable victories in 3m handicaps at Cheltenham, defying a 10 lb hike in the weights on the latter occasion. He is already a different horse to the one that was well beaten in the 2m Kennel Gate Novices' Hurdle at this meeting 12 months ago, and remains open to more improvement as a staying hurdler.
Of the remainder, The Worlds End was a leading staying novice hurdler last season and should strip fitter for his reappearance behind Sam Spinner, but Agrapart, Taquin du Seuil and Ubak have all had plenty of chances at this level already, and are easily opposed.
The return to racing off level weights will aid the chance of favourite Unowhatimeanharry, however he is taking on some up-and-coming young stayers. The list is topped by Sam Spinner who has the physical scope for plenty more improvement and who shaped as if this longer trip will be well within range.