MALCOLM JEFFERSON hopes his patience will be rewarded when his highly-regarded Cyrus Darius returns to the fray at Haydock today following a 20-month lay-off.
An impressive Grade Two winner over hurdles at Aintree in April 2015, the horse has been on the sidelines since a hard-fought win on chase debut at Perth the following September.
Today’s test in the stanjames.com Champion Hurdle Trial against proven performers like The New One, a two-time winner of this contest, and Irving will reveal more about the fitness and sharpness of the lightly-raced eight-year-old who will be ridden by Jefferson’s stable jockey Brian Hughes. Cyrus Darius holds a speculative entry in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham – one of the few very northern horses considered good enough for the main championship races – and Jefferson says the plan is to stick to smaller obstacles for now.
“We have decided to go back over hurdles for now.
“He improved a lot over hurdles and ended up being quite impressive at Aintree,” said the Malton trainer.
“The owners have said they would like to have a go over hurdles, so we will see how things go before deciding what we do for the rest of the season.
“He is a big horse and is as ready as I can get him at home.
“He has done a lot of steady work, which has gradually built up, and his schooling has been very good.
“He is in great nick, but it is his first run for a long time and, at this time of year, you are meeting race-fit horses on testing ground.
“I am expecting him to run a real nice race, although if he does need it he won’t be knocked about.”
Haydock’s race will also determine whether the enigmatic The New One has a fourth crack at Champion Hurdle glory in March or steps up to three miles for the Stayers Hurdle.
Trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies, and ridden by his son Sam, the horse polarises opinion despite winning 17 of his 27 starts and being runner-up on five occasions. Victory in the International Hurdle at Cheltenham last month was followed by second place behind Yanworth in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton.
“It was a very good run at Kempton. They harassed him all the way, which didn’t really help,” said the trainer.
“This is probably better than the last two renewals he has won, but he in as good a form as he has ever been.
“I don’t think the really soft ground probably suits him, but there are no other races to go for.”
Meanwhile champion trainer Paul Nicholls is represented by Irving who has not raced since his heroics in Newcastle’s Fighting Fifth Hurdle when providing young jockey Harry Cobden with a first Grade One win.
Cobden, the season’s leading conditional, keeps the ride.
“We’re happy with him. He’s in really good form and has been freshened up since the Fighting Fifth,” said Dan Downie, racing manager for owners Axom.
“He tends to go well fresh and this is the longest break he’s had after his first run of the season.
“Fingers crossed, he seems in really good order.
“Obviously he’s another year older now and he’s got some younger legs to beat, but we couldn’t be happier with him. Any more rain would be fine – the softer the better.”
Earlier the Nicholls-trained Politologue takes on Waiting Patiently, from the yard of the aforementioned Jefferson, in the novice chase.
A seven-length winner on chasing debut at Sedgefield, Waiting Patient beat Brian Ellison’s Forest Bihan, a subsequent winner, at Newcastle.
“I know Brian thinks the world of Forest Bihan and he has won since,” said Jefferson.
“While ours might not be top class he’s a very good horse on soft ground.
“While it’s like it is we may as well have a go. It will tell us a good bit about him.
“He’s got a change of gear, which he showed last time, and he settled well. You just wouldn’t know how good he is.”
Adding further lustre is Maximiser from the Middleham yard of Simon West Dan Skelton’s Its’afreebee, the horse that beat former World Hurdle winner Cole Harden at Wetherby last month.