Unbeaten Ballyoptic and Hatch facing Wetherby challenge

Ballyoptic ridden by Ryan Hatch jumps the last to win The Betfred 'Racing's Biggest Supporter' National Hunt Novices Hurdle Race during the Betfred Midlands Grand National Day at Uttoxeter Racecourse.
Ballyoptic ridden by Ryan Hatch jumps the last to win The Betfred 'Racing's Biggest Supporter' National Hunt Novices Hurdle Race during the Betfred Midlands Grand National Day at Uttoxeter Racecourse.
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JOCKEY Ryan Hatch is hopeful Ballyoptic can extend his winning run in the bet365 West Yorkshire Hurdle at Wetherby, the chief supporting race to the feature Charlie Hall Chase.

The Irish point-to-point graduate was something of a surprise winner on his hurdling debut and first start for Nigel Twiston-Davies at Ffos Las in February, but followed up in style at Uttoxeter before completing his hat-trick in Grade One company at Aintree.

Ballyoptic made a winning return in Chepstow’s Silver Trophy three weeks ago, Twiston-Davies producing an early contender for celebration of the season as he implored his horse home, and is hot favourite for this Grade Two over three miles.

“He’s unbeaten for us and ever since he won his first race at Ffos Las he has just kept improving,” said Hatch, who rides RSA Chase winner Blaklion in the Charlie Hall. “I had a great day on him in Aintree and we were delighted with him at Chepstow the other week.

“Two and a half (miles) was on the short side for him, but he travelled up well with those horses and showed a really good attitude at the end of the race. Hopefully he’ll improve for the run, he’s done everything we’ve asked of him so far and we’ll give it our best shot.”

The Twiston-Davies team is certainly flying after taking the first two races at Wetherby yesterday courtesy of the Jamie Bargary-ridden Scotchtown and Robinshill.

That said, the West Yorkshire Hurdle has an impressive roll of honour – both the enigmatic Tidal Bay and the much missed Fair Along have been dual winners in the past decade while the fantastic front-runner Cole Harden landed the spoils in 2014 en route to World Hurdle glory the following March.

Meanwhile, in-form trainer Colin Tizzard views the race as the ideal preparation for Native River ahead of a tilt at Newbury’s iconic Hennessy Gold Cup.

Though the horse won a Grade One novice at Aintree, Native River could yet revert back to hurdling depending on the future plans of stablemates Cue Card – the defending Charlie Hall champion – and the precocious novice Thistlecrack who is already ante-post Gold Cup favourite.

“We wanted to give him a run before the Hennessy and we had this idea to go over hurdles as there is not really anything else for him,” said Tizzard. “We thought if we did go and win a chase he would go up the handicap. He will like the good ground. He has done plenty of work, as much as Thistlecrack and Cue Card.”

Local hopes rest with Malton trainer Malcolm Jefferson’s Oscar Rock.

As identified by The Yorkshire Post yesterday, the mare Indian Stream justified the confidence of trainer Neil Mulholland by winning yesterday’s bet365 Chase at Wetherby under Noel Fehily.

“She likes good ground and I think two-mile-five is her ideal trip,” said Mulholland. “She must be a fair mare to win off a mark of 143, but it will only get tougher. We might just aim her at the Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, we finished fourth in that with Pass The Time last year and she’s a stone better than her.”

Meanwhile, the David Bass-ridden Charbel was a worthy winner of the two-mile Kalahari King Beginners’ Chase at Uttoxeter. A Graded race in all bar name, it celebrated former West Witton trainer Ferdy Murphy’s former Grade One-winning steeplechaser who was placed at four successive Cheltenham Festivals and is now living the life of Riley in retirement with owners Neil and Julie Morgan.

Bass set out to make all on the Kim Bailey-trained chasing debutant and he had a more than willing partner who showed great resolve to fend off the highly-regarded pair of Le Prezien and Top Notch.

“What a performance. To make all in a novice chase like that and jump like that, I’m thrilled. I hope there’s more improvement to come. The big tests will be on the bigger courses – Kempton, Sandown and Ascot. Those are the places he needs to be going,” said an elated Bailey.

Warren Greatrex believes La Bague Au Roi could be Cheltenham material after making a successful start to her jumping career in the Pektron Mares’ Maiden Hurdle under Gavin Sheehan.