LEADING staying hurdler Lil Rockerfeller will begin this season’s campaign in the West Yorkshire Hurdle at Wetherby on Saturday.
The £40,000 contest – the main support race to the feature Charlie Hall Chase – has long been targeted by connections of the horse.
Lil Rockerfeller is very, very well and is ready to go on Saturday. It has been the plan all along to start at Wetherby and it looks the ideal starting point for the season.Trainer Neil King
Twelve months ago Lil Rockerfeller was third to the Paul Nicholls-trained Silsol who also features amongst the 12 entries for this year’s renewal.
Yet, while Silsol has not raced since that victory, Lil Rockerfeller and jockey Trevor Whelan was only narrowly denied by the Willie Mullins-trained and Ruby Walsh-ridden Nichols Canyon in the Stayers Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
Although the six-year-old ended last season with a rare lacklustre performance at the Punchestown Festival, trailing in 10th of the 12 runners, Wiltshire-based trainer Neil King is hopeful of a winning comeback.
He said: “Lil Rockerfeller is very, very well and is ready to go on Saturday.
“It has been the plan all along to start at Wetherby and it looks the ideal starting point for the season. He is more forward this time around than he has been in the past.
“The plan is to remain over hurdles and he will follow a similar programme to last year with the main aim being the Stayers’ Hurdle again. For me, the second most important race of the season for him will be the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot (in December), which is another nice prize to go for.”
The going at Wetherby remains soft, and good to soft in places, which should suit 2015 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Coneygree who heads a potentially stellar renewal of the Charlie Hall.
However, ground conditions will dictate whether Bristol De Mai will join stablemate Blaklion in the race.
Blaklion, winner of the RSA Chase at the 2016 Cheltenham Festival, was fourth in the Grand National at Aintree in April.
Bristol De Mai was considered a serious Cheltenham Gold Cup contender after dominating his rivals in the Peter Marsh Chase at Haydock in January, but disappointed in the blue riband and again in the Betway Bowl at Aintree.
Twiston-Davies said: “It all depends on how the ground dries. If there is soft in it hopefully Bristol De Mai will run. Blaklion will go to Wetherby. He is a lovely horse and we will be trying for the National again. It didn’t appear to take much out of him.”
Flat jockey George Chaloner has announced his retirement from the saddle after a succession of heavy falls took their toll.
The highlight of the 25-year-old North Yorkshire rider’s career was Baccarat’s win in the Wokingham Stakes at Royal Ascot in 2014 for trainer Richard Fahey and leading owner Sir Robert Ogden.
Weeks later, he won the Northumberland Plate on Fahey’s Angel Gabrial.
He has not ridden since a bad fall in February, ironically his comeback ride following a previous injury.