Harry ready for Walk test

Views from connections ahead of Saturday's JLT Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot.

Unowhatimeanharry: Needs to improve again

Harry Fry feels Unowhatimeanharry will need to raise his game if he is to continue his winning run in the JLT Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot.

The eight-year-old was one of the success stories of last season after switching stables prior to the start of the campaign.

He kicked off his season with a handicap victory at Cheltenham off a mark of 123 and four wins later he returned to Prestbury Park to complete the five-timer in the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle.

Having been snapped up by leading owner JP McManus during the summer, Unowhatimeanharry made a spectacular reappearance in last month's Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury.

And connections are hoping he can confirm his status as Britain's leading hope for the World Hurdle with a seventh successive victory at the weekend.

Fry said: "He was far more impressive than we could have hoped for on his reappearance and obviously now he's got to go and back it up with a good run to really announce his authority and put his credentials forward for the World Hurdle.

"He had it all to prove at Newbury and to do it in the manner he did was very exciting, but Saturday is another day and another test of his ability.

"He thrived all last year and we always hope with ours they'll come on for their first run. Hopefully, that's very much the case with him and he'll need to come forward because it's a senior Grade One and another big test for him to go through.

"We'd like to think we're going down the World Hurdle route, but we'll have a far more realistic idea of his chances for March after Saturday."

Unowhatimeanharry faces 10 rivals in the three-mile Grade One contest, with Long Distance Hurdle runner-up Ballyoptic renewing rivalries.

The Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained six-year-old has six lengths to find on the Newbury form and the Naunton handler is hoping more positive tactics can help him bridge the gap.

Champion jockey Richard Johnson takes over in the saddle from the sidelined Ryan Hatch, a move which paid off with stable star The New One in last weekend's International Hurdle at Cheltenham.

"It's a very hot race and the favourite will take a bit of beating, but we'll have a go and see what happens," said Twiston-Davies. "He's in very good form and I think we'll ride him a bit more prominently than we did at Newbury. It's good to have Richard riding for us again."

Alex De Larredya is a fascinating challenger from France for trainer Francois Nicolle.

The six-year-old bolted up in the Grade One Grand Prix D'Automne at Auteuil last month and Daryl Jacob, retained jockey for owner Simon Munir, gets on board for the first time on his British debut.

The owner's racing manager, Anthony Bromley, said: "Unowhatimeanharry obviously sets the standard, but I still think it's an open contest.

"Any more rain we can get will be a help to this horse and he obviously acts on soft and heavy ground. I'd rather it was more soft, than good to soft. He has smart form in France. English hurdles will be a new thing. He's in the form of his life and he's won a Grade One. It was a career-best effort last time, so we thought we'd roll the dice."

Reve De Sivola won three successive renewals of this event between 2012 and 2014 and was runner-up to Thistlecrack 12 months ago.

The Nick Williams-trained veteran was a well-beaten fifth at Newbury three weeks ago, but the Long Walk was always his ultimate aim.

Owner Paul Duffy said: "I'm sure he'll run his heart out. I would say we're hopeful. We know he loves Ascot, but he loves Ascot when it's soft. The ground isn't going to be perfect and if it was softer it would be a better proposition. He's had two runs this season, one at Auteuil and the race at Newbury, and I think he'll strip fitter on Saturday."

Grand National-winning rider David Mullins is an interesting jockey booking.

"Daryl Jacob is obviously retained (to ride for Munir) and Richard Johnson was otherwise engaged. Nick sorted the jockey situation out and feels he (Mullins) is the best available," Duffy added. "He's a top guy, we're pleased to have him and hopefully he'll give the horse a good ride."

Neil King is looking forward to saddling stable star Lil Rockerfeller.

The chestnut gelding was third in the West Yorkshire Hurdle at Wetherby on his seasonal reappearance, before giving Yanworth plenty to think about in the Coral Hurdle at this venue.

"The most exciting thing about him was that his first run of the season was his best to date and then we went and bettered that when he was second to Yanworth at Ascot last time," King told At The Races.

"Saturday in the Long Walk will be the first time at level weights this year and they are in his favour for a change. "I thought Unowhatimeanharry was frightfully impressive at Newbury. I don't know how we are going to get past him on the performance he put up there.

"I don't want to be over critical, but you could say that the others in the race didn't run up to their true form and he was made to look better than he actually is. I know we are going to improve over three miles and the weights are right for us. We gave him a nice piece of work on Saturday morning and it went really well. He's bucking and squealing and I couldn't be happier with him."

Paul Nicholls runs Ptit Zig and Zarkandar, while Un Temps Pour Tout, Shelford, West Approach and Surtee Du Berlais complete the line-up.

Read More at Sporting Life

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