Improving Pendra primed for Tolworth
Trainer Charlie Longsdon is confident Pendra will raise his game for the 32Red Hurdle Novices' Hurdle at Sandown on Saturday.
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The five-year-old is unbeaten in a bumper and two small races over hurdles, and now finds himself in the white-hot atmosphere of a Grade One, which is registered as the Tolworth Hurdle.
He is bred for the job, however, being the first foal of the smart mare Mariah Rollins, a Grade One winner for Pat Fahey who later joined Nicky Henderson.
While this represents a massive step up in class, the Chipping Norton handler feels Pendra is the type to "run better in a better race".
Longsdon said: "He's a great big strapping type who absolutely loves the soft ground.
"In the three races he's had to date he's done absolutely nothing wrong at all.
"He's not flashy by any means, he only ever just does what he thinks is enough, but because of that we have absolutely no idea how good he could be.
"I hope he'll improve, and I'm sure he will because we've always thought he'd be the type to run better in a better race rather than look impressive against inferior opposition."
Pendra is among seven declarations, which include Golden Hoof and Royal Boy from the Henderson yard.
Barry Geraghty had the choice of the two Seven Barrows runners and admitted it was not an easy decision to plump for Royal Boy.
"It wasn't the easiest call I've ever had to make but, at the end of the day, it boiled down to the ground," said Geraghty.
"I think Golden Hoof might just want the ground a bit better, especially stepping up in class.
"On the other hand, Royal Boy coped with the really heavy ground well at Cheltenham the last day.
"He'd won a point-to-point on good ground but I was hoping he'd handle it as he's a big, robust horse and he got through it well.
"It was a good race he ran in the last day and he ran well, to say it was his first run over hurdles, and I'd imagine the horse who beat us (Melodic Rendezvous) will be the horse to beat again."
Henderson has won the last two renewals of the Tolworth with Minella Class and Captain Conan.
Jeremy Scott runs the promising Melodic Rendezvous, while the Clive Cox-trained Poet, who is part-owned by the Hungerford handler's landlord John Francome, will aim to follow up an impressive debut win over hurdles at Newbury.
Francome has been in the news of late regarding his absence from the relaunch of Channel 4's racing coverage and there would be an ironic twist if the new team are required to interview one of the old guard after the race.
"He won at Newbury better than could have been expected, you always worry a little when they go hurdling as late on as seven," said Francome.
"It's not easy teaching the older horses, and he wouldn't go over a pole to begin with, but after flattening the first at Newbury he jumped really well.
"I just hope he jumps as well again. He didn't have a race last time, he was still on the bridle after the last and it would have been the easiest race of his life.
"It's all about getting them to enjoy hurdling. As long as he runs well he can be a bit of a project and I'm sure we'll find his level eventually.
"This is a step up in class but not when you compare it to the horses he was running against on the Flat."
Evan Williams' Court Minstrel and the Lucy Wadham-trained Le Reve make up the classy field.
Williams needs to get a run into Court Minstrel after his fine third behind Dodging Bullets at Cheltenham in November.
"His form is very good, but I couldn't tell you if he's going to enjoy the ground or not," said the Llancarfan handler.
"I don't know that he won't handle it but he's never run on anything like it before.
"He's mixing it with the best novices around but we think he's good, and we always have done.
"We've taken our time with him and we hope to be rewarded. I still think he'll be better with another summer on his back.
"He needs to run, that's the thing. It's been a while since his last race and we need to know where we are with him.
"Make no mistake, he's smart, and whatever he does we know he's a nice horse."
Henderson confirmed Geraghty's view that Golden Hoof, part-owned by golfer Lee Westwood, would be better suited by a faster surface than he will encounter on Saturday.
"Golden Hoof is a nice horse, but this is a step up for him," Henderson said.
"Ideally he would want slightly better ground than tomorrow, but I hear it is drying out all the time.
"As for Royal Boy, tomorrow's race is a tall order for him, but he has come on from his previous run and likes the soft ground."
Nick Scholfield was the jockey who beat Royal Boy at Cheltenham and he feels it could be those two fighting out the finish again on Melodic Rendezvous.
"He deserves his chance in a Grade One," said Scholfield.
"He did it nicely at Cheltenham where he beat Royal Boy but we had the benefit of experience that day so I'm sure Mr Henderson's horse will be the one to beat this time with that under his belt.
"My horse handles the ground, he showed that at Cheltenham and at Punchestown when he was second to Champagne Fever. He's run on it twice and run well twice but I've always said to Jeremy (Scott, trainer) that I think he'll be ever better on nice ground.
"Tomorrow will tell us more. It was a falsely run race the last day but my lad still came out on top.
"I've always felt he'd get further in time, and good bumper horses usually do, but it will be a stiff enough test."