Henderson: Light is as good as my two Trophy winners.
LANDING LIGHT bids to give Nicky Henderson a third Tote Gold Trophy winner in four years-and the trainer is in no doubt that the gelding has what it takes to emulate his two previous heroes.
Rivals include well-fancied Hulysse Royal, Pierse Hurdle winner Grinkov, County Hurdle victor Master Tern and a six-strong Martin Pipe team featuring the top four in the weights.
Henderson is concerned about the heavy ground, and yesterday played down glowing reports of Landing Light's work with last year's Tote Gold Trophy winner Geos, who he said was "not a flashy worker".
But asked if Landing Light could be compared with either Geos or 1998 Newbury hero Sharpical, he said: "He certainly has that sort of ability."
Landing Light has been favourite since justifying his home reputation with a cosy victory at Cheltenham last month.
And while Henderson claims that "handicaps aren't normally our thing", today's race is the richest of its kind in Europe.
Lack of experience is not considered a problem, even though this will be only his fourth race over hurdles, and nor is the overweight that Mick Fitzgerald will inevitably put up, since Landing Light is officially 8lb well-in, with just a 4lb penalty for last month's win.
Henderson believes Fitzgerald "taught Landing Light how to race in a big field when giving him a very good educational ride" at Cheltenham, so there was no question of removing him for the sake of two or three pounds, and while he would be happier with less testing ground, he believes the gelding is "in there with a great chance".
Fitzgerald insists that Landing Light's inexperience is nothing like the worry that it was before he went to Cheltenham, as he is "already such a little pro".
Nor is he worried about the high head carriage to which some critics have drawn attention. He said: "That's just the way he carries it-it's the same in the paddock. He learned a lot in the hustle and bustle at Cheltenham and he's a solid jumper who will handle this ground, even if he might prefer it a bit better."
No horse has been better backed in the last few days than Hulysse Royal, who was available at 14-1 last weekend and will be ridden for the first time by Norman Williamson, who replaces the luckless Jimmy McCarthy.
Oliver Sherwood has high hopes of the six-year-old and is not concerned about the testing conditions. He said: "He won on heavy going on the Flat in France, although I appreciate that's not quite the same thing, and I'm as confident that he'll handle today's ground as I can be without having run him on it. More importantly, he's won over two and a half miles, or at least he would have done at Kempton last season if he hadn't been eased down, and stamina is going to be important."
He added: "Norman has been down and sat on him over six hurdles, and he was super. I've deliberately not run him much in order to keep him on a decent racing weight, and given luck in running, I'd be very hopeful he'd be in the first four at least."
Doctor Goddard, joint-favourite when fourth last year, takes his chance again, and success in the race would be a fairytale for his amateur rider Aaron Bateman, who has yet to ride a winner under Rules.
But trainer Philip Hobbs thinks Doctor Goddard might be more effective over a longer trip nowadays and is understandably much keener on Richard Johnson's mount Rooster Booster, who was third in last month's Pierse Hurdle at Leopardstown.
He said: "He was a bit unlucky in running at Leopardstown and should certainly have been second, and the galloping track at Newbury will suit him much better. There's maybe a slight doubt about the ground, although he has won on heavy."
Jonjo O'Neill is hoping for a good show from last year's County Hurdle winner Master Tern, although he can offer no real grounds for the six-year-old reversing Cheltenham running with Landing Light.
"Our horse is what he is, whereas Landing Light could be anything, and we are just hopeful," the trainer said. "We don't know how he'll go in the ground, and that could have been a factor at Cheltenham." 5
Landing Light, pictured winning last month at Cheltenham in a race in which he was given a "good educational ride"
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|Publication:||The Racing Post (London, England)|
|Date:||Feb 10, 2001|
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