Nicky Henderson believes talented dual-purpose performer Verdana Blue has plenty in her favour as she bids to return to winning ways at Kempton on Sunday.
Having been forced to miss last weekend’s Cesarewitch at Newmarket with an abscess in her foot, the eight-year-old mare will switch codes in the Racing TV Hurdle – a two-mile Listed prize she landed in 2018 en route to claiming the Grade One Christmas Hurdle over course and distance later in the year.
Although only sighted over hurdles once last season Verdana Blue has run two respectable races in defeat on the Flat this campaign, having finished second in the Ascot Stakes at the Royal meeting and third in the Ebor.
Henderson said: “She ran a great race in the Ebor and at Royal Ascot, and she got rain both times which she didn’t need.
“Two miles around Kempton on good ground is ideal for her. Conditions suit her and she has won it before. She has got rid of her Grade One penalty.
“The abscess did hold us up, but it cleared by Sunday and she has had a good week. She did a very nice piece of work earlier in the week and schooled very professionally as well.
“She is the most admirable, tough and genuine thing that I’ve come across and this is a nice race for her – she has the figures in her favour.”
The Seven Barrows trainer will also be represented by Brain Power, who will be making his first start since landing last year’s American Grand National at Far Hills.
Henderson added: “We were going to go back to America, but the race itself was abandoned this year. He needs a run and is in good form, but he is all wrong at the weights with Verdana Blue.
“He probably will need this, but we will get him ready to go there and do his best. He worked on Tuesday and worked extremely well.
“He hasn’t run since America last year and we had brought him back for the spring, but that didn’t happen. He has been on the go for a long time and I’m desperate to get him out.”
The Paul Nicholls-trained Diego Du Charmil is better known as a chaser, but he found only Song For Someone too strong in the rearranged Kingwell Hurdle at the track on his final start last season.
His rider Harry Cobden said: “It is a competitive race and we have to give Verdana Blue 7lb, which isn’t ideal as she is pretty good on her day and she will love the ground there and conditions are in her favour.
“Diego Du Charmil will turn up though and give his running. Whether he is good enough, I’m not sure, but he will run a good race.
“He is good fresh and is one of those horses that is good over hurdles and fences and is not 20lb better over one of them.”
Nicholls and Cobden will team up in another Listed event on the card, with Fidelio Vallis in the Racing TV Novices’ Hurdle.
He said: “He was very good at the end of last season and made all at the track on his last start.
“He was quite keen early on and the second time he ran he fell. We went to Wincanton after that and made all with him, then we went to Kempton and he looked pretty smart and got a mark of 138.
“Hopefully he has improved and he looks like he has. Whatever he does on Sunday will be a good stepping stone for the season. He is entitled to be in the race and I think he has got a good chance.”
Alex Hales hopes For Pleasure can take a step up in class in his stride and complete a four-timer.
He said: “I’ve been delighted with him, he has had a great summer and I’m looking forward to running him. We did look at the Prelude at Market Rasen, but we decided to wait as we thought this was the right race for him.
“We did try to hold him up in the past, but we have just let him get on with it out in front and that has been key to him winning.
“Paul Nicholls’ horses are in great form and his runner will be hard to beat, as he was impressive on his last run at the track, but we are top-rated and we have race-fitness on our side.”