Grounds for concern as Sherwood targets title

Clerk's Choice is the headline entry in the Grade 2 National Spirit Hurdle at Fontwell
Clerk's Choice is the headline entry in the Grade 2 National Spirit Hurdle at Fontwell
The start of racing on Washout Wednesday / Picture by Malcolm Wells

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Clerk’s Choice is gearing up for an assault on the National Spirit Hurdle at Fontwell.

But trainer Oliver Sherwood has admitted his hopes rest in the lap of the weather gods.

Any rain between now and Sunday’s feature contest would end the 150-rated hurdler’s tilt at Grade 2 glory.

Sherwood has been starved of opportunities to unleash his string in recent weeks.

The big freeze and heavy rain has left his talents kicking their heels in their boxes.

But after impressing on the all-weather and at home in Lambourn, Sherwood is increasingly keen to let his six-year-old loose.

‘He is in great, great order and we are ready to go,’ said the Rhonehurst trainer.

‘He is one of a whole heap of horses here who want decent ground – not the heavy ground we’ve had. That would be the only worry for us.

‘He needs decent ground, so we are hoping things dry up before the weekend.

‘If it is soft, he won’t run but if it is dry ground and all is well, he will definitely run.’

The defection of Clerk’s Choice – sixth in last season’s Champion Hurdle – would come as a major blow to Fontwell, too.

The son of Bachelor Duke was the biggest name among the 15 horses who were this week declared for the contest.

Last year’s champion Celestial Halo will not defend his crown after finishing second behind a coasting Binocular in the Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton last weekend.

Meanwhile, Smad Place looks set to go straight to the World Hurdle following his superb second to Bourne at Ascot on Saturday.

Early forecasts are encouraging, though, as cloudy but dry weather is set to continue until Sunday’s meeting.

And that would give Sherwood the green light to break new ground with Clerk’s Choice, who joined him from Michael Banks in December.

Formerly rated 85 on the flat, the bay gelding has yet to tackle a trip in excess of two miles and one furlong.

Fontwell’s National Spirit Hurdle is run over two-and-a-half miles, a step up in distance of three furlongs.

Sherwood insists it is a move Clerk’s Choice has been crying out for, though.

And having clashed with stellar hurdlers Hurricane Fly, Binocular, Grandouet and Menorah in four of his past five outings, it could take the pressure off.

‘It is a step up in trip for him, which I think he needs,’ said the trainer.

‘It may make life a little easier as he has come up against some serious horses at two miles.

‘He has bumped into the likes of Binocular and Hurricane Fly, so he hasn’t had it easy.’

Clerk’s Choice has failed to hit the target in his three outings under the tutelage of Sherwood.

But the trainer saw plenty of positives in his fourth in a jumpers’ bumper at Kempton earlier this month.

‘He was a bit disappointing early on this season but he ran a good race on the all-weather the other day,’ said Sherwood. ‘I was happy with that, especially the way he finished his race. It’s the first time he has run a proper race.’

The National Spirit Hurdle (3.40pm) is the feature contest on a seven-race card at Fontwell on Sunday. The first race goes to post at 2.05pm.