Clerk’s Choice has been given the green light for his Fontwell raid.
The six-year-old son of Bachelor Duke will tomorrow bid for victory in the Grade 2 National Spirit Hurdle (3.40pm) – the track’s most prestigious race of the season.
Trainer Oliver Sherwood left Clerk’s Choice in at the final declaration stage after giving the ground in West Sussex the thumbs up.
The Lambourn handler told The News earlier this week any rain would rule his charge out of a visit to Fontwell.
But with the region enjoying a spell of mild weather – and the ground rated as good-to-soft – Sherwood is ready to saddle his first runner in the two-and-a-half-mile battle.
He has booked Pulborough-based jockey Leighton Aspell to partner Clerk’s Choice.
Aspell, who has already ridden 13 winners for Sherwood this term, is gunning for his third National Spirit Hurdle triumph after wins on United in 2007 and the Josh Gifford-trained Rouble in 2002.
And Sherwood is confident he has the right man for the job.
‘I can’t remember whether it is my first runner in the race – it probably is,’ said the Rhonehurst trainer.
‘Clerk’s Choice is in great order at home and is ready to run – the ground has been the only worry for us.
‘We have Leighton booked for the ride. He knows the horse, knows his way around Fontwell and has already won the race twice.
‘We are all set to go.’
Clerk’s Choice – once rated 162 over hurdles and now running off a mark of 150 – is the headline act among the eight declared runners for tomorrow’s feature race.
Sixth behind Hurricane Fly in last season’s Champion Hurdle, he moved to Sherwood’s stable from Michael Banks’ Cambridgeshire operation back in December.
And while he has not hit top gear in his three outings since, his new handler is confident of a bold show tomorrow – especially now he is stepped up in trip from two miles.
He will not lock horns with Celestial Halo, who claimed a maiden success in the race for champion trainer Paul Nicholls last season.
The former JCB Triumph Hurdle winner does not defend his crown but stable-mate The Knoxs will bid to keep the silverware at Ditcheat.
Battle Group carries the hopes of trainer David Pipe, who famously saddled Lough Derg to back-to-back wins in 2008 and 2009.
Veterans Afsoun and Duc De Regniere are gunning to become the first 10-year-old winner of the race, while at the other end of the spectrum Colin Tizzard’s five-year-old Third Intention is the youngest of the hopefuls.
Caroline Keevil’s Bally Legend is the only runner to taste success at Fontwell previously and the field is completed by David Arbuthnot’s 145-rated Topolski.