Can trainer Paul Nicholls continue his sensational form in Fontwell’s biggest raceday of the year so far?

Fontwell hosts its biggest raceday of the season this weekend with a seven-race card which boasts an excellent renewal of the £80,000 National Spirit Hurdle.
Racing returns to Fontwell this coming Sunday. Picture by Clive BennettRacing returns to Fontwell this coming Sunday. Picture by Clive Bennett
Racing returns to Fontwell this coming Sunday. Picture by Clive Bennett

The first race on Sunday gets underway at 2.20pm with the final contest at 5.20pm.

The Grade Two National Spirit Hurdle is Fontwell Park’s biggest race of the season and has justifiably attracted five smart entries.

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For the extended two miles and three furlongs event (3.20pm), Thomas Derby was second in the 2019 Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, before embarking on a chase campaign at the beginning of this season.

However, after two disappointing defeats at cramped odds, connections reverted back to hurdles with the seven-year-old.

He relished the return to hurdles when defying top-weight to capture a Grade Three event at Ascot on heavy ground in January. Kept fresh for this race ever since, he is proven in testing conditions and represents a trainer enjoying an 11 per cent strike-rate at present.

Ditcheat handler Paul Nicholls has his team in sensational form, operating at a 29 per cent strike-rate, and he is set to run the progressive Quel Destin in the feature event.

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He caused a shock when defeating odds-on favourite Call Me Lord in the Listed Contenders Hurdle at Sandown earlier this month on heavy ground.

The fact he is already proven on the ground, coupled with his progressive profile, makes him of interest for a trainer who has captured the contest on three occasions.

Six-year-old Monsieur Lecoq has run with credit on a number of starts this term, including when finishing fourth in the Grade Two International Hurdle at Cheltenham in December.

He was outclassed in the Grade One PCI Irish Champion Hurdle behind the unbeaten Honeysuckle at Leopardstown this month and steps up to this trip for the first time in his career.

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A winner on heavy ground, conditions will suit the son of Diamond Bay, but he is something to find on ratings.

The five-runner field is completed by 2019 Coral Cup winner William Henry who represents Nicky Henderson, who is operating at a 34 per cent strike-rate, and Seamus Mullins’ Chesterfield who would prefer firmer ground.

Earlier on the card, Nicholls saddles Grand Sancy in the £14,800 Beginners’ Chase at 2.50pm.

Yet to win over fences, he has not been disgraced in Graded races on his first three starts over fences, which culminated with a fourth-placed effort in the Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase at Sandown earlier this month.

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He has just three rivals to contend with in the extended two miles and three furlongs event.

The progressive Black Gerry looks to hold leading claims in the £6,300 Novices’ Hurdle at 3.50pm. He recorded a smooth success in testing conditions at Lingfield on his latest start and had previously finished sixth to subsequent G1 Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle winner Fiddlerontheroof at Sandown in December.

He holds an entry in the Imperial Cup back at the Esher venue on March 7 and needs to be playing a leading role here to have any chance in that event.

Furthermore, his trainer Gary Moore is also enjoying a 13 per cent strike-rate at present.

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He takes on an interesting rival in the shape of Notre Pari who was well-fancied for the Listed Lanzarote Hurdle at Kempton in January and held every chance before falling at the final hurdle.

He could make amends here for a trainer in Olly Murphy enjoying an 11 per cent strike-rate and for rider Barry Geraghty, enjoying a 38 per cent strike-rate in the last 14 days and which is his only ride at the Sussex venue on Sunday.

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