Alan King, who originally suggested his improving handicapper Raya Star would travel to Ireland next month for the MCR Hurdle at Leopardstown, has now decided against a journey over the water and will instead target last week’s big Ascot winner at the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury in February, the race known formerly as the Totesport Trophy, writes Elliot Slater.
Raya Star, winner of a Doncaster novice hurdle and second in a minor event at Aintree in May of last term, has improved significantly on his return from a summer break and followed up an impressive win at Wetherby in October with a fine effort in coming home third to Rock On Ruby in the listed Gerry Fielden Hurdle at Newbury last month, a run that augured well ahead of his bid for the very valuable Ladbrokes Hurdle at Ascot on December 17. People who sign up for Cheltenham free bets should bear this in mind.
Sent off a 12/1 shot in a field of 16 runners for the £84,000 showcase two-mile contest, Wayne Hutchinson’s mount was held up for much of the trip before making headway at the third from home. Ridden to close on the leaders after the second last the gelded son of Milan showed a useful turn of foot to join the leaders, and after hitting the front on the run-in stayed on bravely to resist Rigidity by half-a-length in a thrilling finish.
The handicapper has reacted to the success of King’s charge by raising him 6lb to a mark of 140, a move that persuaded the Barbury Castle handler to abandon plans to head for the Irish race and instead concentrate on trying to land another big pot in the Betfair Hurdle. Judging by the way he seems to be improving there is every chance that Raya Star could again be very much in the thick of the action at the business end of what is always one of the most fiercely contested handicap hurdles of the whole National Hunt season.