The tough and genuine Raya Star continued his rise up the hurdling ladder with a fine performance to finish runner-up to the smart Darlan in the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle at Kempton Park on Boxing Day, doing enough to secure himself a crack at all the big guns in the Stan James Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March, writes Elliot Slater.

Having begun last season with a modest rating of just 120 in handicap hurdle company, Alan King’s gelding has done nothing but improve, finishing third to both subsequent Champion Hurdle winner Rock on Ruby and the smart Zarkandar in hot races at Newbury, either side of a win in listed company in the 2011 Ladbrokes Handicap Hurdle at Ascot.

Fancied to go close at Cheltenham in the Vincent O’Brien Handicap Hurdle, Raya Star held every chance turning for home before failing to quicken and eventually faded into midfield but returned swiftly to form at Ayr a few weeks later to beat Local Hero in the Grade 2 Scottish Champion Hurdle.

A winner on his seasonal reappearance in listed company at his beloved Ascot in November, the gelded son of Milan appeared not to stay the two-and-a-half miles in heavy ground on a repeat visit to the track when cosily outpointed in finishing second to the high-class Oscar Whisky in the Grade 2 Coral Hurdle, but despite being the first off the bridle in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton, the six-year-old stuck to his task tremendously well to finish best of the rest behind the impressive Darlan.

Given better ground at Cheltenham and with another run scheduled before the Champion Hurdle, Raya Star might well offer decent each-way value at current odds of up to 25/1, especially if continuing his steep upward curve and able to improve another few pounds on his latest performance.

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