The Hennessy Gold Cup may be the feature race at Newbury on Saturday afternoon, but the re-appearance of a Cheltenham Festival winner could well steal the headlines. At Fishers Cross was one of the stars of the season for Rebecca Curtis last winter with the six-year-old going through the campaign unbeaten. That culminated with a brilliant win in the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle at the Festival as he showed his promise to beat the talented African gold by over four lengths. That was a career best for the horse, and all roads now lead to a World Hurdle bid this season with the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury this weekend, set to be the first step on that journey.
At Fishers Cross had been due to run at Wetherby during the Charlie Hall fixture but he missed his engagement there after meeting with a slight set-back. Connections have reported him to be ready for his run at Newbury though as he bids to mix it with the more experienced hurdlers for the first time. His chief opposition on Saturday is likely to come from the experienced and strong Reve De Sivola, who should offer At Fishers Cross a stern test, as well as a decent form marker going forward.
Celestial Halo is another likely runner in the Long Distance Hurdle and he too should offer At Fishers Cross a decent test at World Hurdle level. The Paul Nicholls horse was second, behind Solwhit, in the World Hurdle last season and is also likely to be aimed at a repeat bid in 2014. In truth though, At Fishers Cross is expected to have too much for the likes of Celestial Halo and Reve De Sivola with plenty of improvement still in him given his relative inexperience.
All of this comes with Cheltenham Festival legend Big Buck's back in training after returning from an injury lay-off. The four time World Hurdle hero missed the Festival last season, but is reported to be in good form at home ahead of a return to the track in the Cleeve Hurdle, on trials day in January. The Andy Stewart owned horse remains unbeaten over hurdles since 2008 and although he will be 11 in the New Year, it is impossible to rule him out given his stunning record.
A win for At Fishers Cross in the Long Distance Hurdle would be a major marker at this stage of the season with the World Hurdle looking like a hot division this year. The return of Big Buck's is highly anticipated but he will need to be at his best to hold off the young guns, with At Fishers Cross considered by many to be the heir to the staying hurdle crown.
*It should be noted that regular rider AP McCoy will be at Newcastle on Saturday for the Fighting Fifth Hurdle, which means that Barry Geraghty will be onboard At Fishers Cross on Saturday.