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Last Updated: 30/12/11 11:48am
Fingal Bay: Leading Challow Hurdle fancy
Philip Hobbs believes conditions at Newbury should be ideal for Fingal Bay as his exciting youngster attempts to maintain his unbeaten record on the line in the Bathwick Tyres Challow Novices' Hurdle.
The five-year-old was a brilliant winner of his bumper at Exeter in February and he has continued to impress since taking to obstacles, winning impressively at Chepstow, Cheltenham and Sandown in Grade Two company.
He tests the water at Grade One level for the first time this weekend but with the soft ground in his favour, Hobbs is confident his charge can continue his excellent run.
"He's in good form and he's obviously done nothing wrong over hurdles so far," said Hobbs.
"We were a bit concerned about the ground being too fast the time before last at Cheltenham, but we won't have any worries on that score tomorrow."
Fingal Bay is already prominent in ante-post lists for the big novice hurdles at the Cheltenham Festival and Hobbs does not expect Saturday's run to be his last before he heads to Prestbury Park in March.
"We'll see what happens before we decide whether he's likely to have another run before Cheltenham," the trainer added.
"My gut feeling at the moment is that he probably will have another run somewhere, but a lot can happen in the next couple of months, so we'll see."
Keighley admits it has taken a while to get his charge back on song, but he is optimistic of his chances on Saturday.
"It was a very nasty fall at Chepstow and he is probably lucky to still be with us after that," said Keighley.
"He hasn't run since as it has taken us a while to get him sound and get him right again, but he's been working well lately and I'm hopeful he can put up a bold show.
"I think he would have been a good second to Fingal Bay last time and if he can do the same again, I'd be delighted."He hasn't really run on soft ground before so I'm not sure how he'll handle it, but hopefully he'll be all right."
The dark horse in the field is Nicky Henderson's Top Of The Range, winner of a bumper and a maiden hurdle at owner Dai Walters' own racecourse, Ffos Las.
Walters admits it is a big step up in grade for his charge this weekend.
He said: "Our horse has done well so far, but he is still only a four-year-old.
"Philip Hobbs says his horse could be the best he has ever trained, so you have to respect that and he will be hard to beat.
"Top Of The Range has done nothing wrong and we'll find out more about him on Saturday."
Nigel Twiston-Davies saddles recent Folkestone winner Double Ross, but is not expecting him to trouble Fingal Bay.
"He won well last time, but obviously, this is an enormous step up for him," said the Naunton handler.
"The ground will suit him though, and there is some big prize-money on offer, so hopefully he might pick up a bit of that. That's the idea, anyway."
Another taking a huge jump in grade is Tim Vaughan's Hereford maiden hurdle victor Ballyrock.
The Welsh trainer said: "I think everything will be in his favour. He'll like the soft ground and Newbury as a track.
"I just think, like everybody, that we're up against it with Fingal Bay, but we hope he jumps round and puts up a nice display. All these novice hurdles are tough at the moment.
"We are just pitching him in when we feel he has everything in his favour. We need luck in running. We have no aspirations about beating Fingal Bay, I just want to see how the horse progress a bit."
Completing the field is Fill The Power, a winner at Newcastle last time, from the Sue Smith yard.