Cyrus Darius bids for Morebattle repeat at Kelso

Cyrus Darius

Cyrus Darius reverts to the smaller obstacles to defend his crown in the Timeform Morebattle Hurdle at Kelso on Thursday.

The two-mile-two-furlong conditions event has been won by the likes of Peddlers Cross (2011), Simonsig (2012) and Top Notch (2016) in recent years, and Cyrus Darius added his name to the roll of honour for the late Malcolm Jefferson last season.

The Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham proved too hot for him to handle on his next appearance, but he made a decent start to the new campaign by winning over fences at Ayr and after failing to get seriously competitive on his last couple of starts at Haydock and Wetherby, he switches back to hurdles for one of the big days of the year at Kelso.

Trainer Ruth Jefferson said: " He won it well enough last year in heavy ground and we decided we'd have another go.

"There aren't that many races for him over fences. He hasn't really got that experience to run in big handicap chases and while he's a good jumper, when he's long and meets a fence right, he can't really fiddle.

"We thought we'd go back over hurdles with him at Kelso and we might end up in a good handicap hurdle somewhere, but we'll see.

"We could switch between the two (hurdles and fences)."

Cyrus Darius must concede weight to each of his six rivals at the Borders venue.

Nicky Richards has claimed this prize twice in the last five years with Duke Of Navan (2013) and Glingerburn (2015), and saddles another leading contender in Better Getalong.

The seven-year-old won the bumper on this card 12 months ago and is two from three over hurdles this season.

Richards said: "He's a grand horse, we've always liked him and always felt he could be high-class.

"This is the next step for him, but he ran a very good race at Cheltenham earlier in the season (third in Supreme Trial in November). Noel Fehily rode him that day and he liked him and felt it was a shame they took the two hurdles out in the straight because of the low sun, as he has been a very good jumper up to now.

"The form isn't too bad as the second horse Summerville Boy has come out and won a Grade One and we weren't too far behind him.

"We'll learn a bit more about him on Thursday and I'm sure he'll win plenty of races, be it over hurdles or fences."

The only mare in the field is the Richard Hobson-trained Dame Rose.

The daughter of Network won a Listed contest at Newbury earlier in the campaign and was last seen finishing fourth behind Maria's Benefit in a Grade Two at Doncaster almost three weeks ago.

Hobson, who also saddles Shantou Flyer in the Ivan Straker Memorial Chase on the card, said: "Both horses are in very good form and we're looking forward to running them.

"The ground probably won't be ideal for either horse. Shantou Flyer has form on heavy ground, but prefers it better and so does Dame Rose.

"But they're nice pots and nice races to go for so we'll give it a go and see what happens."

The Morebattle line-up is completed by Donald McCain's Chti Balko and Katgary from Pauline Robson's yard.

Shantou Flyer faces just three opponents in the feature chase of the day.

In six course visits, Sandy Thomson's veteran Seldom Inn has never finished out of the first two.

"He's always first or second at Kelso and he seems very well in himself," said Thomson.

"He's getting on a bit now the old boy, but there aren't many races we can run him in and we thought we'd have a go."

Gordon Elliott's Irish challenger Charmix is fitted with blinkers for the first time, and Big River, trained by Lucinda Russell, is the other hopeful.