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Warren Greatrex backs Cole Harden to go the Distance at Newbury

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Warren Greatrex is pleased with the condition of World Hurdle winner Cole Harden ahead of his long-awaited comeback in the bet365 Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury on Saturday.

Warren Greatrex is pleased with the condition of World Hurdle winner Cole Harden ahead of his long-awaited comeback in the bet365 Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury on Saturday.

Having initially targeted a race at Wetherby's Charlie Hall meeting in the summer, Greatrex soon realised that might come a bit quick for the six-year-old following a breathing operation.

Since then, everything has gone to plan as Cole Harden aims to go one better than 12 months ago when he finished second to Medinas.

Greatrex and jockey Gavin Sheehan should be full of confidence as the string seem in great heart ahead of one of the busiest spells of the season.

The Upper Lambourn handler said: "A few of our horses are hitting the crossbar, but that always happens and they seem really healthy.

"I'm glad they are in good form going into this weekend.

"He's done everything we've asked since he came back. We had to give him another wind operation but it's done him the world of good.

"He's been for two racecourse gallops and is as fit as I can get him. He is still quite big, but he does tend to be like that.

"I'd like to see it on the track, but, for me, his home-work is as good as ever, if not better.

"It's not going to be ideal conditions, but they are expecting a bit of rain which will make it loose, which will help.

"He just doesn't like tacky ground - if they are slopping through it he will be OK."

Having scaled the heights of the staying hurdle tree, Cole Harden went out on his sword at Aintree against the Nicky Henderson-trained Whisper, who renews rivalry at Newbury.

Owner Dai Walters said: "We've had a clearer run with him than last season but he could still need the run a bit.

"At Aintree he showed what he could do, it had all been a rush before then. He was back to his best there.

"We'll just see how he gets on in all the good hurdle races. If he was very successful we might shelve chasing altogether.

"I've got Christian Williams (former jockey) working for me now, though, and he told me he is a Gold Cup horse so we'll just have to see.

"He won't go chasing this season, though."

A fascinating contender is Colin Tizzard's Thistlecrack.

The seven-year-old sprang a surprise at the Grand National meeting when winning the Sefton Novices' Hurdle but he proved that was no fluke when touched off by Killultagh Vic at the Punchestown Festival.

"He had a whiz around Wincanton last week and, although it was an impressive gallop, he will probably need the run," said Tizzard.

"He is a massive horse and that is why I am worried about him not being fit. He has really grown into himself.

"He improved all through last season and was unlucky not to have won two Grade Ones by the end of it. He is a lovely horse and it is hard to say where he will end up.

"The plan is to run in a couple of hurdle races this side of Christmas to see if he is good enough to go for the World Hurdle.

"If not, we will switch to fences."

Oliver Sherwood's Deputy Dan looked set for big things as a novice hurdler.

He appeared to have had the Albert Bartlett in the bag in 2014, when well clear heading to the last, but he was worn down by Very Wood.

Nothing much has gone right for him over fences and Sherwood is sending him back over hurdles for a "confidence booster", having failed to complete on his last two starts.

"It was unfortunate what happened at Carlisle last time as he jumped everything else well," said Sherwood.

"What I can say about is that he will love the ground - it can't be too soft for him.

"It's more of a confidence booster than anything, there's good prize-money to run at, too.

"He could end up back over fences later in the season, well see.

"He worked super on Tuesday. He's got blinkers on to sharpen him up and encourage him so we'll see how he goes."

John Ferguson's Aqalim wears first-time blinkers after finishing third behind Kilcooley at Wetherby and completes the five-runner field.