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Last Updated: 01/11/13 12:58pm
At Fishers Cross: Not at his peak
Rebecca Curtis has warned punters At Fishers Cross will not be at the peak of his powers for the Bet365 Hurdle at Wetherby on Saturday.
The six-year-old enjoyed a fantastic debut season over obstacles last term, culminating in victories at Cheltenham and Liverpool.
He heads into the new campaign towards the head of the betting for the World Hurdle at Cheltenham next March and Curtis is looking forward to getting her stable star back on the racecourse, but feels he will improve for the outing.
The trainer said: "He should run well, but he will definitely come on for the run. It will be a good test for him, but we haven't killed our horse at home and the idea is that he will improve as the season goes on. He is well in himself and fit enough to run well."
Champion jockey Tony McCoy was ever-present in the saddle aboard At Fishers Cross last season and feels he needs to improve to challenge for major staying honours, with the incredible Big Buck's set to return after missing much of last season through injury.
McCoy said: "We hope he keeps on improving this season. He likes a bit of dig in the ground but it was pretty good ground when he won at Aintree and he handled that all right. I think Rebecca is fairly happy with him.
"However good he looked last year he's got a fair bit to go before we can start thinking about Big Buck's, nobody has beaten him for about five years.
"Last year he improved with each run and we hope there's a bit more left yet. You have to hope, if you can't hope what's the point."
At Fishers Cross is the star turn in a field of seven declared for the three-mile-one-furlong Grade Two event, registered as the West Yorkshire Hurdle.
The enigmatic but hugely talented Tidal Bay claimed victory last season before going on to chase home Bobs Worth in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury.
The 12-year-old then emerged victorious in one of the races of the season in the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown, but missed the rest of the campaign through injury.
Trainer Paul Nicholls is confident the veteran has lost none of his sparkle and is looking forward to seeing him make his comeback.
"Last year was a good season for him. He's 12 now, but he seems as good as ever - it's just a shame he sustained an injury in the Lexus," the trainer told At The Races.
"The way we've trained him, the run will bring him on and will put him right to run in either the Hennessy or the Betfair Chase. He's getting on a bit so it's going to be a lot harder for him, but I'm still sure he's got a decent race in him."
With Ruby Walsh no longer part of the team, stable jockey Daryl Jacob sidelined by injury and newly-appointed number two rider Nick Scholfield in Ireland, Nicholls has called upon Sam Twiston-Davies to ride Tidal Bay.
Twiston-Davies told Racing UK: "You can't take away what Tidal Bay has done, his record is top class. It's a pleasure to be riding him, hopefully we bond and have a bit of success.
"I know how hard it is going to be to beat At Fishers Cross, but with a bit of luck, Tidal Bay is no mug himself and we'll give it out best."
Donald McCain's Across The Bay won the Rendlesham Hurdle at Haydock last season before finishing 14th in the Grand National.
He returns to the smaller obstacles for his seasonal reappearance, with the world's most famous steeplechase on the radar again.
McCain said: "It's a hot race, but his first big target is the Becher Chase in December and I want to get a run into him before then. We will also be looking at the Grand National again."
In-form trainer Emma Lavelle was disappointed with Captain Sunshine's comeback run in a 20-runner handicap at Cheltenham earlier this month, but hopes he will be happier with less rivals in front of him this weekend.
Lavelle said: "We're hoping the smaller field will help him and we're also putting some cheekpieces on him to help him travel during the race.
"He has a lot of ability, but he's not absolutely straightforward and in those big fields he ends up a long way out of his ground. On better ground, horses just don't come back to you and I think he got a bit disheartened at Cheltenham last time, as did we.
"It's a good race on Saturday, but it will be interesting to see how he runs."
Alan King is represented by last season's Coral Cup hero Medinas.
He told his website www.alankingracing.co.uk: "If he was a hand bigger we'd be going straight over fences, and we are still contemplating doing so, but he did us proud last season improving 30lb, having won the Welsh Champion Hurdle and the Coral Cup, he has so much enthusiasm and is working great. This looks a hot heat, but it will be good to get him going."
The Tim Easterby-trained Trustan Times won a handicap a this meeting 12 months ago and is back for more. Sue Smith's outsider The Knoxs completes the line-up.