Hughie Morrison reports Not So Sleepy to be firmly on course for next month’s Unibet Champion Hurdle after going up the Lambourn gallops “like a rocket” on Wednesday morning.

The mud-loving veteran has won 11 times over jumps and on the Flat combined, most recently proving the fire still burns bright despite his advancing years when claiming Grade One honours in a rescheduled Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Sandown in December.

Morrison has since given his 12-year-old a winter break and is now beginning to turn the screw ahead of what will be his fifth tilt at Champion Hurdle glory in just under three weeks’ time.

“I went away last week and I came back and thought he was looking rather fat, which is a good sign because you want them to be doing well,” said the trainer.

“Over the last year or 18 months we’ve taken him to Lambourn the odd time, because we’ve been snowed in or something like that, and he actually had a nice gallop in Lambourn this morning.

“Thanks to the people in Lambourn who accommodated us, he had a spin up The Long gallop and he went up there like a rocket.”

Not So Sleepy was pulled up in his first Champion Hurdle four years ago and has finished fifth in the last three renewals, twice behind Honeysuckle and once behind Constitution Hill.

With Constitution Hill and last year’s runner-up State Man again set to be in opposition, Morrison is under no illusions about the task facing his charge on March 12, but he is happy to roll the dice and will be praying for testing conditions on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival.

“I’m sure they will start quivering in their boots when they hear Sleepy is running,” he joked.

“We’d like a day like today on Tuesday March 12! Hopefully we get wet ground to make it hard work so the speed horses can’t quicken away from him. We also need Constitution Hill and State Man probably to have a day off.

“We are realistic, but at this moment in time I’m very happy with him.”

He added: “He’s lucky he’s not in a Willie Mullins or Gordon Elliott yard as he probably wouldn’t be running, would he? He’d be running in a County Hurdle or being saved for an egg and spoon race the week before or something.

“I know that sounds cynical, but I think the interest in Cheltenham is waning a bit because of the monopolisation. When you watch the Grand National weights yesterday, I found that deeply depressing.”

Fighting Fifth hero Not So Sleepy could head straight to the Champion Hurdle after trainer Hughie Morrison ruled out a Christmas clash with Constitution Hill.

While testing conditions led to the withdrawal of National Hunt racing’s headline act, as well as his stablemate Shishkin, nothing should be taken away from Morrison’s durable veteran, who was winning the Grade One contest for a second time, having dead-heated with Epatante two years ago.

The 11-year-old proved himself as good as ever in accounting for a pair of Cheltenham Festival-winning mares in Love Envoi and You Wear It Well, and is reported to have taken his exertions in his stride.

“To be honest, he’s taken it so well I’m embarrassed,” Morrison said on Sunday morning.

“He really has taken it well, I don’t think he had a hard race yesterday.

“I think the critical thing is he’s as good as anything on heavy ground, or very soft. If you take a proper line on the form book, he’s run to over 160, which is extraordinary for an 11-year-old.

“Obviously some people won’t take that as read, but if you take a line through You Wear It Well, who had form on the ground and everything else, I have no doubt we’d have frightened Constitution Hill.”

Nicky Henderson’s superstar will now make his belated seasonal debut in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on Boxing Day, but Not So Sleepy will not be among his rivals.

Morrison added: “He hates Kempton. I took him there in February for a gallop with Quickthorn before he went to Dubai and while he didn’t mind going left-handed, when I sent him right-handed he pulled himself up, so he won’t go anywhere near Kempton.

“We’ll keep all options open on the basis we could put him in the Champion Hurdle and one day it might be heavy, as long as he trains well.

“He was fifth in the Champion Hurdle last season when I didn’t feel I had him there as well I would have liked him, but as we saw when he won on the Flat at Newbury (in September) and again yesterday, he’s back to his best if not better.”

With Not So Sleepy clearly still loving the game, thoughts of retirement are not on Morrison’s mind.

“We’re always very mindful of it, we have been for the last four years,” he said.

“Three weeks ago he schooled the best he’s ever schooled. Having not seen anything since the Champion Hurdle, he went over some mini fences and really attacked them.

“He loves running fresh. He didn’t hardly blow at all yesterday – considering he’d run and won on that ground, he had an abnormally light blow.

“If we went for the Champion Hurdle, he wouldn’t have another run, and then later on next year you might think of giving him one run in September somewhere and going for a third Fighting Fifth again at Newcastle, or wherever it is.”

Not So Sleepy stayed on best of all to win the rescheduled Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Sandown.

Saved from Newcastle’s abandoned card last weekend, the race lost plenty of its lustre when Nicky Henderson withdrew the current champion hurdler Constitution Hill and stablemate Shishkin.

That meant just four went to post, with Goshen and You Wear It Well setting a strong enough gallop in the conditions.

By the second last those two had done their running while Not So Sleepy, who turns 12 in a few weeks, was still on the bridle under Sean Bowen.

Love Envoi, who had not really been travelling throughout, soon appeared on the scene but approaching the last Not So Sleepy, who dead-heated in the race with Epatante in 2021, quickened eight lengths clear.

It was a noteworthy success for Bowen, who also holds a sizeable lead in the race to become champion jockey.

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