TRAINER Robert Smerdon has declared champion jumper Black And Bent is cherry ripe for another tilt at the $100,000 Galleywood Hurdle (3200m) this afternoon.
Black And Bent has had 17 jumps starts for 11 wins and four placings, picking up $580,000 over obstacles including the $200,000 Grand National Hurdle last year after success in the Galleywood in 2010.
The six-year-old gelding has also more than paid his way on the flat, highlighted by a win in the $152,000 Banjo Patterson series final last July for career prizemoney of $872,673.
His form over jumps is also current with a win at Sandown on April 18 by five lengths as a $1.26 favourite. Smerdon is happy with his star jumper.
"He's as good as ever, I think, so on current form, both on the flat and over hurdles, he looks back to his best," he said.
"We'll take a similar path to last year, targeting set weight and penalty races with maybe the national an aim, depending on how he's going at the time. The rest of my jumps horses are in support races."
Smerdon looks to have some great chances sprinkled throughout the carnival but to again win the trainer's bonus (a four-wheel-drive Mercedes-Benz) he needs to win one of the four feature races ? either the Wangoom Handicap, Warrnambool Cup, Grand Annual or the Galleywood Hurdle.
His chances of winning one of those major races rest with Black And Bent and the crafty trainer is more than a little worried about Darren Weir's emerging jumper Gotta Take Care.
Smerdon was quick to point out that Gotta Take Care's form over the flat was slightly better than his stable star. Black And Bent finished fourth at Caulfield on April 9 behind Maythehorsebemagic, beaten five lengths over 2406m.
Gotta Take Care ran third in the same race - half-a-length in front of Black And Bent.
"Gotta Take Care is a fair horse, he's now a second-season jumper," Smerdon said.
"His flat form is comparable so he could really be a serious challenger."
Smerdon said he was not surprised that the field for today's jumping feature had attracted only eight runners.
"Even in flat races the size of fields are usually smaller in major races. You have to have a really good horse to warrant a start. Restricted races you can fill up and divide," he said.
Black And Bent is rated a $1.40 favourite to win the Galleywood in early markets with Anthony Freedman's Above Average at $7 and Gotta Take Care third favourite at $10.