Matt Sheppard believes the cards have fallen perfectly for stable star Ikorodu Road as he aims to secure back-to-back victories in the William Hill Grimthorpe Chase at Doncaster.
After a couple of good efforts in defeat, the 10-year-old secured a first win over fences when short-heading Junior in this valuable prize 12 months ago and he went on to enjoy a profitable month as he followed up in another good race at Newbury.
He once again proved his liking for Doncaster when beaten by just a length-and-a-half into fifth there in December and Sheppard is relishing the prospect of seeing his charge encounter fast ground for the first time this season.
“I’m really happy with him at home and I’m really looking forward to it,” said the trainer.
“It’s three-and-a-quarter miles on good ground, on a left-handed track and he has only ever won in March, so everything looks good.
“He is a bit higher in the weights than when winning this last year, but he’s shown he can be competitive off this rating and I’m very hopeful he’ll run a big race.
“He ran well at Doncaster a couple of starts back and we only ran him at Leicester last time because we were desperate to get a run into him.
“The track, trip and ground were all wrong for him, but it did a job and he’s ready to go this weekend.
“We’ll get Saturday out of the way before we plan for the rest of the season.
“He’s not in the Grand National because the owner wouldn’t let me enter, but there is a handicap at Aintree on National day he might go for.”
A field of 12 has been declared for the three-and-a-quarter-mile test, with the weights headed by the dual course scorer Calgary Bay.
Winner of last year’s Sky Bet Chase on Town Moor when trained by Henrietta Knight, the 10-year-old is now under the tutelage of Mick Channon.
Although disappointing in two starts for the trainer this season, the West Ilsley handler feels the drying ground will bring out the best in his charge.
Perennial champion jockey Tony McCoy has been booked for the ride.
“He seems in great form, everything is good and, thankfully, we should finally be running on some decent ground,” said Channon.
“He hasn’t run for a little while, but the ground is all we’ve been waiting for. He just doesn’t act on soft.
“I’m happy with him at home, he’ll get his ground on Saturday and we’ll see what happens.”
Calgary Bay holds a couple of entries at this month’s Cheltenham Festival and is also engaged in the John Smith’s Grand National at Aintree, but Channon does not want to look beyond today’s race.
“Cheltenham is coming up quick now, so we’ll see. We won’t make any plans until we see how he gets on this weekend,” added the trainer.
Second in the weights is the Paul Nicholls-trained Join Together, the champion trainer’s main contender for this year’s National.
Not seen since being narrowly beaten by the veteran Hello Bud over Aintree’s giant fences in the Becher Chase in December, the eight-year-old will enjoy the lively surface, according to his trainer.
“We’ve obviously been saving him for the National and we’ve been waiting on the better ground as well, so conditions should suit him this weekend,” said Nicholls.
“I’m happy with him at home, the National is his big target, but I think he has a chance on Saturday, of course he has.
“He’s in good shape, but we have obviously left plenty to work on between now and Aintree.”
Keith Reveley saddles a couple of interesting contenders in Corkage and Night In Milan.
The trainer’s son James takes the ride on three-time course winner Corkage, while leading amateur Nico de Boinville takes a handy seven pounds off the back of the consistent Night In Milan.
“Corkage loves Doncaster and he has run a couple of good races there this season considering he hasn’t had his ground,” said Reveley. Even when he went there the other day the ground was tacky enough for him and hopefully he should finally get his conditions this weekend.
“He has a bit of a squeak. The other horse isn’t without a chance either. Three miles and six furlongs at Catterick was just a bit too far for him last time and three-and-a-quarter miles this weekend should suit him better.
“He gets in off 10 stone and we’ve booked a good amateur for the ride, so he takes him down to 9st 7lb.
“He needs to get into a good rhythm and a good, strong gallop brings out the best in him.
“Our two horses ran against each other at Doncaster back in December and I think there was about half-a-length between them.
“Wherever one is on Saturday, I don’t think the other will be far away.”