Richard Johnson is confident Champagne West has a “great chance” of getting back on the winning trail in the Betfred TV Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase at Sandown.
The Philip Hobbs-trained seven-year-old posted two impressive displays on his first couple of starts over fences at Cheltenham in November and December, but found Ptit Zig too strong when chasing a Prestbury Park hat-trick on New Year’s Day.
Johnson believes there was no disgrace in that defeat and expects another bold show in Saturday’s Grade One feature.
“His last run was a very good run. The horse that beat him that day is probably one of the best novice chasers we’ve seen this season over here,” said the jockey.
“He seems in great order at home and is a very straightforward horse. I think he’d handle most things ground-wise. He wouldn’t want it very fast, but I don’t think it’s going to be that.
“Hopefully, he goes there with a great chance.”
Champagne West carries the colours of Roger Brookhouse, who said: “He always looked the type to do better over fences and that is how it’s proving.
“He’s certainly worth a crack at a Grade One.”
Paul Nicholls won this race four years on the trot between 2006 and 2009 and this year the champion trainer saddles Irish Saint.
The six-year-old made an impressive start to his chasing career at the Esher circuit in early November before finishing third behind stable companion Vibrato Valtat in the Henry VIII Novices’ Chase on his return to the track.
He got back to winning ways with a runaway success at Ascot last month and Nicholls is confident he will be in the mix once again.
He said: “He won well the last day and was obviously suited by the step up in trip.
“He’d run well twice at Sandown before that, so he handles the track and good to soft ground is ideal. There’ll be no excuses about the ground.
“He’s in good form and he has a good chance, but it is a good race.”
The highest-rated runner in the field is the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained Splash Of Ginge, who has won twice from five starts over fences, including a competitive Cheltenham handicap on New Year’s Day.
Owner John Neild is in typically bullish mood.
He said: “He’s earned his rating. He fell in one big handicap when at the worst he would have been placed and then he went and won another big handicap.
“It is not very often the handicapper is wrong and for once I hope he isn’t.
“He’s been fine since New Year’s Day and seems in great form at home.
“I’m a big believer that if the horse is healthy they should be running, not stood in a box.”
Ryan Hatch gets back on board Splash of Ginge with the trainer’s son, Sam Twiston-Davies, partnering Irish Saint.
“Obviously we would love to have Sam on board, I think he’s as good as anyone riding today, but his priority now has to be Mr Nicholls. We’ve been lucky that every change which has been forced on us has worked out, though,” said Neild.