Kim Bailey is praying there is no adverse weather in Doncaster this weekend so The Last Samuri can enjoy his Grand National prep in the BetBright Grimthorpe Handicap Chase.
Winner of the race 12 months ago under David Bass, he then went on to be agonisingly run down close to home at Aintree, when second to Rule The World.
This year his task will be harder on Town Moor as he is running off a 12lb higher mark.
“Basically, he needs to run,” said Bailey. “This has been the plan for some time and we’d just like some nice good-to-soft ground, but he’ll run whatever.
“I just hope there isn’t a snow storm or something stupid like that as he’s been trained for this and it fits in nicely.”
The Last Samuri will be top weight after 13 entries were revealed that include Malton trainer Brian Ellison’s National contender Definitly Red.
Bryan Cooper, meanwhile, has highlighted Petit Mouchoir, Apple’s Jade and Death Duty as three of his best chances at the Cheltenham Festival.
Cooper already has a fine Cheltenham record, with three wins at the 2013 meeting headlined by the astonishing Triumph Hurdle win of Our Conor for the late Dessie Hughes.
Cooper topped that by winning last year’s Gold Cup on the now retired Don Cossack and he is eyeing more success in just over two weeks.
“I’ve a nice bunch going, hopefully I get there in one piece,” said the top Irish rider who has, once again, endured a stop-start season with injury.
“The likes of Petit Mouchoir (Champion Hurdle), Apple’s Jade (Mares’ Hurdle) and Death Duty (Albert Bartlett), they are nice horses to be looking forward to.”
Most surprising, however, is that this triumvirate does not include any of the six Gigginstown-owned horses still declared for the Gold Cup.
They include Outlander, who won Leopardstown’s Grade One Lexus Chase last December when partnered by teenager Jack Kennedy, and Empire Of Dirt, who was ridden by Cooper to handicap chase victory at last year’s Cheltenham Festival.
Perhaps he accepts that this pair are no match for the Colin Tizzard-trained market leaders Native River and Cue Card, the latter who was challenging Don Cossack when falling three out in last year’s Gold Cup.
Of Cooper’s tips, Petit Mouchoir is still under the radar when it comes to the Champion Hurdle, the Festival’s day one centrepiece.
Though the rider suffered a heavy fall from the horse in Newcastle’s Fighting Fifth Hurdle, subsequent Grade One wins in the Ryanair Hurdle and Irish Champion Hurdle have rock-solid form and vindicate Cooper’s longstanding faith in Henry de Bromhead’s horse.
Apple’s Jade appeared to have no excuses when beaten last week by Willie Mullins’s Limini, but Cooper expects her to improve from that.
“It was a messy race, she was a bit gassy early and brave at a few of her hurdles,” said Cooper.
“Limini is no bad mare; take out her Punchestown run and she was entitled to win.
“All our mare can do is improve. She had a nice break after winning the Hatton’s Grace and I think the run will bring her on a lot and we can look forward to Cheltenham.”
Gordon Elliott’s Death Duty is unbeaten in four hurdles outings this term and Cooper is understandably keen to get back on him.
“I sit on him most days I go to Gordon’s and I’m looking forward to getting my leg back over him, he’s one of the ones I’m looking forward to,” he said.
“He’s not slow, he’s been winning over two and a half (miles), but he has the look of a three-miler.
“He’s got a lot of class and out of what we’ve seen so far, he looks to be one of the classier ones heading for it.”
Former Cheltenham hero Sire De Grugy will have to start showing a bit more on the gallops at home before he is seen back on the track. The 11-year-old has not run since unseating Jamie Moore in the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton back in December.
Sire De Grugy has bypassed a couple of options since that upset and Moore reports that he has not been sparkling at home, although he has been working with Sunday’s impressive National Spirit Hurdle winner Camping Ground.
Sire De Grugy is entered in both the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase, which he won in 2014, and the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Challenge Cup Handicap Chase at Cheltenham.