TWO TOP steeplechasers from Yorkshire feature amongst 38 entries for the blue riband Cheltenham Gold Cup.
However connections of both Cloudy Dream and Definitly Red appear, at this stage, to be keeping all options open.
For both Malton-trained horses, it would be a big ask to take on reigning Gold Cup hero Sizing John and Might Bite, winner of the King George Chase on Boxing Day.
And the next runs of both are likely to reveal more about future intentions or alternatives like Cheltenham’s Ryanair Chase.
First the Malcolm Jefferson-trained Cloudy Dream who chased home the all-conquering Altior in last season’s Arkle Trophy at the National Hunt Festival.
He has been runner-up on all three starts this season, most recently to Definitly red at Aintree, and is due to reappear next week.
“He’s just had a little break to freshen up but he’ll be ready to run again in February,” said Jefferson’s daughter and assistant Ruth.
“There are a few options we are looking at, without wanting to pin anything down.
“I’m sure he’ll get three miles on good ground. It was very testing at Aintree that day he ran – as testing as it’s been there for a while.
“He’s got some Cheltenham (Festival) entries over two and a half and three miles, so we’ll see how his next run goes.”
As for the aforementioned Definitly Red, connections initially ruled out Cheltenham following victory in the Many Clouds Chase at Aintree.
However Danny Cook’s mount is being geared up for Doncaster’s Sky Bet Chase on January 27 or Cheltenham’s Cotswold Chase – a noted Gold Cup trial – on the same day.
“We are weighing up the options with Definitly Red at the moment,” said trainer Brian Ellison.
“He could either go for the Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster or to Cheltenham on the same day.
“Where we go will be ground dependent as he doesn’t want the going too testing.”
Potential rivals at Doncaster could include French Champion Hurdle winner L’Ami Serge who heads the 45 entries for the £80,000 race.
Connections of the Nicky Henderson-trained eight-year-old are considering using the three-mile Listed prize as a prep run for the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.
The Simon Munir and Isaac Souede-owned gelding has not been sighted over the bigger obstacles since finishing second in a graduation chase at Exeter in December 2016.
The pair’s racing manager Anthony Bromley said: “As long as Nicky Henderson and Daryl Jacob are happy with how he schools over the next two weeks, it is a strong consideration that he will run in the Sky Bet Chase.
“We are hoping for better ground and at this time of year there are not many places he will get that.
“He will get a tentative entry in the Ryanair Chase, as it is easy to be entered now rather than supplement him later, but in all likelihood he will go for the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Festival.”
Former winner Sun Cloud is amongst nine entries for today’s North Yorkshire National at Catterick.
The track’s feature race of the year, Malcolm Jefferson’s horse claimed the marathon in 2014.
The 11-year-old, the mount of Brian Hughes, heads to catterick after two victories over hurdles.
There’s further local interest with Sue Smith’s I Just Know, Brian Ellison’s Point The Way and Gonalston Cloud who is trained in Brigg by Nick Kent.#
Ben Pauling has identified races at Ascot and Cheltenham later this month as potential starting points for his long-absent stable star Barters Hill.
The seven-year-old won his first seven races, culminating in the 2016 River Don Novices Hurdle at Doncaster under David Bass, before finishing a creditable fourth in the Albert Bartlett Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
However, he was pulled up injured on his chasing debut at Cheltenham in November 2016 and has not raced since.
Pauling said: “It is easier for him to start over hurdles. I’m thrilled with how he is coming along. If he is good enough it would be lovely to go down the Stayers’ Hurdle route, but he has got to prove he has still got the engine first.”