SUE Smith has nominated the Grade One Marsh Novices Chase as the Cheltenham Festival target for stable star Midnight Shadow.
Owned by Cyril and Aafke Clarke, the horse is one of 71 entries for the two-and-a-half mile race on day three of the National Hunt Festival.
They have opted for this race over the intermediate distance rather than the two-mile Arkle or the more gruelling RSA Chase over three miles. A former winner of the Scottish Champion Hurdle, Midnight Shadow switched to larger obstacles this season.
The horse was a final fence faller at Carlisle on his chase debut when holding a winning position before finishing second at Haydock.
However, Midnight Shadow won the Dipper Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day under Danny Cook after the JP McManus-owned Champ crashed out at the penultimate fence.
Midnight Shadow’s second win at Cheltenham following his victory in the Cleeve Hurdle 12 months previously, the seven-year-old promises to be one of the North’s best chances of victory at this year’s Festival.
His next race could be the Grade One Scilly Isle Novices’ Chase at Sandown on Saturday week – Cook is keen to step the novice up in grade.
Meanwhile potential rivals at Cheltenham could include Windsor Avenue for Malton trainer Brian Ellison.
The winner of two novice chases, he was then well-beaten by Jedd O’Keeffe’s now sidelined Sam Spinner at Doncaster.
Windsor Avenue appeared beaten when parting company with Brian Hughes, this season’s leading National Hunt jockey, at Haydock last Saturday.
Windsor Avenue runs in the colours of retired Tickhill businessman Phil Martin whose rejuvenated Ravenhill Road is the sole Yorkshire representative in tomorrow’s Sky Bet Chase – Doncaster’s feature National Hunt race of the year.
Trained at Bingley by the aforementioned Smith, and her husband Harvey, Ravenhill Road was second at Wetherby on his seasonal bow.
His jumping then let him down at Newcastle before the horse won at Haydock at the end of last month.
A winner over three miles in his point-to-point days, Ravenhill Road has not actually tackled the trip under rules over fences yet, but it could well be a longer distance ekes out a bit more improvement.
Racing off a 5lb higher mark he will have to step up, but the nine-year-old remains quite unexposed in this fiercely competitive three-mile handicap chase.
Fantastic Ms Fox will attempt to make it back-to-back victories at Doncaster in the Sky Bet Fillies’ Juvenile Hurdle on the opening day of the Sky Bet Chase meeting.
The four-year-old failed to complete on her hurdles debut in December, but put that behind her when an impressive winner over course and distance during the Christmas period.
Trainer Noel Williams said: “It was nice to get the win last time. She finished her race strongly so the natural progression would be to go for a Listed race.
“I started her off at this level at Aintree and we didn’t get to see her in her best light. There are a few good horses in it though, so it will be tough.”
Beverley, Wetherby and York all feature among 11 elite racecourses named by LiveTourism as part of the Racecourse Association’s annual Quality Assured scheme.