Unbeaten Cheltenham winners North Lodge lead a strong field for the bet365 Premier Novices’ Hurdle at Kelso on Saturday.
Successful on his hurdle debut at Aintree in the autumn, Alan King’s charge doubled his tally with a clear victory on Festival Trials Day at Prestbury Park last month.
The five-year-old holds an entry into the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at the upcoming Cheltenham Festival, but his manager sees this weekend’s second-year award as a more appropriate target at this stage.
“We just didn’t think he was mentally ready for Cheltenham,” the Barbury Castle manager said.
“It looks like a pretty decent race on Saturday, obviously. But that’s part of his experience and if he raced well and we were happy with him, he could continue at Aintree after that.
“He has a penalty to go on and it won’t be easy, but he just needs to be educated a bit.”
North Lodge is just one of three unbeaten runners with Bold Endeavor trained by Laura Morgan and Dan Skelton’s backyard Sholokjack.
Donald McCain is eager to saddle Richmond Lake, which was just over a length behind North Lodge at Aintree and was last seen chasing high class Jonbon at Haydock.
McCain said: “I don’t think the floor will bother him too much. He surprised us a bit this season, to be honest, and if he continues to surprise us, great.
“It’s a competitive race – there’s a very solid group of novices in there.
“I would say Alan King’s horse is the one to beat. We’re a little better off at the weights since Aintree, so I’m crossing my fingers he runs his course and goes there with a chance.
Nells Son, trained by Nicky Richards, has already won at Kelso and wasn’t too far behind Jonbon and Richmond Lake when he was fourth at Haydock in January.
“It’s a very open race. I guess any of the nine could win and he’s one of them,” the Greystoke-based coach said.
“He seems very good and I think he is improving. He had a good race at Haydock and was doing everything possible at the finish. I hope he will get there and have a very good race on Saturday.
Hope De Romay of Kim Bailey is probably the favorite for the bet365 Premier Chase.
The eight-year-old has been off the track since finishing third behind Fiddlerontheroof at Carlisle in October, but has more than 9 pounds in hand over his weekend rivals in the official standings.
Olly Murphy hopes the blinker application can help Itchy Feet shine for the first time in over two years.
The eight-year-old was last seen finishing fourth in the inaugural Fleur De Lys Chase race at Lingfield six weeks ago.
He said: “Kim Bailey’s horse will be tough to beat looking at the odds but hopefully a set of blinkers will lighten up my boy.
“People will say X, Y and Z about him, but he’s been very consistent at the top level and he probably deserves to win a race.
“I’m looking forward to running it at three miles for the first time. Kelso is a bit of a specialist’s track, but if he manages that he’ll come close.
Windsor Avenue is set to continue their 40-1 win in the Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster ahead of a likely tilt to Grand National glory at Aintree.
“The blinders helped Doncaster and hopefully they will work again,” said coach Brian Ellison.
“The Sky Bet Chase form worked well as the third horse (Cap Du Nord) won the big race at Kempton last weekend.
“It’s obviously a preparation race for the National, but he’s in good shape and doing well.”
Other hopefuls include Nuts Well, Ann Hamilton’s highest weight, and Big River, favorite of Lucinda Russell, who has already won the Borders Tour eight times.