Catching Pigeons: Get Cross
Our weekly column brings the latest news from the training centres and some big-priced runners expected to go well.
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After the season he has endured so far, nobody could begrudge Victor Dartnall a big-race winner and Giles Cross could well be the horse to deliver just that in the Betfred Grand National Trial at Haydock.
The trainer's well-publicised battle against an outbreak of equine herpes saw his yard placed under lockdown before Christmas.
Giles Cross carried some confidence going into the Welsh National at Chepstow but it quickly became evident that the enforced quiet period at the yard had left Dartnall's team severely lacking in fitness and he dropped away when the going got tough in that contest.
However the stable's runners are going much better now and Dartnall is absolutely convinced that this likeable staying chaser can leave his Chepstow running behind and repeat his victory in the Grand National Trial of 12 months ago.
Incidentally, the stable's Ambion Wood isn't to be ruled out if he turns up at Cheltenham despite finishing exhausted when beaten at odds-on last month. Dartnall believes he has identified and corrected the reason for that lacklustre showing.
Florafern is the other runner to be interested in at Haydock in the Pertemps Handicap Hurdle Qualifier.
Oliver Sherwood refused to accept Puffin Billy's run behind Melodic Rendezvous at face value and got the answer he half-wanted when the horse was found with pus in his foot 24 hours after the race.
Now it will be a question as to whether the trainer still wants to throw Puffin Billy into the mix at Cheltenham, but in the meantime there are still races to be won and Florafern ticks plenty of boxes on her first start for 10 weeks.
First and foremost this likeable mare goes particularly well on the back of a break so her recent absence is, if anything, a plus-point.
Secondly, she doesn't mind testing conditions, and thirdly her trainer confidently expects her to appreciate this first move up to three miles.
General Miller is an interesting runner for Nicky Henderson at Ascot in the Betfair Handicap Hurdle over two miles three and a half furlongs.
He was still in the Champion Hurdle entries until taken out earlier this week and is considered potentially decent if his problems can be ironed out.
The problem here is the ground as he probably wants better conditions - as, almost certainly, does stablemate Top Of The Range - but he is one to keep a close eye upon. The handicapper has played a part by chopping 6lb off his mark for his most recent absence from the track.
Henderson may have taken Grandouet and Binocular out of Wincanton's Kingwell Hurdle, but could still end up with a decent showing courtesy of Khyber Kim.
He has plenty to find with Zarkandar on the formbook, but the Nicholls team have been a little quiet in the last couple of weeks - not unusual as the trainer gets his flu vaccinations done in mid-January - and the favourite won't be razor-sharp with the Champion Hurdle understandably his main target.
Khyber Kim is back at Seven Barrows after a spell with Nigel Twiston-Davies and shapes as if he still has plenty of enthusiasm and most of his old toe on the gallops.
Soft ground isn't ideal, but he could go better than his odds suggest.
Back at Ascot, Rocky Creek can continue his ascent up the novice chasing ladder by taking the Reynoldstown Chase.
He may still lack experience over fences but connections have full confidence in his jumping - so much so that they were even considering the Racing Plus Chase for him, only to decide that Rolling Aces (back him when the five-day declarations come out on Monday) was the one for Kempton next weekend.
Over in Newmarket the build-up to the return of Flat racing on turf continues with the likes of Stoute, Cecil and Cumani all seen on the gallops this week.
Red Cadeaux worked well on Racecourse Side on Friday morning on his way out to Dubai, while Stoute's Derby hope Telescope continues to make all the right moves.
But Ed Walker's enlarged string look particularly well in themselves as the trainer starts an important season from a new base and Lincoln Handicap possible Indian Jack - transferred to his care from Luca Cumani - in particular took th eye in a solo spin up Warren Hill.
There has been much amusement in HQ at the suggestion that a Hollywood-style Walk Of Fame could be introduced in the town, featuring hoof or footprints from the best-known residents. One well-known trainer has been pushing an idea for a rival 'Walk of Shame' featuring some of the town's greatest villiains and ne'er-do-wells.
There seems no shortage of candidates for the latter concept.