Tony McCoy feels Darlan has to go close in the williamhill.com Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on Boxing Day to warrant a place in the Champion Hurdle itself.
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"The ground will probably be soft enough for him, but it's the time of year when he needs to get out - hopefully he can make up into a good horse," said McCoy.
"He's a narrow-framed sort of horse and hopefully he will improve with time. He's got to step up a lot to be a champion hurdler, and as yet he's got a lot to prove.
"We're working with the hope he is going to be a good horse, but in terms of ratings if he were to run in a handicap against the likes of Zarkandar or Rock On Ruby he'd be getting plenty of weight off them.
"At the same time, the Christmas Hurdle is the right race for him if he is going to make up into a Champion Hurdle horse. He needs to be performing pretty well, even if the ground is not in his favour."
Trainer Nicky Henderson has seen a physical improvement in Darlan since last season.
"We didn't run him in very soft ground at Cheltenham, but everything has gone fine and he went to Kempton for a racecourse gallop and worked well with Riverside Theatre," he said.
"He's in great form and it's going to be a fascinating race. We've kept him over hurdles and he's a mighty strong horse now. Physically he's much stronger than last year. There was a temptation to go chasing but we are going to take the hurdle route."
Henderson also runs Punjabi, who has not raced since April 2010 and fell in this race four years ago.
"We were going to go novice chasing, but we're going to give him a run over hurdles so he can go and enjoy himself," he told At The Races. "He's been off a fair old while, obviously."
Donald McCain is not unduly concerned Cinders And Ashes went down to Countrywide Flame in the Fighting Fifth.
"We had to run him (at Newcastle), the ground wasn't suitable, we got the run in, he got beat, big deal," said the Cholmondeley handler.
"He was beaten coming past me first time and if we'd waited for Cheltenham we would still have ended up with the same ground.
"We know where we want to be, his work his great and he's come on for the run. We're very happy with where we are."
The Supreme Novices' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival is the long-term target for Dodging Bullets.
"He's done really well this year, he's won two from two at Cheltenham and he's being aimed for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle," Nicholls told www.betfair.com.
"He's in good form at the moment so I'm going to let him take his chance in the Christmas Hurdle. He's rated 150 and I think he deserves to run in it. I've got the luxury of being able to run him in that and then step him back to novice hurdles. I think he'll be a cracking chaser next year."
John Quinn explained why he decided not to take on Hurricane Fly and company in the Istabraq Festival Hurdle with Countrywide Flame and head to Kempton.
"There were various reasons we decided not to go to Ireland," said the Malton handler.
"With everything we're better off not travelling. The weather is terrible and he'd have as much chance at Kempton as he would have in Ireland. The ground will be fine - he goes on all types of ground."
Quinn had felt Countrywide Flame might not be as well suited to the track at Kempton as he would to Leopardstown, but that does not seem to be a major factor.
"He's won round Hamilton on the Flat, so we'll see, he's very well. It's a good field, but he's in fine fettle and I expect a good run out of him," he added.
Alan King is happy to take on the likes of Countrywide Flame with Raya Star.
"Countrywide Flame is favourite for the Christmas Hurdle, but we are rated only 3lb behind the Fighting Fifth Hurdle winner, so Raya Star is entitled to take his place in the field," the Barbury Castle trainer told www.alankingracing.co.uk.
"He has been in good form since his second to Oscar Whisky at Ascot."