Threeunderthrufive will be short odds to take his record over fences to four wins from five outings at Warwick on Saturday.
Sixth in the Albert Bartlett at the Festival last year, the Paul Nicholls-trained seven-year-old has made smooth progress since switching to the bigger obstacles, most recently taking the Grade Two December Novices’ Chase at Doncaster.
He had won at Cheltenham and Exeter before that and this weekend’s assignment in the Wigley Group Hampton Novices’ Chase will tell connections more about whether the McNeill family-owned gelding will run in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase in March or the longer National Hunt Chase.
Assistant trainer Harry Derham said: “He is very well, it looks a race he would be capable of winning and we are very hopeful he will.”
Mint Condition appears the biggest danger to the market leader.
Beaten just a neck in the Leamington Novices’ Hurdle on this card 12 months ago, the eight-year-old was the same distance away from landing his novice chase at Haydock at the start of December before making no mistake at the end of the month.
Alan O’Keeffe, assistant to trainer Jennie Candlish, said: “He did it nicely the last day at Haydock. He stayed on well and and we feel the step up in trip will suit him. We wouldn’t want the ground to dry out too much more – the softer the better for him, really – but if I think if there is plenty of juice in the ground he will give his running.
“The favourite will be hard to beat, but if you are not in it, you can’t win it and the owners are local to Warwick, so they are keen to have a go and it’s decent prize-money.
“He is going forward and he’ll be a lovely staying chaser. We have it in the back of our mind that he might turn into a Welsh National horse next season.”
Sandy Thompson is hoping Doyen Breed lives up to his official rating of 142 after finishing four and a half lengths behind Bushypark at Kelso. The latter horse was subsequently disappointing when favourite but only third to Mint Condition at Haydock.
The Berwick trainer said: “We are slightly forced to go there, because we don’t know if his handicap mark is right or not.
“It was a muddling race at Kelso and if he was beaten a short head, he would not have been moved.
“What is the form of Bushypark like? I don’t know. Nobody knows how good Bushypark is.
“On ratings, he has got a good chance and the winner (Mint Condition) is obviously a decent horse, but we have got to go and take our chance.”
Thompson sees Doyen Breed as a promising staying chaser and tabbed the Scottish National at Ayr as a long-term target for the seven-year-old.
He added: “When he ran at Aintree last year, I thought the Scottish National would be somewhere he might be going at the end of this season.
“I am just slightly concerned his mark of 142 is unrealistic, but we will find out a bit more on Saturday.
“The ground was soft enough at Kelso and we will be happy with the ground at Warwick.”
The Neil Mulholland-trained Any News had useful form to his name as a novice hurdler, and while yet to get off the mark in three tries over fences, he has shown promise, albeit his latest outing at Exeter was below par.
He is up significantly in trip, and Mulholland said: “It would be nice to see what he is like over three miles. It is a bit of a fact-finding mission. We’ll see what he is like and we obviously have the Paul Nicholls horse and the Sandy Thompson horse to beat at the weights.
“We have been a little bit disappointed with him, we hope our lad is a bit better than 138, but we’ll let him do the talking and see what happens. He handles the track, as he has been round there before.
“It is good prize-money. There’s a small entry and for a horse on a fact-finding mission, you are looking at 15 grand or more for second. It is amazing.”
Improving young stayer Gericault Roque takes on 14 rivals in a competitive renewal of the Agetur UK Ltd Classic Handicap Chase at Warwick, with jockey Tom Scudamore confident he holds “a good chance”.
The David Pipe-trained six-year-old has been placed in all three starts over fences, including when a length and a quarter behind Saint Palais at Newbury last month, with the pair 11 lengths clear of the rest.
Scudamore is hopeful he can break his duck over fences at the fourth attempt in the Grade Three contest, run over three miles and five furlongs.
“It was a tremendous run last time and he is a young, improving stayer and he looks an exciting horse for the future,” said Scudamore.
“He was beaten by a good horse at Newbury and they are both good, improving young horses who pulled a long way clear.
“Obviously the handicapper has had his say – he has put up us 6lb, and the winner went up 10lb.
“The form of his last two runs have worked out very well and you’d like to think he would have a good chance. He is a horse we have always liked.
“It is a competitive race, but these big handicaps are, and this is the level we think he is at.”
The race could be something of a family affair, as his eight-time champion jump jockey father Peter Scudamore assists partner Lucinda Russell, who saddles Corach Rambler.
The eight-year-old is still a novice and had the option of running in the Hampton Novices’ Chase earlier on the card.
However, rather than opting for the three-mile event, he bids for a hat-trick over this further distance, having followed up victory at Aintree with another at Cheltenham over an extended three miles and one furlong last month.
Scudamore said: “The Hampton looked a very difficult task for him and I couldn’t see him beating Paul Nicholls’ horse (Threeunderthrufive).
“I think Corach Rambler will need to improve on anything he has shown to win, but there is hope, stepping up in trip.
“His dam’s sister won over three miles. There is hope, rather than great confidence.
“He was a six-year-old point-to-pointer when we bought him to win a race at Hexham – and he has won at Aintree and Cheltenham, so I’m delighted with him. He has been a wonderful horse for The Ramblers syndicate.
“He is a novice but he is an eight-year-old and he is strong enough to do this. He seems in great form.
“We are looking for a big run, but I often think it is harder for the top weights in these long-distance races. He well deserves his chance and it is a £100,000 race, so I hope he does a One For Arthur!”
The Alan King-trained Notachance won this race last year under Tom Cannon and runs off the same mark sporting a first-time visor, having been pulled up in three of his four subsequent starts.
Cannon said: “He was good in the race last year as he entered it on the crest of a wave. He had won his previous race at Bangor and things were going his way.
“He was an up-and-coming horse. He won the Classic Chase, then after that he pulled up slightly lame at Haydock next time out.
“He just lost his confidence a bit and when he went for the Scottish National he had not had the best preparation going into it, so you can draw a line through the end of last season with him.
“He went to Newcastle first time out this season and was probably always going to need the run, but he showed a bit more at Haydock last time.
“This has been the plan since the start of the season. It was nice that he showed that bit more at Haydock the last day and hopefully he is coming to the boil nicely.”
Evan Williams is hoping the ground will be suitable for No Rematch, who signed off last season with an impressive win in heavy ground at Chepstow, but pulled up on his seasonal return at Exeter after 10 months off.
“I think he needed the run,” said Williams. “A lot of ours have missed the autumn because it was too dry. Tomorrow might be dry enough for us and I will have a look at the track, because this is a horse who wants proper soft ground.
“I like the horse, but I would say he is a proper winter ground horse.”
There are four last-time winners in the line-up and they include 11-year-old Head To The Stars who landed a three-mile handicap at Ludlow last month, following his fair third over the same trip at Warwick.
Trainer Henry Daly said: “He produced a nice run last time. Three-miles-five is fine for him. He seems in good order. He does have the ability to throw a shocker in for whatever reason, but that is just him.
“At Perth, back in April, he had a very legitimate excuse. He managed to put his front feet in the open ditch, which most people didn’t see and he was pulled up, quite reasonably, but he ran well at Warwick in November and won well at Ludlow. He is in good order.”
In a deep renewal, big yards are also represented by Padleyourowncanoe (Dan Skelton), Achille (Venetia Williams), Eclair Surf (Emma Lavelle), Grace A Vous Enki (Paul Nicholls), Jerrysback (Philip Hobbs) and The Hollow Ginge (Nigel Twiston-Davies).
Surrey Quest takes a big leap from novice class to Grade Two company as he seeks to take his perfect record over timber to three in the Ballymore Leamington Novices’ Hurdle at Warwick on Saturday.
The lightly-raced five-year-old, trained by Nicky Henderson and owned by Surrey Racing, followed up his first success at Leicester in November with a display full of promise at Doncaster last month, despite still showing signs of greenness.
Connections are quite bullish about his chances – but are fully aware of the task he faces at such an early stage of his career.
“It’s a massive step up in class so it’s hard to know what to expect of him. I know he’s been backed – I’m not entirely sure why – but it looks to me as there are quite a few unexposed types all with a chance,” said Clive Hadingham, co-founder of Surrey Racing with Steve Grubb.
“For someone who hasn’t proved himself he’s short enough, but I think he deserves to take his place in the race. He came out of his last race really well and he’s bouncing away on the gallops.
“It doesn’t look the strongest of Grade Twos really and we go there with confidence.
“I think there’s four or five that could win it and we’re one of them. That last race he won at Doncaster was a pretty good race.
“He was babyish at Doncaster and he will need to come on quite a bit to win this one, which is not beyond the realms of possibility. We’re excited about it.”
Evan Williams is taking a punt stepping Howdyalikemenow in class after the six-year-old won his third race of the campaign at Ffos Las earlier this month.
“He’s got a bit to find at the weights. He’s entered in the Betfair Hurdle and I was going to wait for that, but he’s had a fantastic season and I just thought ‘let’s step him up in trip and in grade and see how we get on’,” said the Llancarfan trainer.
“I should probably be running him in a handicap, but the reality is he’s gone and won a handicap. It will be interesting to see how he gets on and if he stays. We thought the horse deserved to take his chance.”
Stuart Edmunds thinks similarly about Gentleman At Arms, who opened his account over hurdles in a novice event at Huntingdon last month.
That was the five-year-old’s second run for Edmunds since he was bought out of Harry Dunlop’s stable for 40,000 guineas at Tattersalls Autumn Horses-In-Training Sales.
“We’re very happy with him. He won well the last day in similar conditions. I just hope I haven’t put him in a bit deep,” said the Newport Pagnell trainer.
“We like him. He was a reasonable Flat horse so we’re going to give it a go.”
A competitive Grade Two contest features Party Business, who fell at the penultimate flight in the Grade One Challow Hurdle at Newbury when in second place behind eventual winner Stage Star. Ian Williams’ six-year-old bids for handsome consolation.
Archie Watson steps Stag Horn, a smart stayer on the Flat, up to Grade Two company after making a successful debut over hurdles at Hereford.
Dan Skelton, who has won the race twice with Three Musketeers in 2015 and Beakstown in 2019, saddles Viva Lavilla. The six-year-old got off the mark over hurdles first time at Lingfield in November and was second in the Grade Two Ballymore Winter Novices’ Hurdle on his only subsequent start.
The seven-runner field is completed by Scipion, whose trainer Tom Lacey saddled Adrimel to take this prize 12 months ago.