Knight Salute will take on 10 rivals as he bids to maintain his unbeaten record in the Coral Adonis Hurdle at Kempton on Saturday.
The resurgence of Milton Harris has been one of the stories of the season. He has already surpassed his previous best of 32 victories in the 2010-11 season, registering 41 winners thus far.
Thereafter, the trainer suffered a seven-year spell in the wilderness after declaring himself bankrupt.
However, he got his licence back just over three years ago and has steadily built up his new base at Warminster, and is heading to Cheltenham with a handful of big guns to fire.
His stellar campaign has been spearheaded by Knight Salute and the four-year-old bids for a five-timer over hurdles in the two-mile contest, hoping to rubber-stamp his Triumph Hurdle ticket.
Though having his first outing since defeating another leading British hope, Porticello, in the Summit Hurdle at Doncaster in early December, Harris feels the son of Sir Percy is the one they all have to beat.
“Knight Salute is in good form. He has done everything we have asked of him,” he said.
“The ground looks like it will dry out a bit, conditions look like they are in his favour and while it is a hot race, we are top-rated and I think they will be more worried about us than we are about them.”
Knight Salute will take on Impulsive One, whom he had just over a length behind in third at Doncaster.
Nicky Henderson’s runner franked that form when winning his third race from five over hurdles at Mussleburgh last time.
“He is in good form. He is a Flat-ground horse and he’s a good-ground horse. He won well at Musselburgh,” said the Seven Barrows handler.
“This is a good race for him and he will go to Liverpool rather than Cheltenham after the Adonis. We’re hopeful he will acquit himself favourably.”
Paul Nicholls is represented by Rubaud, who makes his British debut, and Pleasant Man, who was a 95-rated handicapper with Roger Charlton. He makes his hurdling debut on his first start since September.
Nicholls told Betfair: “Both of mine are running in this race on the basis that if one of them wins then they can go on to better things like Zarkandar in 2011. If not they will be looked after until next season because I don’t want them losing their maiden status in an ordinary novice hurdle.
“Pleasant Man won three times on the Flat, is rated 95 and on his two-year-old debut beat Pied Piper who is one of the favourites for the Triumph Hurdle. He has been with us since November, shows a fair bit at home, has done plenty of schooling and wears cheek pieces as he did when winning his last race for Roger Charlton in September.
“Rubaud stays well, he won impressively at Saint-Cloud in July and has been with us since the autumn. He handles soft ground and like Pleasant Man has had plenty of practice over our hurdles at home.
“There is no significance in the jockey bookings as Bryony Frost rides regularly for Chris Giles, the part-owner of Rubaud who we are trying in a tongue tie.”
In a deep renewal, their rivals comprise Big Boy Bobby (Alan King), Teddy Blue (Gary Moore) and The Famous Five (Venetia Williams), along with Graystone (Lucy Wadham), Moka De Vassy (Jane Williams) and Iroko (Oliver Greenall).
There are two more Grade Two contests on a cracking seven-race card, with the Coral Pendil Novices’ Chase attracting five runners.
They are headed by the Nicholls-trained Pic D’Orhy, who bids to bounce back from a lacklustre display behind L’Homme Presse in the Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase at Sandown.
“He choked late on in the Scilly Isles Chase at Sandown last time on testing ground,” said Nicholls.
“He needs a flatter track and better ground which he gets at Kempton. He is basically a very good jumper and I’m hoping to see him back at his best with conditions in his favour in a race we have won in three of the past five years.”
Minella Drama (Donald McCain) and Fantastic Lady (Henderson) both won last time out, while Millers Bank (Alex Hales) and Goa Lil (Nigel Twiston-Davies) complete the select line-up.
Five of the eight who line up in the Sky Bet Dovecote Novices’ Hurdle won when last seen, with the Gary Moore-trained Shallwehaveonemore a warm order to follow up his 20-length success at Sandown last month.
The Chris Gordon-trained Aucunrisque bids for a hat-trick after scoring by 10 lengths at Wincanton, as does Frere D’Armes, who impressed in winning at the same west country track for Dan Skelton last month.
“Obviously he is taking a big step up in grade and he is a novice,” said Skelton.
“We just thought we’d find out where we stand.
“The track is grand, the trip is fine, the ground is fine. There are no excuses. We’ll know where we stand.”
One of those who failed to win last time was five-year-old Russian Ruler, who was third on his hurdling debut at Doncaster when favourite.
Henderson said: “I think this is a really, really, really nice horse. I thought he was going to be one of our star novices, but things haven’t quite gone his way.
“I’m going to put him in good race like this and if he wins, he wins. If he doesn’t, he’ll be one for next year. He is a lovely horse.”
Iceo (Nicholls), Moriko De Vassy (Tom Symonds), Galore Desassences (Nigel Hawke) and Legionar (Harris) are among those hoping to land the valuable two-mile contest.
Though Legionar is the rank outsider with most bookmakers, Harris insists he should not be overlooked.
“In time, he will be better than Knight Salute, I should imagine. He is a good horse, a proper horse, and he will keep progressing. He is one to keep an eye on.”