Neil Mulholland is hoping Milkwood can strike again at Ayr and retain his title in the Coral Scottish Champion Hurdle.
The eight-year-old was a three-and-three-quarter-length winner of the Grade Two last term and has been seen only twice since, firstly when an excellent second in the Galway Hurdle in July and then when fourth on his chasing debut at Uttoxeter in October.
Injury setbacks have prevented the gelding from embarking on a busier campaign and Mulholland has deliberately saved him for a title defence in Scotland on Saturday, as he bids to join the likes of Sea Pigeon and Birds Nest as dual winners of the race.
“We kept him for the Scottish Champion where he won last year and Sam Twiston-Davies schooled him on Tuesday morning. We are happy with the way he schooled,” he said.
“We just had to give him a little bit of time, because we were not 100 per cent happy with him.
“He just hasn’t been right, he has had a few niggly problems and that is just the way he is.”
Now rated 150, Milkwood will carry 8lb more than he did 12 months ago.
“He has a lot of weight, but he has it for a reason,” Mulholland said.
“If he can go back there anywhere near his form of his last three hurdle runs, he will make his presence felt.
“He has had a racecourse gallop and we have him as fit as we can. He is at his racing weight – obviously you can’t beat a recent run, but he has had a recent racecourse gallop and he galloped really well.”
Onemorefortheroad won three times over hurdles for trainer Neil King before being being placed in graded company at Ascot.
The seven-year-old finished fourth on his most recent run in the Imperial Cup at Sandown.
King feels there is a little more improvement left to come and Jack Quinlan’s mount is in receipt of a stone from Milkwood.
He said: “He remains in really good form I think he is the right side of the handicapper still.
“He has done absolutely nothing wrong this year – the ground was far too soft for him last time at Sandown and he still ran with great credit. The handicapper dropped him a pound as a consequence.
“Ayr will suit him. I have always felt a flat, sharp track like Ayr will suit him much better than a Sandown or an Ascot, and he is in great form.
“He had a break in midwinter because of the ground and is fresh and ready to go.
“His form is rock solid and and the faster the ground the better.”
In what bookmakers see as an open contest, West Cork is the most lightly-raced of the principals, having had just three runs this season for Dan Skelton.
The eight-year-old, who shoulders 8lb less than Milkwood, was fourth in the County Hurdle at Cheltenham on his first run since mid-December and Skelton says he has taken that well.
“West Cork has not had a busy season, but he ran well at Cheltenham last time. As long as that has not come too soon, I would have to give him a right chance.
“I don’t feel like it has come too soon from what he has shown at home.”
The James Moffatt-trained Alqamar won four times between May and August last year, but has not been seen since unseating at Wetherby in October.
Last-time-out winners Socialist Agenda and Voix Du Reve, along with Anna Bunina and Kihavah make this a fascinating renewal, with Barrichello completing the line-up.
Donald McCain’s gelding has won four of five this season, the only blot on his copybook coming when fourth in a Bangor novice hurdle in December.
The Cheshire handler feels the six-year-old, who scored at Newcastle last time out, deserves his chance.
“He has had a good year and is going the right way,” said McCain.
“He deserves to run in a good race. I think he is fairly handicapped, I don’t know whether we have anything up our sleeve but we were going to run him on a big day in the spring and we decided to go to this one.
“He probably should be unbeaten but the only hiccup was at Bangor. That was nobody’s fault. He just got a fright at the start, he whipped round and the race was over.
“He has had a good year. All the Ayr races have cut up a bit. I don’t quite know why we have needed to have the meeting a week before Aintree.
“It was never really going to work, was it? It has been hard for me, as I wanted to send some of them to Aintree possibly, but how do you wait when races are cutting up?”