Third Wind is set to bid for back-to-back victories in the Rendlesham Hurdle at Haydock on Saturday before he heads for the Cheltenham Festival.
Trainer Hughie Morrison is favouring the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle rather than the Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle Final for the eight-year-old, who has to carry a 6lb penalty on Merseyside for his victory in 2021.
“We should really be waiting for the Pertemps Final with him, but to be honest this race will be no more competitive than that,” said the East Ilsley handler.
“The Final is just so competitive. When he was fourth in it two years ago, the first two ended up being Grade One horses!
“You have to take your chance when the races comes along. Most of the time trainers are trying to protect their handicap marks, waiting for the big handicap.
“The problem is the conditions races are worth so much less than the big handicaps, which is why there are more runners in the handicaps.”
Third Wind is one of nine entries for the Grade Two contest over an extended three miles that includes the 2020 winner Emitom, who is trained by Warren Greatrex.
Nigel Twiston-Davies has given Bristol De Mai the choice of this race and the William Hill Grand National Trial on the same card. The Naunton handler has also put in Wholestone, who has not run since falling at this course in November 2020.
Completing the list are Anythingforlove, Molly Olly’s Wishes, The Cob, Thomas Darby and Top Ville Ben.
Bristol De Mai, three-times winner of the Betfair Chase, heads the field for the Grand National Trial Handicap Chase after 16 horses were left in at the five-day confirmation stage.
Dan Skelton’s evergreen 13-year-old Blaklion has already won twice at the track this season.
Enqarde, who took the Tommy Whittle Handicap Chase here in December, could return for Dr Richard Newland while course regular Lord Du Mesnil is another leading contender. Richard Hobson’s stayer lifted this prize 12 months ago.
Others in the mix include Evan Williams’ Secret Reprieve, winner of the Welsh Grand National last season, Venetia Williams’ Commodore and the Anthony Honeyball-trained Sam Brown, who was second to Royal Pagaille in the Peter Marsh here last month.