Ahoy Senor and Mr Incredible engage in an intriguing Anglo-Irish clash for the Ladbrokes John Francome Novices’ Chase at Newbury on Saturday.
The Grade Two contest has an illustrious roll of honour, with subsequent Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Native River, his then stablemate Thistlecrack and Santini all winners in the last decade.
The Lucinda Russell-trained Ahoy Senor sets the standard in this year’s renewal, having claimed the notable scalp of Bravemansgame when landing a Grade One novice hurdle at Aintree in the spring.
Due to a lack of suitable ground, the six-year-old was set a stiff task on his debut over fences at Carlisle, but was not done with in the Colin Parker Memorial when unseating Derek Fox two out.
Russell has been pleased with her stable star since and is looking forward to continuing his education in Berkshire.
She said: “We took Ahoy Senor down early so he missed any bad traffic. He had a canter round the track and a pick of grass this (Friday) morning and seems in really good form.
“We’re looking forward to it. He lacks a little bit of racing experience compared to the others, but he’s going really nicely at home.
“I think he’s probably come on for that Carlisle run, so fingers crossed he’ll be OK.”
The biggest threat to Ahoy Senor appears to be Mr Incredible, who represents the formidable combination of Henry de Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore.
The Westerner gelding looked a smart recruit to the chasing ranks when making a winning start in an eventful race at Naas three weeks ago – coming from a long way back to score with something to spare.
“He was really good at Naas – we were delighted with him. He won a fairly action-packed beginners chase,” said De Bromhead.
“It was either come here or supplement him for the Drinmore at Fairyhouse on Sunday as there’s very few options for him here between now and Christmas.”
Flash Collonges, who won three of his five starts over hurdles, debuts over the larger obstacles for Paul Nicholls and Harry Cobden, while Dan Skelton’s Wetherby winner Ashtown Lad completes the line-up.
“He jumped very nicely at Wetherby and I think he’s stepped forward from that,” Skelton told Sky Sports Racing.
“We never got the chance to get him on the grass gallop before that due to the weather, he’s been in the interim and you should see an improved performance.
“Whether that’s good enough to go and win a Grade Two, time will tell, but I’m very happy with him.”
Listed honours are also up for grabs in the Ladbrokes Committed To Safer Gambling Intermediate Hurdle – a race formerly known as the Gerry Feilden.
Jonjo O’Neill’s Soaring Glory won the Betfair Hurdle over the course and distance last season and made a successful reappearance at Ascot four weeks ago, while the Neil King-trained Onemorefortheroad is on a hat-trick following autumn wins at Stratford and Huntingdon.
King said: “This was the obvious race for him after Huntingdon. He loves a flat track and the better the ground, the better for him.
“We’re very lucky it’s cut up to this small field.
“It’s a step up in grade, but he’s earned it.”
Recent Cheltenham scorer Gowel Road (Nigel Twiston-Davies) is another with winning form at Newbury and Captain Morgs (Nicky Henderson) is the other hopeful.