Warren Greatrex is not ruling out a crack at the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase with La Bague Au Roi, should his star mare return to winning ways in the Fitzdares Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon on Sunday.
The eight-year-old was a real star for Greatrex last season, when beating subsequent RSA Chase winner Topofthegame at Kempton Park and winning a Grade One in Ireland.
She was well fancied for the Charlie Hall Chase on her return to action, but never looked happy in the testing ground at Wetherby and Greatrex subsequently revealed she was in season.
As the King George on Boxing Day had always been her big aim in the first half of the season, Greatrex does not want to give up hope just yet – but is keen to give her another run first.
If La Bague Au Roi was successful this weekend, she would qualify for the £500,000 Best Mate Bonus put up by Fitzdares for any horse who wins the Peterborough and goes on to land the King George and Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup.
The Upper Lambourn trainer said: “She’s still in the King George, but that is looking like being seriously hot this year.
“It’s not that I’m not mad keen to have a go at that, I just felt after Wetherby, though there were reasons for how she ran like she did, we could maybe get her back on track by running here.
“Just speaking to Dicky (Richard) Johnson as well, he thinks the trip is fine, he’s always said she’s not slow – two and a half on a flat track is fine.
“She gets the allowances, the ground looks like drying up which is not an inconvenience – certainly it would be more of a worry for others.
“It will be good to get her out again and show everyone what she can do.”
According to official ratings, the class act of the race is Venetia Williams’ Aso.
A gallant runner-up to Frodon in the Ryanair Chase last season, he finished third over three miles in the Charlie Hall on his return to action.
“I don’t think he was beaten for stamina at Wetherby, I was pleased with his run,” said Williams.
“I think he ran well, but obviously he’s coming back in trip a bit this weekend. He’s in good form, though.
“I just hope the ground doesn’t dry up any more. It never gets that soft at Huntingdon as it is, so I hope it isn’t too quick.”
Top Notch is another major contender for Nicky Henderson.
What he lacks in size he makes up for in courage and began his season with a win over hurdles at Aintree.
Henderson said: “That was a fantastic performance at Aintree the other day. That is just him all over – tough, tough, tough.
“To be fair that was just his prep race, having a little run over hurdles to get him tuned up for this, and this has been the obvious race for him.
“It is the right trip and it’s a good track for him. It is a good little race. Everyone loves him as he is a trier – he is only little and round, but he always looks well and feels well.
“La Bague Au Roi didn’t run great at Wetherby, but if she is back to form she is the one to beat. Top Notch will give it a good go.”