French star Master Dino bids to earn himself an appearance at the Cheltenham Festival when he makes his British debut at Plumpton on Sunday.
The Guillaume Macaire-trained grey was the champion four-year-old hurdler in his homeland last year, rounding off his winning sequence over the smaller obstacles with a Grade One success at Auteuil in November.
He returned to the Paris track to make an impressive start to his career over fences less than three weeks later and is a fascinating runner in the Follow At The Races On Twitter Novices’ Chase.
Macaire said: “This will be a different style of racing to what he is used to, but we are looking forward to running him.”
Master Dino might not have things all his own way in Sussex, with Gary Moore’s impressive Newbury winner Knocknanuss chief among his five rivals.
Other contenders include Gordon Elliott’s Irish challenger Glenloe – who was narrowly beaten by high-class stablemate Delta Work in the Pertemps Final at Cheltenham last spring – and the Colin Tizzard-trained Slate House.
“Gary Moore’s horse could be the problem. He went very fast when he won at Newbury, but that was over two miles and this race is almost two and a half,” Macaire added.
“Our horse used to be a bit too keen, but we have taught him to settle and relax and if he can shadow Gary Moore’s horse that will be good. We’ll try to think of him being in the race as a positive for us rather than a negative.
“We are getting 5lb from him, but the weight is only one element. The scenario of the race is more important and if you make a bad mistake at one of the fences that is going to make much more difference than the weights.”
The surprising strength of this weekend’s race is surely down to the £60,000 bonus Plumpton offers to any horse who can win one its nominated novice events before following up in any race at Cheltenham in March.
However, Macaire – who will be bidding for his first victory in Britain since United Park won a novice chase at Wetherby in December 2012 – insists the lucrative offer is not the primary motivation for bringing his charge across the Channel.
He said: “He is not there for the bonus, it is more about giving him some experience of a different style of racing.
“He was very good over the fences at Auteuil. He jumped those big fences perfectly and won easily.
“I think two miles is a bit too short for him and three miles is a bit far, but we’ll see.
“He’ll be entered for the Arkle and the two-and-a-half-mile race (JLT) at Cheltenham.”
Moore expects to have a clearer idea of what direction Knocknanuss should take afterwards.
He said: “It’s a tough race – it’s Plumpton’s Arkle, isn’t it? I’m delighted for Plumpton to get a race like this and I just hope they all come back home safe and sound.
“Our horse is in good form and he couldn’t have been more impressive at Newbury, but the form hasn’t worked out that well.
“I suppose what will be in our favour is the ground isn’t going to be that soft.
“Hopefully we’ll find out if we should be going handicapping or whether he’s good enough to run in the Arkle.”
Alan King’s Good Man Pat and Harry Fry’s Onefortheroadtom complete the line-up.