Charlie Longsdon is hoping Willie Boy’s step into unknown territory over three miles will open up new possibilities in Doncaster’s Sky Bet Handicap Chase.
Wetherby winner Willie Boy has yet to try further than two miles and five furlongs under rules and has not been successful beyond two and a half.
He faces a significant test of class as well as stamina on Saturday, with high-powered opposition from leading stables in the 11-strong field – headed by Alan King’s Dingo Dollar and last year’s runner-up Warriors Tale, one of two representing Paul Nicholls.
“Three miles is an unknown, but we think he will probably get it,” said the Cotswolds trainer of his former point-to-pointer.
“I hope it will really suit him, and he’ll actually improve for it.
“Of course, there are plenty of point-to-point winners who only get two miles. But for him, I think going over three could just slow things down a bit and help him. It’s been well documented he’s had a few issues with his jumping.
“He’s in great form with himself. He was going very well in the BetVictor when he came down – who knows what would have happened, but he was definitely going as well as anything.
“The cheekpieces then seemed to work at Wetherby, so he’ll have them on again – let’s hope they work this time as well.”
Dingo Dollar is favourite based on his excellent run in the Ladbrokes Trophy when third to the sidelined Sizing Tennessee.
”Dingo Dollar jumped superbly out in front when finishing third in the Ladbrokes Trophy (formerly the Hennessy) at Newbury in December, and this has been the target ever since,” King said on www.alankingracing.co.uk.
“Plan B was Cheltenham, also on Saturday, but that two mile and five furlongs would have been sharp enough, so I am happy to stay at Doncaster.
“Looking further ahead, the Scottish National at Ayr in April is his ultimate objective, but he could take in the Ultima Chase at the Cheltenham Festival en route.”
Nicholls’ two runners are top weight Warriors Tale and Art Mauresque, just below on 11st 11lb.
Becher Chase winner Warriors Tale finished an admirable second in this race 12 months ago – a determined performance which was followed by a switch of ownership to Trevor Hemmings, for a shot at last year’s Grand National.
While he appeared not to stay in the National on rain-softened ground, his victory in the Becher has sparked National dreams again.
Nicholls said: “Warriors Tale is in good form and was beaten a head in this race last year. He has been knocking on the door in some really big races without winning – so to go and win at Aintree was good for him and Mr Hemmings.
“He will have to run off a career-high rating and better ground does suit him – we are looking forward to seeing how he goes.
“Warriors Tale won the Grand Sefton nicely last time and hopefully there is more to come.”
He is optimistic too, but slightly more tempered over the chances of his other contender.
“Art Mauresque is another horse who appreciates better ground.
“He also seems to be in good form. He can sometimes be inconsistent and throw in the odd disappointing effort.
“He’s on a career-high handicap mark now. But it (is) a smallish field, and I’m hopeful of a good run.”
“It has cut up slightly due to the ground, but that will suit both of our horses and hopefully they run well on Saturday.”
Donald McCain feels Federici can get involved from the foot of the weights.
“He ran well in the Becher (fifth) and if we’d been able to get a run in to him he’d probably have been second,” said McCain.
“Like so many we couldn’t run him because of the ground. He ran well in this last year on softer ground – he was upsides jumping the last – and he’s got a good racing weight so there’s no reason not to be there.
“It’s a tough race, but we’ve been taking on the same sort of horses for £15,000 so we may as well have a punt.
“On good ground three miles is fine, he probably just didn’t get home last year when it was a good bit softer.”
He added: “I’d love him to go and win by 15 lengths and then go for the National, but he won’t get in.
“There’s a chance we’ll go for the Topham as he jumps the place so well. It’s just unfortunate it usually turns up heavy for the Becher because on good ground he’d take some beating.”
Nicholls’ great rival Nicky Henderson relies on recent course-and-distance winner O O Seven.
That half-length success last month came at the first attempt after a wind operation and at the chief expense of Nigel Twiston-Davies’ reopposing Go Conquer.
The latter is just a pound better off, but will benefit from seven more thanks to Jordan Nailor’s claim.
Among the remainder, Venetia Williams puts the in-form Calipto up in trip to three miles for the first time, while Peter Niven’s Brian Boranha gives it a go for Yorkshire in one of the county’s most famous jumps races – on his first start since winning the Durham National at Sedgefield in October.