Bryony Frost is keeping her fingers crossed the admirable Black Corton can get back on the winning trail in the Belhaven Brewery Premier Chase at Kelso on Saturday.
The Paul Nicholls-trained eight-year-old enjoyed a fantastic campaign last season, winning no less than eight races under Frost – including a career-defining first Grade One success for the jockey in the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton.
Black Corton has failed to get his head in front so far this term, but has filled the runner-up spot in the Charlie Hall at Wetherby and in Listed events at Kempton and Ascot since the turn of the year, and Frost is hopeful the near 400-mile journey from Somerset will prove worthwhile.
“We are desperate to get the little guy back in front again,” said Frost.
“Take nothing away from him in his last two runs. Top Notch was a far superior horse at Kempton and the Venetia Williams horse (Calipto) at Ascot last time out is obviously improving and I couldn’t give a stone away to him.
“I know we were beaten into second both times and we are a bit of a bridesmaid at the minute, but he has given me everything in both those runs.
“He is out of novice company this year and that is why we have found we have hit the crossbar a couple of times.
“Kelso is a sharp track and he should handle it as he is only little. If he copes with the travelling up there – which I’m sure he will – and goes there in the same heart as his last two runs he will be right there, for me.
“He is only giving away 3lb to the others, so hopefully we are good enough to do that.”
Black Corton was one of five declared runners for the near three-mile Listed event – although the participation of 2017 Grand National hero One For Arthur is in doubt.
Lucinda Russell’s stable star has unseated his rider twice since returning from over a year and a half off the track, but connections are hopeful he will bounce back if given the green light to run this weekend.
Russell said: “If the ground isn’t suitable he won’t run. There’s probably a big chance he won’t run at this stage.
“There is some rain forecast, so we’ll probably take him down there, see what the ground is like and make a decision.
“I’m very pleased with him at home. His schooling has been really good – he’s had his back done since his last run at Haydock and had a few different treatments.
“If he does run hopefully he’ll jump straight this time.”
Should One For Arthur not take up his entry, he looks set to head straight back to Aintree for another tilt at National glory.
“The next plan is Aintree. We’re quite relaxed about it, to be honest,” Russell added.
“We have a plan to get him to Aintree and that will come into force on Sunday, whether he runs on Saturday or not.”
Another horse with Grand National aspirations is the Stuart Coltherd-trained Captain Redbeard.
He unseated his rider at the seventh fence in the world’s most famous steeplechase last April, but Coltherd is keen to head back to Merseyside next month if he makes the cut.
The 10-year-old was last seen inflicting a shock defeat on Brian Ellison’s Cheltenham Gold Cup hope Definitly Red over this course and distance.
Coltherd said: “It’s all systems go. There’s no guarantee he’ll get in the National and he’s fit and well and ready to run, so we might as well let him take his chance on Saturday.
“He didn’t have a hard race last time and if he can run like that again we’ll be pleased.
“We know he likes the track and the ground shouldn’t be a problem, so everything looks good.
“The plan is to run on Saturday and go straight to Aintree, all being well.”
The field is completed by Chris Grant’s Acdc and the hat-trick-seeking Blue Flight, trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies.