Phil Kirby will make a late call on whether to let his star mare Lady Buttons take on dual Champion Hurdle hero Buveur D’Air in the Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle.
The Nicky Henderson-trained Buveur D’Air is a long odds-on favourite to become only the third three-time winner of Saaturday’s Gosforth Park feature, having rounded off last season with victory in the Punchestown Champion Hurdle.
The admirable Lady Buttons – the winner of 13 races – has the alternative of returning to fences at Newbury on the same afternoon, but Kirby is currently leaning towards letting her bid for Grade One glory over the smaller obstacles.
“I’m not going to make a decision until the last minute,” said the North Yorkshire trainer.
“We’ll see what else is declared and go from there.
“At the moment I would say I’m probably favouring going to Newcastle. The Fighting Fifth declares the day before the Newbury race, so we’ll see how things are looking on Thursday morning.
“She did her last bit of work this morning, and she’s ready to go.”
Should Lady Buttons make the trip to Newcastle, she is likely to be joined by high-class stablemate Top Ville Ben – who is set to contest the £70,000 Betfair Rehearsal Chase.
Third behind Lostintranslation at Aintree in the spring, the seven-year-old finished a well-beaten fifth on his reappearance in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby.
Kirby said: “He’s going to go for the Rehearsal. It’s a good prize-money race, and he’s in good form.”
Conditions at Newcastle were described as heavy on Tuesday morning, and clerk of the course James Armstrong admits some of the forecasts he has seen do not look especially favourable.
He said: “We’re perfectly raceable at the moment, but the ground is heavy, and we could really do with a few dry days.
“Since the last meeting we’ve moved rails and we have fresh ground on the hurdle course, so the track is in pretty good nick, but we could do without a lot more rain.
“We’ve had just over an inch of rain since Friday – and it looks like we’re going to get at least another 10 millimetres over the next couple of days, and possibly quite a bit more.”
Some respite is due to follow, only for colder weather to arrive instead.
Armstrong added: “Friday and Saturday are looking like dry days now, but things are due to turn a bit colder on Friday night.
“We hope we avoid the worst of the rain, and then we can put heavy-duty frost covers down on vulnerable parts of the track on Thursday and fleece the rest of the course.
“It’s a watching brief at the moment, and we’re just going to have to wait and see what falls from the skies.”