Neil King feels The Knot Is Tied can give his older rivals a lesson in the Cotswold Stone Supplies Ltd Silver Trophy Handicap Hurdle at Chepstow on Saturday.
The Casamento gelding is the only four-year-old in the line-up – but can call on plenty of experience, first as a Flat horse with Tim Easterby and now having had five races over jumps for King.
The Knot Is Tied got off the mark on his final start last season, at Newbury in March, and is hiding near the bottom of the handicap on 10st 2lb.
“He’s a horse I hold in very high regard. He’s crying out to be stepped up in trip,” said King.
“This looks a nice starting point for the season, starting him over two and a half (miles). We’ll build him up from there.
“He won’t mind the soft ground. That will probably help and he’s got an absolute feather weight on his back.
“He’s the only four-year-old in the race, I wonder why, but he’s battled-hardened and he’s a tough horse. I’m really looking forward to him running.”
Imperial Aura has won both his races over hurdles in promising fashion, being a warm favourite on each occasion.
“He’s done what has been asked of him so far, winning two novice hurdles. I’m very happy with him,” said trainer Kim Bailey.
“It’s a tough race.”
Greaneteen has been absent since winning two minor events at Exeter and Fontwell in January, but trainer Paul Nicholls is keen on his chances.
“He’s an obvious one to run, he won two novice hurdles very well last year, had a little problem afterwards but he’s fine now,” the Ditcheat handler told Sky Sports Racing.
“He worked very well (on Thursday) – it’s very hot, competitive-looking race, but he’s in good order.”
Fergal O’Brien has decided to give Coolanly this run over hurdles before sending him novice chasing.
“He’ll go novice chasing, but with the rain we’ve had I didn’t want to start him off in soft ground around Chepstow, so this looked a nice opportunity to give him a run and we think he’s got a nice mark as well,” said the Naunton handler.
Nigel Twiston-Davies feels Ballyandy might have the class to come through on his first start for 213 days.
The 2017 Betfair Hurdle winner has not run since finishing third in the Coral Cup at the Cheltenham Festival.
Twiston-Davies said: “He may need the run, I hope he doesn’t, and he’s the class horse in the race.
Rebecca Curtis is pleased to have Relentless Dreamer back on the track in the Native River Handicap Chase, after almost a year off.
The Newport trainer is already planning a return trip to Cheltenham for the Kayf Tara gelding, whose last race resulted in a victory there.
“It’s his first race back and he’s come back in really good form, but obviously he’ll probably need it as he’s been off for so long,” said Curtis.
“There’s a race over three-mile-three at the Cheltenham November meeting and I think that will be next, hopefully.”
King expects Lil Rockerfeller to be suited by the Welsh track.
“He’s been schooling superbly over fences. He worked great on Tuesday morning,” said the Wiltshire handler.
“You can put a line through Southwell last time. It was simply the only race we could run in since Goodwood, so we had to give it a shot.
“This is a track that will suit him over the correct trip. He’s in lovely form and if he takes to the fences there I think he’ll go really well.”
Charbel bids to repeat last year’s victory in the John Ayres Memorial Handicap Chase, having had a wind operation.
Bailey reports his stable favourite to be in good form and ready for a return to action.
“He’s had a wind operation since last season, which I hope will make a difference,” said Bailey.
“I’m very happy with him and it would be nice if he could repeat last year’s win.”
Much attention at the Monmouthshire circuit will be on Reserve Tank, as he makes his debut over fences in the four-runner Low Cost Vans Novices’ Chase.
The Colin Tizzard-trained five-year-old was a star of the novice hurdle scene last season, landing Grade Ones at Aintree and Punchestown.
Assistant trainer Joe Tizzard said: “Cue Card and Finian’s Oscar both won this race and it’s a nice place to start.
“This weekend will be the first real go (this season) for a lot of horses, so we’ll see how they go, but they seem in good form.”