Dan Skelton expects Ashtown Lad to take a “good bit of beating” in Saturday’s Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.
The Irish point-to-point graduate was beaten on his first couple of starts over hurdles, before making it third time lucky at Wetherby in late October.
He has since followed up with a dominant display in handicap company at Uttoxeter – and Skelton believes a hat-trick could be in the offing ahead of this weekend’s Grade Two assignment.
“He carries some nice novice form and handicap form into this, which is helpful,” said the trainer.
“Three miles there won’t be a problem – he is a strong six-year-old.
“If it rains it won’t be a problem, but equally if it doesn’t rain that won’t be a problem as he is pretty versatile.
“He is not the sort of horse that will pull during a race. I think he will run his race and take a good bit of beating.”
Ashtown Lad heads a field of eight runners, with the Paul Nicholls-trained Danny Kirwan and Alan King’s Wynn House among his rivals.
Danny Kirwan steps up in class following an all-the-way victory at Ascot last month.
Nicholls told Betfair: “He is going the right way and won well last time on soft ground at Ascot over just shy of two and a half miles. Danny is lightly raced and I’m sure there is more to come from him.
“Some might question whether he wants this step up in trip, but I’ve never doubted his stamina and think he has been crying out for three miles.”
Wynn House is two from two over hurdles and is the only mare in the line-up.
“I couldn’t find a race to run her in, to be honest. She would have a double penalty wherever she goes. She can’t run in a decent handicap as she has only had the two runs,” said King.
“We will learn an awful lot on Saturday about where we go for the rest of the season. I think the step up to three miles will suit her as she has always wanted a trip.”
Proceedings get under way with the JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial, for which David Pipe’s Adagio is the likely favourite.
The second race of the afternoon is the Jockey Club Cheltenham And SW Syndicate Novices’ Chase, with Nicky Henderson declaring both Fusil Raffles and Chantry House, although the Seven Barrows handler warns Fusil Raffles is not certain to line up.
He told Unibet: “It would have to be no worse than good to soft for Fusil Raffles to run. We will just have to see what happens.
“I don’t think he is an Arkle horse, I think he is a two-and-a-half-mile horse. We haven’t been two and a half miles yet, but I am dying to do it, so it is possible that he could do that on Saturday.”
Chantry House landed cramped odds on his chasing debut at Ascot, despite not always convincing in the jumping department
Henderson added: “I think Chantry House will get further – we knew that last year – but he was third in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, so he’s not slow.
“Ascot is a big track to start with, he had to warm up to it a little bit.
“The other horse fell three or four out and then he was left with nothing much to beat. He galloped and jumped going home very well.”
The other two runners are Nick Mitchell’s Lieutenant Rocco and the Nicholls-trained Quel Destin.
Nicholls said: “He ran very well first time over fences when second at this track to Eldorado Allen in a Graded race. It was obvious that day that he needs further than two miles, so stepping him up four furlongs now should suit him much better.
“I’m sure Quel Destin will win plenty of races over fences, hopefully starting here.”
The Ditcheat handler has a strong hand in the following Spreadex Handicap Chase, with top-weight Magic Saint joined by stablemate Capeland.
He added: “Capeland looked to have every chance at Ascot three weeks ago when he led two out before finishing third in the race won by First Flow
“In hindsight, Capeland maybe got there a little bit too soon that day because he was going so well. On a different day and a different track this time there is no reason when he can’t be involved again.
“Magic Saint was very good when winning stylishly at this track a month ago and was in front and set to go close again at Ascot a week later under a penalty until walking through the second last fence.
“I’ve freshened him up since then, I’m fitting him with a tongue-tie for the first time, and I’m looking for another big run from him over a trip that plays to his strengths.”
Paul Webber’s Cheltenham Festival heroine Indefatigable heads the last of seven races – the Close Brothers Mares’ Handicap Hurdle.