Sean Bowen is looking forward to seeing King Roland prove himself on the big stage in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Harry Fry’s charge has always been highly thought of and won both his bumper starts last season.
Beaten on his hurdling debut by Nicky Henderson’s Son Of Camas, he made no mistake next time at Exeter, winning by 19 lengths.
Bowen said: “I’m really looking forward to him as he is a proper horse. He was very keen last time and he went away from them turning in.
“That was nowhere near this kind of level, but if he can settle better in a better race, that will only suit him. We like him a lot.
“It is hard to know whether you should go for a handicap off 133 or go down the better novice hurdle route. The horse appears to be well, but we will see on Saturday if we have taken the right route.”
King Roland is in receipt of 5lb from Dan Skelton’s Protektorat, a somewhat controversial winner of a Listed race at the track last time out.
He won, was then demoted to second but got the race back on appeal.
“He was first past the post in a Listed race on New Year’s Day and he’s really improving,” rider Harry Skelton told his Grosvenor Casinos blog.
“He definitely wants this trip and is settling better now, which is the biggest positive going forward. This race is going to tell us a lot.
“He has a penalty which makes things harder, but if we go very close, we’ll obviously be looking at the Ballymore. If we get beat 10 or 12 lengths, we’ll be looking at the Coral Cup.
“We’ve been very happy with him at home since his last run. Conor Shoemark rides him every day and he’s really been the key to this horse. If he’s happy, we’re all happy.”
Colin Tizzard’s Harry Senior and Henderson’s Time Flies By are other serious contenders.
The opening JCB Triumph Trial sees Henderson’s Monte Cristo make his British debut having won a handicap in France, but Stuart Edmunds is taking him on with Kempton winner Rowland Ward.
Edmunds won a similar trial in 2015 with Wolf Of Windlesham.
“I thought it was a good performance at Kempton in what looked a decent race on paper. The fourth (Goa Lil) has won since, whereas the third (Homer) has probably disappointed, so make of that what you wish,” said Edmunds.
“I was a bit dubious about running Rowland Ward on soft ground once, but he seemed to cope with it fine at Kempton.
“He is rated about 20lb higher on the Flat than Wolf Of Windlesham when he went hurdling, although it does not always translate over hurdles.
“We are happy to have a go on Saturday and I am sure we will know where we stand afterwards.”
The Paddy Power 45 Sleeps To Cheltenham Trophy Handicap Chase has produced some quality performers down the years.
Frodon was successful in 2018 while Nick Williams’ Siruh Du Lac won the race before following up at the Festival.
This year Chris Gordon’s Highway One O One is one of the favourites after a series of consistent efforts.
“He has been in good form this season. He has gone up another 2lb for his run at Kempton, but he has been very consistent, and I would like to think he goes to Cheltenham with solid claims, although it looks a wide-open race,” said Gordon.
Warthog and Spiritofthegames, first and second in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup, Lalor and Cepage all hold strong claims.
The Timeform Novices’ Handicap Chase has also been a rich source of Festival winners and Gordon has another fancied contender in On The Slopes.
“On The Slopes was third behind another of our horses, Commanche Red, on Boxing Day,” said Gordon.
“On The Slopes was meant to run at Huntingdon the other week, but the meeting was called off and this race has been the target since. He is a nice horse.”
Kim Bailey’s Imperial Aura, Jeremy Scott’s Champagne Court, the Paul Nicholls-trained Mercy Mercy Me and Ben Pauling’s Gowiththeflow are among the fancied contenders.