Gordon Elliott is hoping for the best possible ground at Cheltenham on Tuesday to boost the chance of Abacadabras in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
Fourth in the Champion Bumper last year, his sole defeat in four runs over timber came at the hands of unbeaten stablemate Envoi Allen, and he remains the only horse to seriously push him in a race.
But Elliott has made no secret of the fact Abacadabras wold be more at home on a decent surface.
“He’s travelled over well and he’s in good form, but I wouldn’t want to see much more rain coming, I suppose,” said Elliott.
“I can’t say he won’t handle the ground, but I just don’t think he’ll be at his best on it – hopefully he should be OK on soft.
“The ground is actually much better than I expected it to be – it just depends how much rain there is on Monday night into Tuesday.”
Shishkin and Asterion Forlonge are two major contenders for Gold Cup-winning owner Joe Donnelly.
Shishkin is trained by Nicky Henderson and after an early mishap on his hurdling debut he has won twice since, in good style on both occasions.
A runaway victory at Newbury not long after the turn of the year was followed by a similarly dominant display in the Sidney Banks at Huntingdon – and Henderson expects his charge to make his presence felt in the traditional curtain-raiser.
“You would like to think Shishkin would be one of our best chances of the week,” said the Seven Barrows handler.
“He has looked very good so far and he is a genuine two-miler. He looked very good in his bumper, and in two of his novice hurdles he has been very efficient.
“He has got to prove himself still and this will be a much bigger test than he has had, but he has been visually very impressive.
“He doesn’t seem to lack experience as he races very professionally – you can press a button and it works, and that is what makes life easy for him.”
Henderson also runs Chantry House and Allart in his bid for a fourth Supreme success. The former is two from two over hurdles and unlike Shishkin, already has winning form at Cheltenham to his name.
“Chantry House was very green at Cheltenham and yet when he went to Newbury the other day he was foot-perfect,” the trainer added.
“He travelled like a good horse, jumped like a good horse and he went away like a good horse.”
Willie Mullins, who has been dominant in this race in recent years, trains Asterion Forlonge.
The grey is unbeaten in three starts under rules and ran away with a Grade One at Leopardstown last month.
Mullins assistant David Casey said: “All is good. He seems well. He travelled over well and the ground shouldn’t be an issue. Hopefully he’ll have his chance.
“He stays well and that is what you need.”
Mullins has saddled a record six previous winners of the Supreme, including four of the last seven.
Asterion Forlonge is one of three runners for the Irish champion trainer this time around, with Elixir D’Ainay and Berkshire Royal – who makes his hurdling debut – also declared.
Casey added: “Berkshire Royal was a decent horse on the Flat. It’s obviously going to be very tough for him first time out but he’s a horse with plenty of ability and a horse we like a lot.
“Elixir D’Ainay was too keen the last day so we’re dropping him back in trip. He’s not one to be dismissed. His overall form is good.”
Testing conditions will not hold any fears for Colin Tizzard’s Fiddlerontheroof, judged on his facile success in the Tolworth Hurdle on soft ground at Sandown in early January.
Joe Tizzard, assistant to his father, said: “His form is rock solid. He was second to Thyme Hill, then he was second to Edwardstone and he has been hugely impressive in his two runs round Sandown.
“He is a good traveller and will stay on up the hill. His bumper form was good and he beat The Big Getaway in Ireland before we got him.
“He will make a gorgeous chaser next season, but he is a pretty good novice hurdler at the moment.”
Edwardstone (Alan King), Captain Guinness (Henry de Bromhead) and Soviet Pimpernel (Peter Fahey) are others of note.