Cinders comes out Fighting
Donald McCain is keeping his fingers crossed as he prepares to unleash Cinders And Ashes in Saturday's StanJames.com Fighting Fifth Hurdle.
The meeting is subject to an 8am inspection due to the threat of frost, but officials are hopeful of the meeting going ahead.
McCain has had the two-mile Grade One in his sights as a starting point for his Supreme Novices' Hurdle winner for some time and while he would have preferred better ground, the Cholmondeley handler is eager to get his charge back in action.
"He's ready for the run, but obviously we're just hoping the meeting passes the inspection," he said.
"The ground is not ideal for him but he's ready for the run and he will come on a touch for it.
"Some of the others have had a run and he obviously won't be 110% for his first run of the year but he had a good gallop last week and we're pleased with him."
Jason Maguire will once again be aboard McCain's runner as the jockey and trainer seek a hat-trick of wins following the success of Peddlers Cross in 2010 and Overturn last year.
Maguire said: "He's in great form. I rode him last week when he did a bit of work at Bangor.
"I was lucky enough to win it the time it was held down at Newbury on Peddlers Cross, then last year on Overturn.
"We are looking forward to him on Saturday."
Countrywide Flame is officially the highest-rated horse in the field and enjoyed an excellent prep run when only beaten half a length by Aaim To Prosper in the Cesarewitch at Newmarket last month.
He had previously been a winner on the level at Chester and trainer John Quinn is looking forward to seeing his Triumph Hurdle hero back in action over obstacles.
He said: "We were very happy with his Newmarket run.
"He's in good form, but we could have done without all the rain we've had.
"He's a very good horse - he doesn't know how to run a bad race.
"He's run on heavy at Chepstow and softer ground at Leopardstown so hopefully he will handle it."
While Countrywide Flame boasts the highest mark of 152, Quinn believes each of the four runners merit respect.
He added: "The four of them are all very good horses in their own right.
"Obviously Cinders And Ashes was a Festival winner, but Trifolium has Cheltenham form, too, and Bothy will go on the ground.
"Any of the four of them could win, but hopefully it will be our lad."
Trifolium finished third behind Cinders And Ashes at Cheltenham before going on to claim second in another Grade One at Punchestown.
The five-year-old disappointed when only second on his return at that track but trainer Charles Byrnes expects an improved effort this time, although the easy ground will be far from ideal.
"He was very distressed after the race in Punchestown and hopefully the minor wind operation he's had since will have made a bit of a difference to him," he said.
"He seems in good form at home. Heavy ground is not ideal for him, but he has won in it before. Hopefully he'll be all right.
"We don't have much to find on Cheltenham form."
Bothy was supplemented for the race on Monday but is the outsider of the field as he has a first crack at the highest level.
The six-year-old finished fourth in the Racing Post Hurdle last time on what was just his second run back over hurdles after an injury.
He sits on a mark of 142, some 10lb lower than Countrywide Flame, but Ellison believes this is a good opportunity.
He said: "He's got a lot to find on the ratings but he's in good form and I think the ground will be bottomless, which he will love.
"We're happy with him and he deserves a chance.
"A lot will depend on the others running up to their ratings but he's run in the biggest handicaps at Cheltenham twice and he's a proper fighter.
"He's rated 142 now so he's probably better off running in this four-horse race than going against 20 in a handicap somewhere."