Topper tests Future waters
Kim Bailey is keen to see how Charlie Hall hero Harry Topper fares on a sounder surface as he faces just two opponents at Sandown on Friday.
The six-year-old struck three times as a novice last season, but failed to complete on his final two outings of the campaign at Kelso and Punchestown.
He made a triumphant return in Wetherby's feature event in early November, however, igniting dreams of a potential Cheltenham Gold Cup bid.
Harry Topper faces the Paul Nicholls-trained Rolling Aces and Gary Moore's Vino Griego in the Future Stars Chase over an extended three miles, and Bailey said: "He's all ready to go and it will be an interesting race as it will be the fastest ground he's run on I would think. It will be an interesting tactical battle as well with only the three runners.
"Every race is a learning curve and this will be new ground, a new track and big fences for our horse, so we'll see what happens.
"We're taking it one race at a time. Let's get tomorrow out of the way before we look any further ahead."
Rolling Aces is officially rated 3lb above Harry Topper, having raised his game when making a winning return to action in the Powers Irish Whiskey Chase at Down Royal early last month.
Nicholls said: "He won well at Down Royal and is stepping back up to three miles. I think the trip should be fine. He was second in the Racing Plus Chase last season.
"He goes there in good form, he goes well fresh and obviously with Harry Topper in there, it's going to be an interesting race. We did have him in the King George, but we took him out of that. We'll see how he gets on and then make a plan for the spring."
Vino Griego has failed to complete the course on his last two starts at Cheltenham and Moore admits it will be a tough ask to beat his two rivals.
He said: "If he can get round that would be a start! Anything other than that would be a bonus, I think.
"He's facing two tough horses, but hopefully it will be a nice confidence booster for our horse. He's run in big fields the last twice and has been a bit unlucky to come down on both occasions. He's made stupid mistakes.
"He's done plenty of schooling since his last run, so hopefully we've put things right and we'll see how he gets on."