Sodexo Reynoldstown Novices' Chase (Grade 2) | 3m | 5yo+ | ITV4/RUK
If you had asked Paul Nicholls at the start of the season about the identity of his leading RSA Chase candidate he would have got through several names before alighting on Black Corton, who began his campaign at Fontwell three days after Wings Of Eagles had won the Investec Derby.
Bryony Frost didn't turn conditional until the following month but the horse and rider have scaled the racing pyramid together, crowning that ascent with Grade 1 success in the 32Red Kauto Star Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.
Nicholls said: "He has astonished me from where he started and how he’s run. He's won his Grade 1 and we’re on a good roll."
It might be something of a surprise that Gungadu and Rocky Creek are the only two Ditcheat inmates to feature on the Reynoldstown roll of honour, but the trainer is once again treating this as a stepping stone to the main target for Black Corton.
Black Corton winning at Cheltenham in November, photo Liesl King
"He’s in good shape but we’ve left plenty to work on as it’s his prep race for Cheltenham," said Nicholls. "He'll improve for the run. He's improved every time he has run and we just wanted to get a race into him before Cheltenham."
The conditions of the race mean that Warwick heroine Ms Parfois carries the same 5lb penalty for her five-length win at Listed level as Black Corton does for his Grade 1 victory at Kempton.
But such thoughts are not deterring Anthony Honeyball, whose confidence in the seven-year-old daughter of Mahler is unwavering.
"This race went in the diary because it looked like it would be on the slower side," said Honeyball.
"We’ve got her in at Cheltenham but we have to take this chance in case the ground goes back towards good, good to soft, in which case she probably wouldn’t run. I was really impressed with her last time when she had loads left in the tank."
Honeyball hasn't taken the easy option in terms of targets, with Cheltenham, Newbury and Warwick all tracks that take a deal of jumping.
"She's a big, scopey mare and we think the world of her," he said. "She's a joy to watch and hopefully she'll have her jumping boots on again. Personally, I think she only has to run to her Warwick form and she'll take a hell of a lot of beating."
While Waiting Patiently might be the standard-bearer at Ascot for the Ruth Jefferson team, Mount Mews is not just travelling down the A1 to fill up the horsebox.
He only found Pingshou too good in a Grade 1 novice hurdle over two miles at Aintree last April and, having failed to build on that effort in two starts this season, has handled the switch to chasing well.
Although beaten at Doncaster on his first try at three miles last month, Mount Mews looked a stayer on that evidence and should not be taken lightly if he can prove a little sharper at his fences.
Gary Moore is open in his assessment of Crystal Lad, who is yet to manage better than third in four handicap starts over fences this season.
Moore said: "There are only four runners and hopefully he can pick up some pieces."