Noel Williams believes Briery Queen needs to take another step forward if she is to taste victory in the 32Red.com Mares’ Hurdle at Sandown on Saturday.
After having given the Blewbury handler a first Cheltenham winner on her seasonal bow in December, the eight-year-old will now step back up in class as she bids for the second Listed success of her career.
Williams said: “It’s a competitive race, as you would expect, but when I saw the entries it looked a winnable one.
“I was pretty sure she had improved over the summer, but how much was the question. I was confident she would run a good race at Cheltenham.
“What was so taking was how she went through the race and travelled through the race and just quickened up as soon as Barry Geraghty said, ‘Go’.
“I’m under no illusions as she needs to step up again and continue on her upward curve if she wants to keep winning.
“I think she has come out of Cheltenham well and I’m very happy with her. She is better on better ground but it should be fine as long as it doesn’t get tacky.
“The aim with her is that hopefully she will be good enough for the mares’ race at the Cheltenham Festival without being a back-number.
“We will get a fair judge if she is good enough for Cheltenham after Saturday.”
Echoing similar thoughts are connections of the Paul Nicholls-trained Lifeboat Mona, who gained a fifth win from just eight starts under Rules upon her return to action at Ascot in November.
Dan Downie, racing manager for owners Axom, said: “When she is on song she is really good, and she has showed us that before.
“She had a wind operation last season and few niggly things and we’ve had to tread carefully with her, but she has not been difficult at all this season.
“It was a step up at Ascot and it was not a surprise she won it was the way she did it but she will need to step up again.
“We could have run her in a couple of races after Ascot but we had this race in the back of our mind and it has been the plan for a little while.
“She is in very good form and working well so it is all systems go.”
Harry Fry feels Desert Queen will be in the shake-up if she can run up to her best mark over hurdles.
The nine-year-old will be having a first start over smaller obstacles since April as she bids to bounce back from an early fall over fences at Wincanton on Boxing Day.
Fry said: “She was absolutely fine after her fall at Wincanton and we were meant to go to Doncaster for a valuable mares’ chase three days later but the ground was a farce.
“We wanted to get a run into her and I looked at this race and saw there were not many entries so why not give it a go?
“She has carried a penalty over fences in her last two starts for her Market Rasen win but escapes one in this and is actually in receipt of weight off some of her rivals.
“On her best hurdles form she went up to a mark of 148 and if she gets anywhere near that it will put her in the mix.
“The trip will be fine for her on soft ground. There are a couple of progressive mares in there and I don’t know how far up the ladder they will climb, but she has got some solid form in the book.”
Ben Case hopes Midnight Jazz can build upon her recent Doncaster success and go from a nearly horse to a black type winner, having finished in the frame on her last three outings at Listed class.
He said: “We don’t have many options for her off her rating. We either run in a handicap with a big weight or run in these races.
“If it rains it might not be a bad thing as it might loosen up the ground.
“She has ran well on this sort of ground before when she was fourth behind Lily Waugh at Cheltenham last year and it was pretty wet that day.
“She has been running well and deserves to take her chance in this. She is a tough mare and on ratings has got a chance of finishing in the money.”
The field is completed by Hannah’s Princess (Warren Greatrex), Morello Royale (Colin Tizzard) and Tara Flow (Venetia Williams).