Dan Skelton feels Three Musketeers needs to put in a performance similar to his recent Newbury success if he is to defy a penalty and win the Betbright Realfansonly Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham on Friday.
Having finished third on his chasing debut at Huntingdon, the dual hurdles winner obliged on his second start over fences when accounting for a strong field at Newbury in the Grade Two Berkshire Novices’ Chase.
With Three Musketeers now carrying a 7lb burden for that victory, the Alcester handler believes only a repeat display will suffice if he is to take the extended two-and-a-half-mile contest better known as the Dipper.
Skelton said: “Three Musketeers is in great form and I have had this race in mind for him since he won at the Hennessy meeting.
“We know he will act on the soft ground, but I want to see how he handles the track. He is giving weight away to Volnay De Thaix, but so are Blaklion and Le Mercurey.
“He was very good at Newbury and he jumped very well. It’s a good race and he will need another performance like the one at Newbury to win.”
While Volnay De Thaix only just scrambled home on his chasing debut in a three-runner affair at Doncaster, trainer Nicky Henderson expects the Judy Wilson-owned gelding to be more at home at Cheltenham.
Henderson said: “Volnay De Thaix is in good form, but Three Musketeers is the one to beat.
“He was not earth-shattering on his debut at Doncaster as I think it was sharp enough around there for him. I think the two and a half miles around Cheltenham will suit him much better.”
Nigel Twiston-Davies is optimistic Blaklion can make it two wins from his last two starts at the Prestbury Park track after leaving behind an inauspicious start to life over fences with victory over course and distance last time out.
He said: “Blaklion obviously won at Cheltenham last time. It is a stiff old race, but he is a good horse.
“He jumped well last time and galloped on strongly all the way to the line. He has been fine at home since that win, while he likes the soft ground.”
Heavy ground may work against some, but Sandy Thomson believes Kelso scorer Seeyouatmidnight will have no issues in handling the testing conditions, having won last season’s Rendlesham Hurdle in similar circumstances.
Thomson said: “I have been delighted with Seeyouatmidnight’s performances over fences so far. He jumped well on his debut at Carlisle and was always going to come on for that run, while I was obviously delighted with his win at Kelso. He has been in good form since and hasn’t missed any work.
“He was originally going to go to Wetherby but that was called off and Cheltenham looks the best option for him now.
“Some of his best form is on soft ground, but I don’t think he needs it too soft, although it was too quick for him in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle. He will be dropping back in trip on New Year’s Day so the ground should help him.”
Nick Williams is under no illusion Aubusson faces a tall order on his second start over fences after making a winning debut over the bigger obstacles at Uttoxeter having previously just been denied in the French Champion Hurdle.
He said: “He was good at Uttoxeter, but this is a massive step up in class.
“We’re happy with him, but this looks a fairly tasty race, I think, so it will be interesting to see what happens.
“The ground will be fine for him. There’s no worries on that score.”
Paul Nicholls, trainer of last year’s winner Ptit Zig, will be represented by fortuitous Ascot winner Le Murcurey, while the field is completed by the Jonjo O’Neill-trained Minella Rocco.