Gary Moore is unsure what to expect from Kloud Gate in the Unibet Lanzarote Hurdle at Kempton on Saturday.
The French recruit looked fairly limited after his first four starts over obstacles last spring, but shaped with far more encouragement when switched back to the Flat during the summer.
Moore’s charge ran with credit in the Ascot Stakes at the Royal meeting before finishing second in the inaugural JLT Cup at Newbury – and he has carried that form into the jumping sphere this season.
The seven-year-old made a mockery of an opening handicap mark of 108 when bolting up at Leicester last month and a 7lb penalty was nowhere near enough to stop him following up at Doncaster little over a week later.
The assessor has handed him a sharp rise to a rating of 127 for his hat-trick bid and while he has been heavily backed into clear favouritism for this weekend’s feature, Moore is hopeful rather than confident about his chances.
“I hope he’s got a chance, but I’m not sure how well handicapped he is – he’s gone up a lot for winning two donkey races,” said the trainer.
“What is in his favour is he’s come back fit from running on the Flat and his confidence is up, which is a big thing with horses.
“He’s won easily on his last couple of runs, but what the form is worth, I’m not sure.
“I see he’s been priced up as favourite and I have won this race with worse horses than him, to be fair, so we’ll see.”
Moore has saddled three previous winners of the Lanzarote Hurdle in Warm Spell (1996), Shahrur (1998) and Verasi (2007).
Another horse going in search of a third successive win is the Warren Greatrex-trained Star Of Lanka.
The five-year-old is making his handicap debut following successive novice wins at Hereford.
Greatrex said: “He’s won his last two races and he’s a horse that’s improving on the track and at home.
“When he got his mark of 130 I thought it could have been higher and I’d like to think he can be very competitive off that mark.
“We could have gone for something smaller, but I felt it was worth having a go at a good race with him and if he isn’t quite up to it, he’ll learn plenty from the experience.
“We’ll see what happens, but we’re hopeful.”
Darling Maltaix is a major contender for Paul Nicholls after running out an impressive winner on his latest outing at Ascot.
Lorcan Williams takes a valuable 5lb off his back, and Harry Derham, assistant to Nicholls, said: “We’ve had this in mind since he won at Ascot.
“The only concern I have is that was on slow ground on a stiff track and this is on quick ground on a speed track. He stayed really well and the step up in trip suited him perfectly.
“He is in great nick and there is no reason why he won’t run well. It is competitive for what it is, but it is not a deep Lanzarote and hopefully Darling Maltaix is a young, improving horse.
“Lorcan has been the making of this horse and at Ascot he showed that. He rides him every day. He is not the easiest of rides, but Lorcan has done a great job with him.”
The father-son combination of Peter and Sean Bowen is represented by Lord Napier.
The Galileo gelding was last seen finishing sixth in the Betfair Exchange Trophy – formerly The Ladbroke – at Ascot before Christmas.
Peter Bowen said: “I hope the step up in trip will bring about significant improvement.
“He ran well at Ascot, but was just tapped for toe going down the back before staying on well from the home turn. Going from two miles to two-miles-five (furlongs) should suit him better.
“He ran well in the Swinton Hurdle at Haydock last spring and that form has worked out well.
“Hopefully he’ll run a good race.”
Canyon City is a big price for Neil King, but the trainer is hoping his six-year-old can outrun his odds under Bryony Frost.
He said: “He’s run well over the course and distance before and been in good form this season.
“He’ll enjoy the ground being fast and he’s got Bryony to assist him again.
“He’s fresh and he’s well, so he should run a nice race.”