Harry Whittington expects to have a clearer idea of which Cheltenham Festival race to target with Saint Calvados after he runs in the Paddy Power Cotswold Chase.
The Sparsholt handler will use the extended three-mile-one-furlong contest to determine which route to take with the eight-year-old, who has been entered in the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Ryanair Chase, which he finished second in last season.
After suffering a bout of blood poisoning ahead of a tilt at the Betfair Chase at Haydock, the Kate and Andrew Brooks-owned gelding finished an encouraging fourth on his return in the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.
Whittington said: “Plan A at the moment is to go for the Cotswold Chase to see if he stays the trip. It was Andrew’s idea to give this a go and it makes plenty of sense.
“This will give us a good gauge as to whether he stays, as we are under no illusion that he has plenty of speed.
“If he runs a cracker and comes through this trial then we could go look at the Gold Cup, but if he doesn’t we can come back down for the Ryanair.”
Given how keen Saint Calvados was during the early part of the King George on his return, Whittington was surprised to see him finish out the race so well.
He said: “He travelled the best in the King George, but he hadn’t run since March and he was doing too much in the race compared to Waiting Patiently, who was also having his first run and ran his race towards the end.
“Turning in, I was surprised he was still going as well as he was.
“He just went a bit left at two out, but he was staying on at the death and nearly got back up for third on the line.”
With Saint Calvados returning to a left-handed track and having a run under his belt, Whittington believes he has plenty in his favour on his first try over the trip.
He added: “He was as fit as I could get him first time out, but you can’t beat having a race to get them spot on.
“He loves Cheltenham and got better and better in four starts there last year, ending up finishing second in the Ryanair.
“The Cotswold Chase will be tough as there are some good horses going there, but we will learn plenty and it will do him no harm. He is raring to go.”