Connections are keen to take advantage of a chance change of plan with Hansard, who will bid for JenningsBet Elite Hurdle glory at Wincanton on Saturday.
The able five-year-old has won two of his four starts for Gary Moore and bounced back from a disappointing outing when sent off favourite for the Dovecote at Kempton with a creditable fourth in the Top Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree in the spring.
Owned by the Noel Fehily Racing Syndicates, he was being aimed at Cheltenham’s Greatwood Hurdle later this month, but having seen his intended prep race on the Flat at Nottingham washed out, there has been a change of heart and Hansard will now head to Wincanton for his seasonal return.
Fehily said: “We were gearing up to run him on the Flat with the plan of going for the Greatwood, but then we didn’t get the chance to run him on the Flat and this race presented itself, so we thought this may be a better starting point. We’re rolling the dice here and we’ll see how we get on.
“He’s a horse we like and he’s only had four runs over hurdles. He’s won two and was obviously fourth in the Grade One at Liverpool. He’s a nice horse and hopefully he can progress a little bit this season and we can have some fun with him.”
There is a maximum field of five for a race won last year by Paul Nicholls’ Knappers Hill and the champion trainer is set to be well represented once again by Rubaud.
The mount of Harry Cobden arrives having won his last three starts and impressed at Kempton on reappearance, with his handler hoping to tee up a shot at Constitution Hill at the Sunbury track on Boxing Day.
“An improving young horse with a bright future, he has plenty in his favour after a classy success at Kempton on his seasonal debut in a Listed event last month when he gave weight to all his rivals,” Nicholls told Betfair.
“He continues to work stylishly at home and is at his best going right-handed on a flat track like Wincanton. I’ve left off the hood he has worn on his last three starts because he doesn’t need it any more.
“The ground should be fine for Rubaud who has a first-rate chance and could well be taking on Constitution Hill at Kempton over Christmas.”
Knappers Hill himself has a fine chance of scoring at the meeting for the second year running when he lines up in the Boodles “Rising Stars” Novices’ Chase.
Although only second on his chasing bow at Chepstow, he is by far the classiest operator in the field for the Grade Two event and is fancied better than his initial outing over the larger obstacles.
Nicholls continued: “He’s a classy horse, has won 10 of his 17 starts, and jumped nicely when second on his chasing debut at Chepstow.
“That was a pleasing start, he has come on bundles since then and has strong claims in this.
“I remember Silviniaco Conti getting beaten in the same Chepstow race before winning the Rising Stars at Wincanton.”
The unbeaten Doyen Star and highly-regarded Givega will make their fencing bows in opposition, while Irish raider Captain Conby impressed at Killarney in the summer before bumping into Willie Mullins’ Sharjah in a Grade Three at Tipperary.
It will be trainer Eamon ‘Dusty’ Sheehy’s first runner at Wincanton and he said: “It’s probably a stronger race than I thought it might have turned out to be, but I’m looking forward to running him and we will see where he fits in the pecking order.
“He jumps his fences good and I do believe he has improved a little bit from his Tipperary run. We’re hoping for the best.”