Paul Nicholls is hopeful he will again see something special from the exciting Iceo when he takes on seven rivals in the JCB Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle at Cheltenham on Saturday.
Iceo is one of a trio of unbeaten horses in the Grade Two contest and the hat-trick-seeking son of Coastal Path now bids to book his place in the Triumph Hurdle over the same course and distance on March 18.
He had won over hurdles in France before arriving at the Ditcheat yard and followed up with an impressive 17-length British debut success at Kempton last month.
“He was highly impressive carrying a penalty on his debut for us on soft ground at Kempton where despite being keen early on he galloped all the way to the line and recorded a fast time,” Nicholls told his Betfair blog.
“The ground will be much quicker on Saturday and he has to do it again on a completely different track. Iceo is in great shape, schooled well in midweek and is obviously smart. This race race should tell us whether he goes for the Triumph Hurdle.”
In what looks a strong renewal, Iceo takes on the Nick Williams-trained Interne De Sivola, whose easy course and distance win in early December has been subsequently franked by the runner-up.
“He is a nice horse and progressive, but it is a strong juvenile race,” said Williams.
“You have to be hopeful after a third and a win over course and distance.
“It is a possibility if he runs well that we will go to the Triumph Hurdle, but we will talk about that with the owner. All roads don’t necessarily lead to Cheltenham and there is no particular plan – we will see what happens on Saturday.
“We would have liked softer ground, so it will be interesting.”
Gordon Elliott adds Irish interest with Pied Piper. A 90-rated Flat handicapper for John and Thady Gosden, he scorched to a 20-length success in a Punchestown maiden hurdle on New Year’s Eve.
Elliott said: “He is in good form. It was a good performance at Punchestown on heavy ground on his hurdling debut after a bit of a break.
“He has travelled over fine and we’d be hopeful of a good run.”
The other unbeaten juvenile in the field is Silver Shade, who produced an eyecatching debut for Milton Harris when winning at Kempton on his belated hurdling bow, his first run since June.
Harris feels this will is something of an acid test for the former Mark Johnston inmate, but admitted: “I like him. The race he won, on the face of it, you’d be a little bit worried about the proximity about the Richard Hannon horse (Cuban Cigar) but he wasn’t a bad Flat horse.
“I wish I was a month further back, as I would have gone somewhere minor to give him a bit more experience and then gone into this race.
“But the reality is we need to know where we are, because if we have to go the Boodles route, we will have to have another run.
“It was his first go over hurdles at Kempton to be fair, and he jumped really well at home on Wednesday.
“I don’t think he jumped that badly first time. He made a mess of the first and a mess of one down the back, but they will go a faster pace which I think will help him. He is a definite contender and I be surprised if Silver Shade is out of the first three.”
Gary Moore is represented by Moulins Clermont, a 13-length winner at Sandown three weeks ago after a disappointing showing on his British debut at Fontwell.
“I was very pleased with him last time, obviously, after putting a bad run behind him,” said Moore.
“It is a massive jump up in class though and any rain would be appreciated.
“It is going to be a tough race for him, but we will give him a go and see where we are at.”
The Alan King-trained Forever William, Nigel Hawke’s Boulette and Jane Williams’ Moka De Vassy complete the line-up.