Connections of Marie’s Rock expect to have a clearer idea of her potential ambitions after the Irish Thoroughbred Marketing Yorkshire Rose Mares’ Hurdle at Doncaster on Saturday.
The Ffos Las bumper scorer was hugely impressive in winning her first two starts over hurdles last season for trainer Nicky Henderson and owners Middleham Park Racing.
However, injury ruled her out of an intended appearance in the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, and she could finish only seventh when favourite to make a successful reappearance at Newbury in November.
The winner of that Newbury race, her stable companion Floressa, is again in opposition this weekend – and Middleham Park’s Tom Palin is keeping his fingers crossed for a much improved performance from Marie’s Rock in this Grade Two feature.
He said: “Her injury came at the worst possible time, really, as it ruled her out of Cheltenham then of course Covid hit and everything else was off anyway.
“At Newbury we felt she was beaten through inexperience, but this race has always been on our radar.
“We need to know what we have. She’s got a Champion Hurdle entry down to me, but that is because we don’t actually know what we’ve got.
“Is she a Grade Two mare or a Saturday handicapper? We don’t know yet, but she she’s still very exciting.”
With stable jockey Nico de Boinville seemingly siding with Floressa, James Bowen takes the ride aboard Marie’s Rock.
Floressa is actually dropping in class, having finished fourth in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on Boxing Day on her latest appearance.
Henderson told Unibet: “Floressa was very unlucky in this race last year, so you could say we have some unfinished business.
“I thought she ran a nice race in the Christmas Hurdle and she put in a very nice piece of work on Tuesday, so comes here in good form.
“The ground would be a very slight concern, but she has plenty of stamina, which will help under these conditions.”
Of Marie’s Rock, he added: “Everything that could go wrong did go wrong for her at Newbury, where she was much too keen and then found plenty of traffic problems, so I’m happy to draw a line through it.
“She is much better than that and we’re putting a hood and a tongue-tie on to try to get her to relax.
“We’ve always thought a great deal of her.”
Phil Kirby saddled his former stable star Lady Buttons to claim this prize in both of the past two seasons and is this year represented by Rayna’s World.
Miranda (Paul Nicholls), Irish Roe (Peter Atkinson) and Sopat (Phil Middleton) are the other hopefuls.
Of Miranda, Nicholls told Betfair: “She won gamely on her return to action at Ludlow early in December and was then beaten barely a length when fourth in a tight finish at Musselburgh on New Year’s Day.
“I have a feeling the galloping nature of the Doncaster track will be more suitable for Miranda, who loves soft ground and worked great on Thursday morning. She must have a leading chance.”
A bigger field of 12 runners has been declared for the Albert Bartlett River Don Novices’ Hurdle.
Leading contenders for this three-mile contest include Henderson’s Emir Sacree.
The Seven Barrows trainer said: “I must admit he surprised me when he won at Ascot on his debut for us because we weren’t planning on making the running or anything like that, but he stayed well and galloped strongly to the line.
“The step up to three miles should suit and he won’t have an issue with the ground.
“He warrants his place in the line up and I’m intrigued to see what we’ve got.”