Dan Skelton reports Shan Blue to be in excellent order ahead of his attempt to secure a first Grade One success in the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase.
The six-year-old returns to top-level action for the first time since finishing sixth behind Envoi Allen in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, as he puts his unbeaten record over fences on the line at Kempton Park on Boxing Day
Shan Blue has not put a foot wrong on his switch to fences this term, securing back-to-back successes at Wetherby in October – with his latest success coming on his first try over three miles.
Skelton said: “I’m very happy with Shan Blue and I’ve had this race in mind since his second win at Wetherby.
“He has been in great form at home, I’m really happy with him and he is ready to go.
“Although he hasn’t run right-handed over fences I think the track should him and we saw last time the step up to three miles was a positive.”
Impressive on his chasing debut at Cheltenham, The Big Breakaway was surprisingly beaten when dropped to two miles and three furlongs at Exeter last time out and is expected to appreciate stepping back up in trip.
Joe Tizzard, assistant to his father, Colin, said: “He got beaten last time out in a race that wasn’t run to suit, as it ended up turning into a bit of a sprint.
“When you are a short-priced favourite it is disappointing when they get beat, but I don’t think he lost a lot in defeat as he was second to a half-decent horse he was giving weight away to. And it got more experience into him.
“Going back up in trip where there will be more pace and he doesn’t have to make the running, and where he can take a lead, will play to his strengths.
“It is another step up the ladder for him, but an exciting one.”
Harry Fry is confident the return of cheekpieces can benefit Grade One-winning hurdler If The Cap Fits, who struck gold on his chasing bow at Ffos Las and bids to go one better than in a Listed contest at Sandown last time out.
Fry said: “We’ve decided to give him more time between his races as we probably turned him around too quickly at Sandown.
“He is coming into the race fresh and well and he has the cheekpieces back on, which made a difference over hurdles.
“The experience of going three miles around Sandown will not be lost on him. We looked at this and the Dipper at Cheltenham, but we thought three miles on a flat track will play to his strengths.
“The ground won’t be an issue and he has won on the card before, having won the opening novice hurdle (in 2017). It’s competitive, as you would expect, but he deserves to take his chance.”
Paul Nicholls hopes to be rewarded for adopting a patient approach with Grade Two-winning hurdler Enrilo, who got off the mark at the second time of asking over fences at Exeter.
Nicholls said: “It looks a hot race, but I think it’s quite open.
“He’s rated 140, but could end up being rated a lot higher than that. He jumped nicely at Chepstow first time (over fences) and then he won nicely at Exeter.
“I didn’t want to run him again and give him a hard race before Kempton. I’ve saved him for this race and he’ll run well.”
The field is completed by the Philip Hobbs-trained Kalooki, One For The Team from the yard of Nick Williams and Golan Fortune, who will represent Phil Middleton.