Anna Bunina will face some familiar rivals in the Grade Three Pertemps Network Swinton Handicap Hurdle at Haydock on Saturday.
The John McConnell-trained Irish raider was a one-length winner of the Scottish Champion Hurdle when last seen in early April, defeating Dan Skelton’s West Cork in the final strides under jockey Sean Bowen.
She races off a 5lb-higher mark, but her trainer has engaged the services of conditional jockey Mark McDonagh for the six-year-old mare.
“She’s in good form, this has been her target since the Scottish Champion Hurdle,” said McConnell.
“We’ve claimed off her this time just to try to negate the 5lb she went up, it’s going to be a very competitive race for a big prize but we’re hopeful.
“There’s a lot of horses with chances, but she goes there in good form and I think she’ll like the track – we’re hopeful she’ll run a big race.”
West Cork reopposes, as does Neil Mulholland’s Milkwood who was fifth at Ayr and heads to Merseyside as part of a field of 17 runners.
McConnell sends another runner to Haydock from his County Meath stable with Bronson In Blue lining up under 7lb claimer Cian Walsh in the Pertemps Network Long Distance Handicap Hurdle.
McConnell is hopeful he will hold his own based on his prior form over the trip.
“He’s been great stepped up to three miles for us on his last couple of runs, he’ll like the ground and he’ll like the track,” he said.
“Obviously it’s a big step up in class for him, but he’s not without a chance.
“Cian was won on him twice so he knows him well, hopefully he can get a good clear run round and if he’s in touching distance up to the home straight he’ll stay very well.”
William Haggas’ Aldaary leads the field for the Listed Pertemps Network Spring Trophy Stakes, a race in which he will run for the first time since signing off last season with back-to-back Ascot victories.
Both successes came in valuable handicaps, but the four-year-old is now required to step up in grade for a first tilt at Listed level.
Angus Gold, racing manager to owners Shadwell Stud, said: “He’s been in good form this spring, we’ve waited for the ground and we’ve got it now.
“He went away and worked with (unbeaten miler) Baaeed on Tuesday and seems in good shape.
“They’re all very happy with the horse, he hasn’t run in a stakes race yet but he was mighty impressive in his last two starts so hopefully he’ll be up to making that step up in class – which he’ll need to do.”
Group One-winning sprinter Glen Shiel begins his season in the Pertemps Network Conditions Stakes for trainer Archie Watson and jockey Hollie Doyle.
The chestnut won the Qipco British Champions Sprint Stakes at 16-1 in 2020 and was beaten just a length in the same race when last seen in October.
The eight-year-old is owned by Hambleton Racing, who have another chance in the race in Magical Spirit, trained by Kevin Ryan to finish second in the Listed Wentworth Stakes at Doncaster on his last outing.
Simon Turner, racing manager for Hambleton Racing, said: “Glen Shiel’s in really good order, he’s gearing up for Royal Ascot and we’re really looking forward to getting him started for the year.
“Magical Spirit has been waiting for some nice ground and this looks a lovely race to kick his season off.
“He’s another horse that hopefully has some nice aspirations for the season ahead.
“They both ended last year with great efforts, they’re two lovely horses and I’m looking forward to getting them both started.”
The two geldings make up a small field of five for the race, with Hugo Palmer’s Brad The Brief, Lawrence Mullaney’s Snazzy Jazzy and Saeed bin Suroor’s Final Song also engaged.