Adrimel will bid to provide his upwardly mobile trainer Tom Lacey with a breakthrough first Cheltenham Festival victory in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle.
Lacey is consolidating his rise through the training ranks from his Herefordshire base – and Adrimel is his leading light this season, having already registered a first Grade Two success for the yard in January’s Leamington Novices’ Hurdle at Warwick.
As well as the exploits of Adrimel and his big Grand National hope Kimberlite Candy under rules, Lacey’s name is associated with a string of potential stars – such as Willie Mullins’ top-class Energumene – who have graduated from the nurture of his wife Sophie’s point-to-point string.
Among Adrimel’s stern opposition on Friday, Mullins supplies the well-fancied Stattler from his Closutton powerhouse – one of three Irish challengers near the top of the market, alongside Denise Foster’s Fakiera and Torygraph.
Top British trainers are inevitably to the fore too, with both Paul Nicholls (Barbados Buck’s and Threeunderthrufive) and Fergal O’Brien (Alaphilippe and Ask A Honey Bee) double-handed.
Adrimel will therefore need a clear career-best if he is to succeed Mullins’ mighty Monkfish as the latest winner of Friday’s Grade One novice stamina test – but after his improvement when moved up in trip to two miles and five furlongs for the first time, hopes can be high.
Lacey also put cheekpieces on the six-year-old for the first time then, and is in no doubt they were a huge help.
He said: “The cheekpieces had a huge effect on him last time, because they sharpened up his jumping so much it made life much easier for Richard Johnson and himself.
“It is one of the finer decisions I’ve made.
“I was nervous putting them on such a young horse, but I had to do something to make him more professional in his races.”
Lacey hopes former winning Irish point-to-pointer Adrimel will be well-served by his clean jumping and adaptability too.
“At Warwick he was incredibly accurate – and if he had winged the last he would have won more impressively – but he just keeps digging,” he added.
“He doesn’t have to make it either.
“When he won his bumper at Doncaster, he was dropped in that day. I would much rather have him dropped in the second or third row at Cheltenham.”
Among Adrimel’s rivals, Nicholls is confident stamina will be a huge asset for both his hopefuls.
Barbados Buck’s has been a prolific winner since moving up to this trip
“He’s been really progressive this year – he’s rated 143, and his form just keeps getting better,” said the multiple champion trainer.
“He’s won his last three – the last day at Kempton, he carried a 10lb penalty, he was strong from the back of the last and won nicely.
“He’s a proper staying horse. You need something here that will stay forever, and he’d be right in that. I think he’s so laid-back he will be absolutely fine (stepping up in class).”
Threeunderthrufive must do likewise, having won three times for owners the McNeill Family – who also have Olly Murphy’s Champagnesuperover in the 17-strong field.
Nicholls said: “He’s unbeaten over hurdles, and you wouldn’t know what’s in the locker with him.
“He just does enough and goes along with his ears pricked. He jumps well and will get every bit of the trip – he’s another one with a nice chance.
“This is a nice horse, and they’re very much on a par with each other.”
Alaphilippe has only been beaten once over hurdles and was last seen winning a Grade Two trial for this race at Haydock.
O’Brien said: “Alaphilippe obviously hasn’t done anything wrong.
“He’s four from five. We’d love it if the ground was softer, but it’s not soft. That’s just the way it goes – you can’t do anything about it.
“We would have won, no question (when Young Buck fell at Haydock last time) – Paul (Nicholls) conceded that.
“The margin was a bit bigger, but we still would have won that day, and we’re very happy with Alaphilippe.”
He added of Ask A Honey Bee: “He needs to bounce back from that disappointing run at Doncaster.
“He went into that race as favourite, and the first three or four in the betting all pulled up.
“It was a funny race – I just think they went very quick early on and paid the price for it in the end, and the winner came from behind.
“I just think it was very, very testing ground that day – drying out and very holding – so I think that’s what did us in the end really.
“He ran well in the (Champion) bumper there on nice ground – so it will definitely suit him a bit more.”
Trainer Ben Pauling would prefer the ground to be softer for The Cob, who confirmed his place in the line-up with a nine-length victory in the Grade Two River Don Novices’ Hurdle at Doncaster.
“He seems well. The drying ground wouldn’t be in his favour, but they should go a gallop and he stays well, so we’ll see how we get on,” said Pauling.