Donald McCain is keen to discover whether Navajo Pass can back up his surprise Haydock victory in Wincanton’s Betway Kingwell Hurdle.
Sean Quinlan steered Navajo Pass to an all-the-way success as the outsider of three in Grade Two company last time out, winning by four and a quarter lengths from dual Champion Hurdle hero Buveur D’Air.
Saturday’s Wincanton feature is another Grade Two event, and McCain believes a good run will solidify the five-year-old’s form from Merseyside.
“He’s in good nick – we’re going to go for it,” said the Cheshire trainer.
“We were delighted with Haydock, and it’s the obvious next race for him – there are no other races for him, to be honest.
“We’ll go and take a punt and we’ll see.”
McCain is mindful that Buveur D’Air’s run in The New One Hurdle was his first after a 420-day break – and he will hold off on making spring Festival plans until after this weekend.
“You could question the form at Haydock, so we’ll see if that stacks up before we worry about anything else,” he said.
“We’re always looking to go somewhere in the spring, but he is still a young horse.”
Song For Someone, last year’s Kingwell winner, also lines up in Somerset.
The Tom Symonds-trained six-year-old was a half-length winner of the 2020 renewal, which was relocated to Kempton after Storm Dennis left Wincanton unable to host the meeting.
That victory was the first of a current three-race unbeaten spell for the chestnut, who this season has won the Coral Hurdle at Ascot and the International Hurdle at Cheltenham – both of which are Grade Twos.
Symonds expects this weekend’s rivals to pose an even greater challenge, but hopes his stable star can continue his ascent and smooth a path to one of the big spring hurdle prizes.
“Fingers crossed, he’s in good form,” he said.
“We’re really pleased with how he’s been since the International, but he’s got to step up again and give his penalties away.
“He’s really well, but it’s going to be hard work for all of them in the ground. It will be interesting to see how he goes against Navajo Pass – and with Goshen running again, we’re looking forward to it.
“Provided the script is read right then we’ll look at either Cheltenham or Aintree in the spring, but we’ll see what happens here first really. That’s how we’ll go forward with him.”
Gary Moore’s Goshen will also take his chance as a tilt at Cheltenham’s Champion Hurdle hangs in the balance.
The five-year-old looked a runaway winner of the Triumph Hurdle last season when unseating Jamie Moore at the last flight, but has struggled to rediscover his best form in three subsequent runs – the first two of which were on the Flat.
As Song For Someone triumphed in the International Hurdle in December, Goshen made his hurdling return but appeared out of sorts when finishing a near 30-length last of 10.
In the aftermath he was reported to be suffering from a fibrillating heart, but Moore has now clarified that was not the case.
“He never did have a fibrillating heart,” he said.
“That was a misunderstanding, so we can forget that. It was a mix-up in conversation.”
Cheltenham still remains the target – but a below-par Kingwell run could see that plan altered.
“We hope he’ll go very well – he’s very well at home,” said Moore.
“Saturday will tell us everything, unless there’s plenty of excuses.
“The next step will hopefully be the Champion Hurdle, but if he doesn’t give a good account of himself at the weekend, then we’ll have to think of something else.”
Completing the field are Paul Nicholls’ Friend Or Foe, William de Best-Turner’s outsider Calgary Tiger and Evan Williams’ Esprit Du Large – who reverts to hurdles after experiencing mixed fortunes during a spell over fences.