Paul Nicholls is keeping the faith with Solo as he makes his seasonal bow in the Unibet Elite Hurdle at Wincanton.
The four-year-old made quite a splash on his British debut back in February, hacking up by 13 lengths in the Adonis Juvenile Hurdle at Kempton to add to a previous Auteuil victory for Guillaume Macaire.
Upped to Grade One company in the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham, Solo fell short in finishing a 10-and-a-half-length eighth – but Nicholls believes that effort can be excused and is keen to see how his charge, who has been gelded since, shapes up on his return.
He said: “He’d probably done enough in France and had never seen a track like Cheltenham before.
“Horses like Clan Des Obeaux and Frodon ran in the Triumph and finished in midfield like him. I’d put a line through Cheltenham – he’s had a nice break, he’s been gelded and has definitely improved.
“This track is much more like Kempton, where he won the Adonis. He’s schooled great and is working well – I’m very excited about him.
“We’ll stay over hurdles this year, and Saturday will tell us an awful lot.”
Nicholls also fields Diego Du Charmil in Sayturday’s Grade Two heat, while 2016 victor Sceau Royal represents Alan King and arrives on the back of victory in the Welsh Champion Hurdle.
Colin Tizzard’s Master Debonair is an intriguing runner, having been off the track since disappointing in his Cheltenham Festival prep back in February, with a planned Aintree outing scuppered by the cancellation of the Grand National meeting.
Brandon Castle and Teqany complete the six-strong line-up.
Nicholls fields Wincanton fan Grand Sancy in the “Rising Stars” Novices’ Chase, in which he faces just two rivals.
He has won the last two of his five outings over fences, also finishing third at Grade One level on his chasing debut, and arrives with a Listed success at Chepstow already in the bank this season.
The trainer said: “This has been the plan ever since he won at Chepstow.
“He’s a good, solid jumper who loves good ground, so I think he’s got a great chance
“He’s a novice until December 1, and the experience he had in those good races last season will stand him in good stead.
“He ran in the Elite Hurdle last year and was only just beaten – he loves Wincanton.
“He’s a good, solid jumper who loves good ground, so I think he’s got a great chance.”
Present Man and Bryony Frost will try to repeat their victories of 2017 and 2018 in the Badger Ales Silver Trophy Chase, with Nicholls also fielding Danny Whizzbang and My Way.
The 10-year-old Present Man warmed up for this with a veterans’ chase win at Chepstow last month, when he returned from a 335-day break.
Nicholls said: “He’s only gone up 2lb for winning at Chepstow, and we went there thinking he’d need the run a little. We had that as a prep race, so he surprised us a little bit.
“He looks great. I don’t think he was ever right last season. If he runs like he did at Chepstow the other day, on his beloved course and the ground is fast, he must have a leading chance.”
While Present Man tops the weights, My Way is at the other end of the scale with Bryan Carver also taking a hand 5lb off the recent Stratford hurdles winner.
Nicholls added: “I’ve always thought the Badger Ales would be a great race for My Way. He’s a maiden over fences, but he ran some nice races last year and is on a nice little mark.
“He won well over hurdles the other day, really as a prep for this. If the ground doesn’t dry up too much, he’s definitely got a chance.”
The three-mile-one-furlong contest has drawn 15 runners, including Kim Bailey’s likely favourite and hat-trick seeker El Presente and the Harry Fry-trained Just A Sting, who was fourth in the race last year.