Paul Nicholls’ smart novice chaser Threeunderthrufive is likely to tee himself up for the Cheltenham Festival with a run at either Warwick or Lingfield.
The winner of eight of his 11 races to date, the seven-year-old has taken exceptionally well to chasing, winning three of his first four.
The most recent of those was a Grade Two at Doncaster, and connections of the McNeill family-owned gelding will decide whether he runs in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase in March or the longer National Hunt Chase after his next run.
“I don’t think he’s going to go to the Reynoldstown at Ascot, it’s probably a little too close to the Festival,” said Max McNeill’s racing manager Iain Turner.
“I’d have thought he’ll either go to Warwick for the Grade Two Paul won with Next Destination (Hampton Novices’ Chase, January 15) or the new Winter Million race at Lingfield (January 21).
“He’ll go for one of those and then he’ll have a break before the Festival.
“We nearly put him in the Gold Cup, and I notice Ahoy Senor has been. If you run in the Brown Advisory you’re probably taking on the likes of Galopin Des Champs and Bravemansgame and not many in the Gold Cup enhanced their chances at Christmas.
“At the end of the day, though, you can only run in the novice races once. My gut feeling is that he’ll go to Warwick as who knows what the ground will be like at Lingfield.”
The red, blue and white McNeill silks went close in the National Hunt Chase last season with the Gordon Elliott-trained Escaria Ten, who has not been seen since pulling up in the Irish National.
On his Cheltenham form with Galvin and Next Destination, however, the hope is he may be well handicapped with a Grand National bid on the cards.
“Escaria Ten isn’t in the Gold Cup so I suppose people can work out what the plan is given he’s rated 151 and he’s not in at Cheltenham,” said Turner.
“When you see what Galvin is rated now (167), we told Gordon in the summer to train him for the National and then you see how the form of the National Hunt Chase has worked out.
“He was confirmed for the Becher, but unfortunately the day before declarations he went lame so he couldn’t run but in hindsight that might not have been a bad thing.
“Where he goes, whether it’s a hurdle race, the Thyestes or the Bobbyjo I don’t know, but he’s back being ridden and his targets are in the spring.”
Tritonic has already tasted big handicap glory for McNeill at Ascot this season and was then thrown into Grade One company just a week later in the Christmas Hurdle, where he was well beaten behind Epatante.
“It was just a case of the race coming too soon for him. We had to try, the race was there and actually the handicapper has dropped him 1lb which is nice as he’s going to Newbury for the Betfair Hurdle now,” said Turner of Alan King’s charge.
“If we hadn’t run at Ascot you’d have to think we might have been in the first two, but we wouldn’t have missed Ascot to go to Kempton.
“It might be that he needs a big field and a strong pace to show his best. They went no pace in the Greatwood whereas they went a proper pace at Ascot.
“There was nothing to lose by going to Kempton, if he’d won it would have been nice to dream for a while but there was nothing else for him until Newbury.”
Another McNeill horse with Elliott in Ireland is I A Connect, a winner of two of his three runs over hurdles.
“I A Connect is qualified for the Red Mills Series Final at Punchestown in April which is worth €100,000,” said Turner.
“One of the terms to run in that is that you can’t have won a graded race. So we can’t win a graded race with him before that so I suspect he might have a handicap entry soon somewhere to see where he stands.”