Tizzard stars at Exeter
Colin Tizzard is hoping to glean more Cheltenham Festival clues from Alary and Finian's Oscar when the pair feature on a high-quality card at Exeter on Sunday.
Finian's Oscar: In action at Exeter on Sunday
Finian's Oscar, ante-post favourite for the Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle, has the easier easy task on paper in his prep race, while Alary bids to redeem himself and show he is a good horse.
It is certainly a fact-finding mission for Tizzard with Alary when he bids to put a poor display at Haydock behind him in the 188bet.co.uk Graduation Chase.
The French import disappointed on his British debut when pulled up in the Peter Marsh Chase, but looked to have a valid excuse as he scoped dirty afterwards.
Tizzard reports Alary to have made a good recovery and is just hoping the seven-year-old can put in a decent show this time and get his career back on track.
Alary had attracted ante-post support for the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup in which the Dorset trainer holds a strong hand with Thistlecrack, Native River and Cue Card.
Whether he can still join that elite band at Cheltenham may well hinge on how he fares in a fascinating four-runner affair over three miles.
"A lot's been made of him flopping up at Haydock. He's been absolutely fine ever since. We thought we'd give him a nice little race like this in a graduation chase and see where we are," said Tizzard.
"I don't know how well he's going to do. I was as mystified as anyone last time. He's a good horse, but whether we've got him where we want him yet, I don't know. Sunday will show us a bit more.
"As long as he can be competitive and get round, we'll see where we are."
All of Alary's three rivals – Carraig Mor, Henri Parry Morgan and Tea For Two – have good form on their day.
Tea For Two was only beaten three and a half lengths when fourth to Thistlecrack in the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.
His trainer Nick Williams is confident of a big run from last season's Kauto Star Novices' Chase winner ahead of a crack at the Gold Cup.
"He is in really good form and we are expecting a big run. If all goes according to plan he will go straight to the Gold Cup after that," said the Devon handler.
"He ran a brilliant race in the King George. I've been happy with his work at home. He takes a nice hold and is quality at home.
"Exeter suits and he was impressive when he won a two-mile-three novice there (last season).
"Soft ground there will be fine for him. He doesn't particularly want it heavy."
Alan King is looking-forward to getting Carraig Mor back on the track for the first time in 674 days. He was last seen finishing second to Saphir Du Rheu in the Grade One Mildmay Novices' Chase at Aintree in April 2015.
The Barbury Castle handler told www.alankingracing.co.uk: "He was a Grade Two novice chase winner in 2014 but has been off the track for two years so will need this race, but we have him entered up at Cheltenham and he schooled well on Monday so are keen to get him started again."
Finian's Oscar looked a tip-top prospect when winning the Grade One Tolworth Novices' Hurdle on just his second start over the smaller obstacles.
Though the Free Bet At 188Bet Novices' Hurdle represents a big drop in class, Tizzard is keen to get one more run into the five-year-old ahead of the Festival next month.
"If he is to maintain favouritism for the Neptune he should be able to handle these horses, though we don't know what's going to come out of the pack," he said.
"He's a beautiful young horse and we thought we'd just have one more run before the big Festival."
Of his five rivals, Whatmore showed promise when second on his hurdles debut at Leicester and useful staying Flat handicapper Taws shaped encouragingly when fourth at Fontwell five weeks ago on her first run for David Pipe.
Reve De Sivola makes a rare handicap appearance when he lines up for the Pertemps Network Hurdle Qualifier.
Williams is lowering the six-time Grade One winner's sights in the hope to rekindle the 12-year-old's spark.
"Even off a lower mark he hasn't run to it over hurdles this season. We would be happy for him just to run some kind of race," he said.
"He has got a lot to do in those conditions hurdles now and it gives him a bit more of a chance in a handicap and he should like the track.
"The more testing it is the better for him. It will be interesting to see him back in a handicap."
The race sees the reappearance after 1068 days of Grade Two scorer Red Sherlock and Virtuel D'Oudon after 752 days.
Those two are among five of the 15 horses declared from the David Pipe stable.
The Nicholashayne trainer also saddles Dell' Arca, Eamon An Cnoic and Lady Of Longstone.
King is hoping Minella Charmer can bounce back from his Wetherby tumble 10 weeks ago in the Mobile Betting At 188Bet Novices' Chase.
He said: "He was travelling well when he fell three out up there, but, though it took a while for him to get over that tumble, he also schooled well on Monday and seems fine."
Harry Fry's Hereford winner Charmix, the Nigel Twiston-Davies trained Flying Angel and Philip Hobbs' Gala Ball are among seven runners.
Irish trainer Robbie McNamara sends Quick Grabim from his County Kildare base for the bumper that concludes the card, the Free Spins At 188Bet Casino Intermediate Open National Hunt Flat Race.
The five-year-old takes on 15 rivals as he bids to follow up his victory at Leopardstown in December.
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