Ballyboker Breeze heads a dual charge for Nicky Richards on Saturday night, in Doncaster's richest jumps race of the season.
Richards is aiming to run both Ballyboker Breeze and Looking Well in the Listed Sky Bet Chase (three miles) where there are 22 entries at the five-day declaration stage. Ballyboker Breeze moved to the stable last year and has since made a successful switch to chasing for his new yard winning two of his three starts, including a strong win at Bangor at the beginning of December. Meanwhile Looking Well is also lightly-raced over fences having gained a first win from five starts over the larger obstacles at Kelso last May. That was over a further two furlongs than he'll contest on Saturday and stamina certainly appears to be his strong suit.
Richards is hopeful both will run a big race on Saturday with an eye on more progress this season.
The trainer said: "The plan is to run both Ballyboker Breeze and Looking Well in the Sky Bet Chase. Ballyboker Breeze has been fine since Bangor. He is training well and is probably an improving horse I hope.
"He travelled and jumped well at Bangor, and saw the trip out very well. I thought he was fairly impressive on the day. Experience is always a slight concern in a race like this but he does jump well. I think there are a lot more plusses than minuses regarding his chance.
"Looking Well is very well. I haven’t run him yet this season because he wants a bit of decent ground, which it looks like he will get at the weekend. He runs well when he is fresh and looks great at the moment. Hopefully, he will run a good one.
"They are both progressive horses and, even if one of them doesn’t win on Saturday, I think there are good races to be won with both."
Two others who catch the eye at this stage are Bigbadjohn and Our Kaempfer. The Rebecca Curtis-trained Bigbadjohn brings strong novice form to what would be his handicap debut, having beaten subsequent winner Our Kaempfer in a novices' chase at Newbury in November before going down by eight lengths to Cheltenham Gold Cup favourite Thistlecrack at the same course.
Neil Mulholland's Southfield Royale will be having his first start of the season since last being disappointing in a grade 1 novices' chase at Punchestown in April. The seven-year-old remains a smart prospect and demonstrated strong stamina when fourth in the four mile novices' chase at the Cheltenham Festival two runs back. He would be returning to the scene of his biggest success, having beat Coologue (also entered) by 13 lengths in a grade 2 novices' chase over the course and distance last season.
Catch all the action from an excellent Doncaster card live on Sky Racing on Saturday night.
G1 - The Bet365 Celebration Steeple Chase (class 1)
G3 - The Bet365 Gold Cup Steeple Chase (handicap) (class 1)
G1 - Aes Champion 4yo Hdle
Grade B - Setanta Sport H'cap Hdle
Grade B - Palmerstown House Pat Taaffe H'cap Chase