ANTE-post favourite Protektorat is reported to be firmly on course for the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham.
The six-year-old has illustrious connections, owned by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson together with John and Lisa Hales and Ged Mason.
Trainer Dan Skelton could hardly be happier with his contender, who was a Grade 1 winner when last seen at the Aintree Grand National meeting.
He said: “He is a second-season chaser out of the novice ranks. Some can go and improve an awful lot, and others that is what they are and you have to rethink.
“We’ve had this race in mind ever since he came in. He has won around the track, it is worth a lot of money – and it seemed a good starting point.
“I’m not worried I’ve not got a run into him, because he has done loads at home and he has been on the grass gallop twice now, so I’m happy. I’m looking forward to it.”
He is also a course-and-distance winner, last November.
Skelton added: “That is why you look back at that novice chase last year and you think ‘well, he can act around the track’.
“I’m happy that he won’t sulk, because we have got him really well. I think that only happens when he runs on tacky ground where it was harder work than it needed to be. I’m happy, and he is ready for it.
“Whatever the weight is the weight is – you can’t change that, and I’m not worried about it.”
Third Time Lucki is also due for action on Saturday, after the smart novice hurdler made a winning start over fences at Cheltenham in October.
Skelton said: “Third Time Lucki will run on Saturday in the Arkle trial. His debut there was lovely, and I enjoyed that.
“He is a nice horse and he has always been one of our best horses. He has just needed a time, and a fence.”
Much attention on day one of Cheltenham’s fixture will focus on Skelton’s My Drogo, in the November Novices’ Chase on Friday.
The Richard and Lizzie Kelvin-Hughes-owned gelding looked a potential star in the making at Aintree in April after rounding off an unbeaten season with victory in the Grade 1 Mersey Novices’ Hurdle.
Skelton said: “Everything has been good, and I’m happy with him.
“He started at Cheltenham last season in a bumper, and I’m happy to get going over fences there with him.
“He has been good schooling, but he has got to do it on the track. I don’t feel any extra pressure on my shoulders with him.”
Joining My Drogo on Friday duty could be stablemate and recent Carlisle scorer Kayf Hernando, in the Grade 2 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle.
Skelton said: “If the ground is nice he will probably run, but he is not guaranteed to run. He beat a very experienced horse in Mister Whitaker last time, and they were clear of the third.
“It was a very taking performance for a young horse, and you are entitled to think big – at least for now.”
Nube Negra will bid to avenge his defeat to Put The Kettle On in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in March when the two lock horns in the Grade 2 Shloer Chase on Sunday.
Skelton said: “Nube Negra is going to run in the Shloer. The ground is nice, and he is in good form so the plan is to have a go.
“The last three weeks, he has been going well at home and is ready to go. He has been on the grass gallop once – and as long as the ground remains as it is, we will have a go, but if it all of a sudden goes soft we won’t go.”