Paul Nicholls insists Unioniste is “almost certain” to run in Saturday’s Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster - if the conditions are suitable.
Unioniste was well beaten in the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas but has good pedigree, with a previous victory at Aintree - over Wishfull Thinking - on the record.
Sam Winner is Nicholls’ other major contender, with four of the runners in the valuable three-mile handicap coming from his Ditcheat yard.
But Nicholls admits that Sam Winner is more likely to make the Betfair Hurdle day at Newbury next month instead.
“If the ground stays roughly as it is, and there’s a mixed forecast, Unioniste is almost certain to run,” he said.
“I’ll find something else for Sam Winner in a fortnight, possibly Newbury.
“I’ve just covered all our options by leaving them all in: it can dry up relatively quickly there and you never know what the weather is going to do.
“But my idea is to run Unioniste with Harry (Derham) taking 5lb off and then we’ll run Rocky Creek in the Argento at Cheltenham.
“We might also run Harry The Viking and Pacha Du Polder but both of those are weather dependent.”
Nicky Henderson, Nicholls’ trainers’ championship rival, relies solely on Roberto Goldback. Donald McCain can choose from Kruzhlinin and Our Mick, while Emma Lavelle also has options with Gullinbursti and Court By Surprise.
Keith Reveley’s Night In Milan was a winner on Town Moor recently, while last year’s Grand National hero Auroras Encore could turn out again for trainer Sue Smith.
Trainer Harry Fry, meanwhile, is also keen to ensure Rock On Ruby makes an appearance at Doncaster in Saturday’s Racing Post Lightning Novices’ Chase.
The 2012 Champion Hurdle hero was due to appear at Town Moor earlier this month, but the plans were scrapped due to unsuitable ground conditions.
“I’ve not really had a good look at the race yet, but I’ve just spoken to the clerk of the course at Doncaster to get the latest on the ground and the forecast,” Fry said.
“We will be governed by the ground, but Ruby is very well in himself. We really need to be lining up on Saturday to have him on course for a crack at the Arkle.
“I was pleased we missed the Doncaster run as the horse we had in that race (Karinga Dancer) was just beaten by the conditions.
“It is a bit of a double-egded sword as we need to get the experience into him, but finding the better ground is tricky.
“There is a back-up plan, but we would like to run at Doncaster and it is all systems go for the race.”