Stuart Edmunds is hoping Rowland Ward can stake his claim for top honours in the £32,000 G2 JCB Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle (12.40pm, 2m 179y, 14 entries), the first of five graded races at Cheltenham on Festival Trials Day this Saturday, 25 January.
Four winners of the JCB Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle on Festival Trials Day have gone on to win at The Festival™ presented by Magners in the same season. Katchit (2007), Peace And Co (2015) and Defi du Seuil (2017) captured the G1 JCB Triumph Hurdle, while 1999 scorer Hors La Loi III defeated his elders in the G1 Supreme Novices' Hurdle.
Rowland Ward, who achieved a rating of 85 on the Flat, fell on his hurdling debut at Warwick on 12 December, but made no mistake next time out when readily beating a well-regarded field in a juvenile hurdle at Kempton Park on 27 December.
Edmunds, who sent out Wolf Of Windlesham to win the G2 JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial at The November Meeting in 2015, said today: "We like Rowland Ward and, all being well, he will go to Cheltenham on Saturday.
"I thought it was a good performance at Kempton in what looked a decent race on paper. The fourth [Goa Lil] has won since, whereas the third [Homer] has probably disappointed, so make of that what you wish.
"I was a bit dubious about running Rowland Ward on soft ground once, but he seemed to cope with it fine at Kempton.
"He is rated about 20lb higher on the Flat than Wolf Of Windlesham when he went hurdling, although it does not always translate over hurdles.
"We are happy to have a go on Saturday and I am sure we will know where we stand afterwards."
The 14 entries for the JCB Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle include Cerberus (Joseph O'Brien IRE), who was second to Allmankind in the G1 Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow over Christmas.
Nicky Henderson has won the race four times since 2013, most notably with Peace and Co, and the Lambourn handler could saddle French import Monte Cristo, who was successful last time out at Auteuil in October.
Doncaster G2 scorer Navajo Pass (Donald McCain) and Gerolamo Cardano (D J Jeffreys), impressive on testing ground at Hereford earlier this month, are also engaged.
The most valuable race on Festival Trials Day is the £100,000 G2 Paddy Power Cotswold Chase (2.25pm, 3m 1f 56y), a key trial for the G1 Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup in March.
Santini (Nicky Henderson), the 5/4 favourite with Paddy Power, multiple G1 scorer Bristol De Mai (Nigel Twiston-Davies) and Irish star Delta Work (Gordon Elliott IRE) headline the nine contenders.
De Rasher Counter (Emma Lavelle), winner of the prestigious Ladbrokes Trophy last time out, and Rowland Meyrick Handicap Chase scorer Top Ville Ben (Phil Kirby) are also earmarked to run.
Paddy Power Cotswold Chase - Paddy Power prices: 5/4 Santini; 9/4 Bristol De Mai; 6/1 Delta Work, Slate House; 7/1 Top Ville Ben; 8/1 De Rasher Counter; 20/1 Alpha Des Obeaux, Mister Whitaker; 33/1 Ex Patriot
The other graded contests on the card are £60,000 G2 galliardhomes Cleeve Hurdle (3.35pm, 3m, 11 entries), which is set to feature G1 Stayers' Hurdle hero Paisley Park (Emma Lavelle), the £70,000 G3 Paddy Power 45 Sleeps To Cheltenham Trophy Handicap Chase (1.50pm, 2m 4f 127y, 19 entries) and the £32,000 G2 Ballymore Novices' Hurdle (3.00pm, 2m 4f 56y, 15 entries).
Racing starts at 12.40pm and ends at 4.10pm.
The going at Cheltenham is Soft, with the outlook dry and milder by the weekend.