Rupert can make most of course experience
Paul Webber feels previous course experience will be a help to Time For Rupert's chances in the RSA Chase at Cheltenham today.
All of the seven-year-old's last five races, three over hurdles and two over fences, have come at the Prestbury Park track, with a fine record of three wins and two second places.
But the pressure is on this time as Time For Rupert has been ante-post favourite for the staying novice chase championship for a long time.
He was even touted for honours before he had jumped a fence in public, especially after he finished second to Big Buck's in the World Hurdle last March.
Things went according to plan in the first half of the season when he won his first two starts over the bigger obstacles at the November and December meetings, but he has not raced since as he met with a setback in January and had to miss the Argento Chase at the Festival Trials meeting.
Webber described that as a "blip" and there have been no problems since and Time For Rupert heads a strong field of 12 for the Grade One extended three-mile contest.
"He's in very good form and couldn't be in better order," said the Banbury trainer. "Everything has been perfect since that blip at the end of January and it's all spot on.
"It's a good field, it's bound to be, and there are more runners and it's more competitive than he's been in before but we hope that his experience at Cheltenham will stand him in good stead and we just hope for the best."
Will Kennedy is the man charged with guiding Time For Rupert to victory and he is as confident as he can be heading into a Grade One event.
"I went into the World Hurdle last year very confident that I could give Big Buck's a race and it went ideally," said the jockey from the Curragh in Co Kildare.
"I'm not concerned about the ground, they'll have it absolutely perfect on the day. They've got to water and it's got to be safe. I'll be very surprised if anybody uses the ground as an excuse.
"I'm sure they'll give me a race, I don't think I'm going to win by 25 lengths or anything, but the others will be more worried about me than I am about them."
Willie Mullins has a fascinating duo in Mikael D'Haguenet and Quel Esprit.
The former has always been held in the highest regard and is a Festival winner having won what is now the Neptune as a novice hurdler two years ago.
However, following a lengthy spell out of action with injury, his chasing career has not gone so smoothly and he returns to Prestbury Park without a win over fences to his name.
"Mikael obviously needs to bounce back but his recent work has been pleasing us," said Mullins. "It's going to be hard to win a race like the RSA Chase with a maiden, but he's got plenty of experience of jumping so hopefully he'll be all right."
Quel Esprit won on his debut over fences before falling when seemingly beaten at Leopardstown last time, but Mullins was thrilled with a recent schooling session.
"I was a bit disappointed with the way Quel Esprit ran in Leopardstown last time, but I was much happier with how he worked with Mikael on schooling day at the track," the Irish champion trainer continued.
"I think he's improved since and I think the extra trip will bring out more of his ability. He's won his novice this season. My only negative is that I'd like softer ground for him.
"You'd also have to be concerned that he disappointed last year when I thought he was one of our bankers of the meeting."
Ruby Walsh chose to ride Mikael D'Haguenet over the Paul Nicholls-trained Aiteen Thirtythree. Daryl Jacob will be the man on board as the son of Old Vic bids to make it three wins from three starts over fences.
"He's done nothing wrong, starting off winning a point-to-point and a then a bumper," said Nicholls. "He was a bit disappointing over hurdles, but was very babyish and he's two from two over fences."
Nicky Henderson's Master Of The Hall bounced back from a disappointing Cheltenham effort with victories at Huntingdon and Ascot, and the Seven Barrows handler believes his charge is capable of running a big race.
"He won nicely enough first time at Ascot apart from demolishing the last, but at Cheltenham it was just at a time when our horses weren't quite doing what they were meant to be doing," said Henderson.
"He's very talented and it might be that a smaller field like this will help. He's entitled to go there, he's good, he jumps and ground is all the same to him."