One of Ireland's shrewdest trainers when it comes to plotting a winner at the Cheltenham Festival, Edward O'Grady, has three very live contenders to go to war with at the Cotswolds in less than two weeks time.
Juvenile Alaivan is one of the leading market principals for the JCB Triumph Hurdle on the final day of the Festival and he has enjoyed two notable wins over hurdles, suffering defeat only at the hands of Carlito Brigante at Leopardstown.
While disappointed at Christmas, O'Grady is trying to pull the positives from that defeat for the former John Oxx inmate.
"We were disappointed at Christmas but things didn't go right for him and we'd like to think we learnt quite a lot from the race. As a result we were able to ride him a bit different at Fairyhouse and he was able to run like the horse we hope he is," said O'Grady.
O'Grady is hopeful that the horse can use his gears and battling qualities for what he lacks in stature. He said: "I was talking to Mick Kinane one day about his size and he said he may not have a lot of size but he does have a big engine, so hopefully one will make up for the other. I just hope he's good enough to carry out the job that he's intended for."
The Arkle is being billed as a match between former Supreme Novices Hurdle winner Captain Cee Bee and former classy hurdler Sizing Europe, but in the background O'Grady has a dark outsider in the shape of Osana who he hopes will have a better run of the race than when he met the leading duo at Leopardstown.
"I think he's a very good jumper and I don't think I've had him 100 per cent fit this year yet. We'd a bad hold-up with frost before Christmas and in the race at Leopardstown he had to do the donkey work for, on paper, the best two horses around at the moment."
Osana was one of the 53 horses who were involved in the after-racing gallops at Leopardstown on Sunday and he partook in a schooling session under regular partner Andrew McNamara.
"He schooled after racing on Sunday and, in a way, I was nearly regretting I didn't run him in the novice chase that day," said O'Grady. "He worked well and is going to do quite a lot of work between now and Cheltenham so I hope to have a much fitter horse come Tuesday week."
Of his Cheltenham-bound team, Tranquil Sea is undoubtedly holding the strongest chance of another big race success and yesterday his trainer reiterated his delight at how well Sunday's win at Leopardstown fitted into his Cheltenham preparation.
"With the race being rescheduled for a week later after Naas was abandoned, I backed off him and it was always going to be a delicate balancing act," he said.
"We really wanted this race as a piece of work and in an ideal situation he wouldn't have a hard race and he would win. For once in our lives it seemed to work out and he won hands and heels. He might even have done a bit more had he worked after racing."
Tranquil Sea is now Ryanair Chase bound and O'Grady concluded: "He's fine in a lower grade over a shorter trip but maybe in a higher grade he prefers the step up in distance."
Meanwhile, although being virtually ruled out of the race, 2006 Gold Cup winner War Of Attrition yesterday remained among the 86 still in the Aintree Grand National at the beginning of April, although Mouse Morris says he is "bang on course" for the World Hurdle at Cheltenham.
"He's bang on course, all being well, and went away to Thurles at the weekend," he said.
"It was just a day away to keep him interested, but he is pretty much fully cooked now and we'll just keep him ticking over until Cheltenham," said Morris.
"He's in good order and is just as well as he was before Navan the last day, so we'll see what happens. The ground isn't as important as it was a couple of years ago when he really needed decent ground."