No early decision will be made on the Cheltenham Festival target of impressive Peter Marsh Chase winner Royale Pagaille.
Despite a 16lb rise in the weights for a win at Kempton over Christmas, the Venetia Williams-trained seven-year-old won even easier at Haydock.
He holds four entries at the Festival in the National Hunt Chase, the Marsh Novices’ Chase, the Festival Novices’ Chase (formerly the RSA) and the Gold Cup itself.
Muddying the waters further is the Willie Mullins-trained Monkfish, who is also owned by Susannah Ricci and a hot favourite for the Festival Novices’ Chase.
“There’s no bad news to report,” said Joe Chambers, racing manager for the owner, on Racing TV’s Luck On Sunday.
“I think it would have been great if the two Sams (Sam’s Adventure and Sam Brown) had been able to complete the course and turn up as we’d have learned an awful lot more than we actually have.
“We put him in the Gold Cup opportunistically at the time because it was closing when the travel ban was coming in and we just thought for the sake of the initial entry fee we could always take him out at the next forfeit stage on February 9 if his next run didn’t go according to plan.
“But I guess we’ll be leaving him in it, and we’ll be leaving him in the novice races as well.
“We’ll see what the handicapper says on Tuesday as to what the substance of the form is. We thought we got fairly hammered after Kempton as he went up not once but twice.”
The least likely option at this stage for Royale Pagaille would appear to be the Festival Novices’ Chase, should Monkfish run.
“All being well should Monkfish turn up are we likely to run two in that race? Probably not as I think Susannah has had 68 runners at Cheltenham and 67 have been sole representatives so it’s not really our MO to run two in the same race,” said Chambers.
“There are eight weeks to go and a lot of water to go under the bridge. We’ll see what the ground is like closer to the time and take it from there. As a handicapper he’ll be pushing into the 160s and that’s puts him bang in the frame of the seasoned three-mile chasers, I think.
“The conversation about running them both in the same race wasn’t realistic three weeks ago never mind six weeks ago but he (Monkfish) has to come through his own trials OK.
“What we won’t do is make commitments this far out, we’ve burned ourselves in the past doing that so we’ll take our time and keep the options open. Hopefully the horses will tell us which direction to go.
“If he goes up 10lb or so you could count on one hand the chasers rated higher than him. I know he’s a novice but it’s his third season as a novice and that was his 11th chase. I think Champ has only had three or four in comparison.”
Source : Sky Sports