National specialist The Last Samuri set for Cotswold assignment
Grand National regular The Last Samuri is to step outside handicap company to take on Bristol De Mai and company in Saturday's BetBright-backed Cotswold Chase.
The ten-year-old, who finished second to Rule The World in the Aintree spectacular in 2016, is being aimed at Cheltenham's Gold Cup trial, won a year ago by the ill-fated Many Clouds, who had landed the Grand National in 2015.
Under 11st 10lb at Aintree last April Kim Bailey's charge could not repeat his performance of 2016, finishing a well-beaten 16th, but on his return to Merseyside in November finished second in the Becher Chase with 11st 12lb on his back.
"The Last Samuri runs in the Cotswold Chase and he's in a good place at the moment," said Bailey on Sunday.
"I'm really happy with him. It's hard to know what to do with him with a rating of 159, but it won't be going down and for once he won't be carrying lumps of weight and giving weight away.
"Where The Last Samuri runs next will depend totally on what happens on Saturday, but he has a Gold Cup entry. We'll see how he gets on in the Cotswold and then make a plan."
Among his intended rivals on Saturday is Bristol De Mai, whose trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies hopes the grey can put his own Gold Cup challenge back on track.
Bristol De Mai's rating soared to 173 after he beat Cue Card to land the Betfair Chase by 57 lengths in November, but that mark was dropped to 167 after he was well beaten by Might Bite in the King George VI Chase. He has since been treated for ulcers.
Twiston-Davies said: "Everything is fine and he seems in good nick. I'm very happy with him. If the ground is testing that should be right up his street. I'd hope he can put his Gold Cup challenge back on track."
The race will also offer another chance for Coneygree, the 2015 Gold Cup winner who has been pulled up on both starts this term, and American, who was second favourite for the Ladbrokes Trophy in which he was also pulled up.
Coneygree has had his palate cauterised and trainer Mark Bradstock said on Sunday: "He's great and worked really, really well yesterday. He's absolutely fine, touch wood, but we'll see what the weather does."
American's trainer Harry Fry said: "He'll be entered in the Cotswold Chase and we'll decide in the week whether we go. The Ladbrokes Trophy clearly didn't go as we hoped and he's on something of a recovery mission, but he's fine in himself and the weather looks as if it will be in his favour."
There was snow at Twiston-Davies's Naunton base on Sunday but none reached Cheltenham, where the going was soft.
Clerk of the course Simon Claisse reported: "We've just had rain. It will remain unsettled and relatively mild."
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