Peter Bowen believes Courtland can build on a red-hot summer spell when beginning his winter campaign at Chepstow on Saturday.
The eight-year-old secured four wins and a close second in Market Rasen’s Summer Plate from five outings between late May and the end of August.
He has shot up the ratings as a result, but is still expected to put in another bold showing in the Native River Handicap Chase over just under three miles on day two of the Unibet Jump Season Opener meeting.
“He’s in good form, he’s been running well and now we’ll just have to see if he can keep it going,” said Pembrokeshire handler Bowen.
“It’s another step up but he definitely deserves it and you have to keep pushing to find out how good they are.
“We’ve had horses in the past like Take The Stand, Snoopy Loopy and Yes Sir that have done well in the summer and then kept on improving.
“We’re hoping he can follow in their footprints and go down the same route.”
Courtland’s victories all came on good ground, while his narrow defeat to Born Famous in July was on soft going, but Bowen is comfortable with the conditions at Chepstow.
He added: “There is some rain forecast for Friday but then it looks like the ground will be drying up on Saturday, so it shouldn’t be any worse than good to soft and that’s fine.”
Paul Nicholls will give useful hurdler Knappers Hill a first outing over fences in the Happy Birthday Sue Novices’ Chase.
The seven-year-old was last seen beating Goshen by a neck in the Grade Two Select Hurdle at Sandown at the end of April and can boast three victories at past renewals of this early-season fixture.
He was a bumper winner in 2020, a novice hurdle scorer 12 months later and last year prevailed in the Wadsell Group Silver Trophy Handicap Hurdle.
“He’s a standing dish at this meeting, having won here for each of the last three years,” Nicholls wrote in his Betfair blog.
“So this race was the logical choice for his debut over fences and if things go well, he will then head to Wincanton for the Rising Stars Chase.
“As a youngster, he wasn’t the most natural over hurdles but he was very slick over them last winter and I’m very pleased with his schooling over fences. I can’t wait to see what he can do as a chaser.”
However, Dan Skelton is hoping Unexpected Party can put his experience to good use in that contest, having competed in high-class company last season, including when fifth in the Turners Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham.
“He has the bonus of being a second-season novice,” said the trainer. “It was a bit frustrating that he didn’t get his head in front, but he ran in all those big races last season and did plenty of racing.”
Nicholls will bid to retain the Silver Trophy with Sonigino, who landed a Chepstow double last October.
“Highly progressive, he is another of ours who won at this meeting a year ago,” commented the Ditcheat handler.
“He ended last season winning at Huntingdon before he ran easily his best race at Aintree, where he came from an impossible position, finishing stoutly into third place, despite being brought to a standstill early on the first circuit.
“He must have a leading chance in this and will then go chasing.”
Stablemate Lallygag will be assisted by “talented claimer” Freddie Gingell taking 7lb off his back.
Twinjets signed off last season with a wide-margin victory at Kempton to make it five wins from eight starts under rules and is reported in good spirits for his return in that race.
Milton Harris said: “He’s a bit fresh and well but very fit and we’re looking forward to running him.
“All being well, he’ll run on Saturday and the plan then will be to go straight to novice chasing.
“He’s a proper horse and I’d be very surprised if he doesn’t make up into a very nice Saturday afternoon novice chaser.”
Benassi scored by nine lengths at Ffos Las when last seen in April and Olly Murphy believes the best is yet to come from his lightly-raced six-year-old.
“He won really well at Ffos Las and got a hefty enough rise for that, but he’s had a nice break and I’ve been waiting to step this lad up in trip – I think you’ll see an awful lot of improvement,” declared the trainer.
“He’s a horse who has always pleased with everything he’s done at home. We’re dipping a toe into a better race and I’m really looking forward to running him.
“Hopefully he has an each-way chance in what looks a really competitive handicap. He handles soft ground well, so the more rain the better for this lad.”