Neil Mulholland hopes Milkwood can strike back at Ayr on Saturday as he bids to retain his title in the Coral Scottish Champion Hurdle.
The eight-year-old won three three-quarters of the length of last term two and has only been seen twice since, first when he finished second in the Galway Hurdle race in July and then the fourth of his chase debuted at Uttoxeter in October.
Injury setbacks have prevented him from embarking on a busier campaign and Mulholland deliberately saved him to defend the title in Scotland on Saturday, as he bid to join the likes of Sea Pigeon and Birds Nest as the double winners of the race.
“We’ve kept him for the Scottish Champions, where he won last year, and Sam Twiston-Davies dropped him off at school on Tuesday morning. We’re delighted with how he’s doing at school,” he said.
“We just need to give him some time, because we’re not 100% happy with him. He wasn’t right, he’s had a few small problems and that’s how he is now. ” Currently rated 150, Milkwood will weigh 8lb more than it did 12 months ago.
“He has a lot of weight, but he has a reason,” Mulholland said. “If he can get back there anywhere close to his form in the last three hurdles, he will feel his presence.
“He’s had a galloping racecourse and we’ve got him as strong as possible. He’s at his racing weight – obviously you can’t beat a recent lap, but he is. had a gallop at the track recently and he galloped very well.”
Onemorefortheroad won three hurdles for coach Neil King before being put to work at the Ascot graded company. The seven-year-old finished fourth in his most recent run of the Royal Cup at Sandown.
King feels that there is a bit more room for improvement, and Jack Quinlan’s mount is receiving a stone from Milkwood.
He said: “He’s still in really good form, I think he’s the right side of the handicap.
“He’s done absolutely nothing wrong this year – the ground was too soft for him at Sandown last time and he’s still had success.
“Ayr would suit him. I’ve always felt a flat, sharp track like Ayr would suit him much better than Sandown or Ascot, and he’s in great form. He’s out. mid-winter because of the pitch and is new and ready to go.
“His form is solid rock and the ground is as fast as possible.”
In what bookmakers consider an open competition, West Cork is the lightest of the principals, having run just three times this season for Dan Skelton. The eight-year-old, 8lb behind Milkwood, finished fourth in the County Hurdle at Cheltenham on his first run since mid-December and Skelton said he did well.
“West Cork hasn’t had a busy season, but he’s played well at Cheltenham last time. As long as it doesn’t come too soon, I’ll have to give him a proper chance.
“I don’t feel it comes too soon compared to what he has shown at home.”
Alqamar coached by James Moffatt won four times between May and August last year, but has not been seen since winning the title at Wetherby in October.
Previous winners were Socialist Agenda and Voix Du Reve, along with Anna Bunina and Kihavah make this an intriguing innovation, with Barrichello completing the list.
Donald McCain has won four of these five seasons, the only stain on his book coming in fourth in a Bangor novice hurdle in December. The Cheshire international feels the six-year-old, who scored against Newcastle last time, deserves his chance.
“He’s had a good year and is on the right track,” McCain said. “He deserves to run in a good race. I think he’s pretty disabled, I don’t know if we’ve prepared anything but we were going to run him on a big day in the spring and we I decided to go here one.
“He should probably be undefeated but the only incident was in Bangor. It wasn’t anyone’s fault. He was just scared at the start, he hit a lap and the race was over.”