Colin Tizzard voiced concerns over the prospect of Alary giving weight away in testing conditions on his eagerly-awaited British debut in the Peter Marsh Handicap Chase at Haydock.
The highly-regarded French recruit, who was twice placed in Grade One company last year, including in the Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris, faces 13 rivals on his first start for the Dorset handler in the three-mile Grade Two prize.
Alary is as short as 16-1 for the Gold Cup, but much will depend on his performance at the Merseyside track as to which route is taken at the Cheltenham Festival, where he is also entered in the Ryanair Chase.
Tizzard said: “He is rated 162 and is a beautiful horse. Whether he is going to be able to give weight away to all those horses in the Haydock mud, I don’t know.
“It is a different discipline, French racing to English. I’m not quite so sure that the French heavy ground is as heavy as Haydock ground. We’re just on a learning curve.
“He works lovely and is fit. We have done plenty of work with him and we will see how good he is.
“We’ve not given him a racecourse gallop, we’ve just got him fit at home.
“We wouldn’t normally do that with any of the other ones, but he was racing in November, so he is fine.
“Hopefully we’ll find out a bit more about him at Haydock.”
Nigel Twiston-Davies is quietly confident about the chances of Bristol De Mai, who claimed Grade Two novice chase honours on this card 12 months ago.
The Simon Munir and Isaac Souede-owned gelding has finished second in four subsequent starts since winning the Scilly Isles at Sandown last February, the most recent of which in the Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle in November on his first attempt over three miles.
The Naunton handler said: “This has been the plan since the race at Newcastle.
“He ran well up at Newcastle and he seemed to get the three miles well, he was just beaten by a very good horse (Otago Trail).
“He is in good form. He is a good work horse and enjoys himself at home. The heavy ground should suit him.
“He must have a good chance in a handicap like this.”
Kerry Lee anticipates an improved showing from Bishops Road after his below-par effort in the Welsh National at Chepstow, as he takes his next step towards a potential outing in the Grand National at Aintree.
She said: “His jumping fell apart late on at Chepstow and we subsequently found that he’d whacked a joint and it was quite sore for a day or two after the race.
“The bruising soon went down and he was cantering away quite quickly.
“I think he had a little bit of an excuse for that run, but, that said, I think Native River is an incredibly good horse and will probably go and win the Gold Cup - that’s what I think.
“He won the Grand National Trial at Haydock last year off 144. He clearly enjoyed it there and he’ll enjoy the heavy ground, but I think this is a much better quality race. He’s entitled to be there, though.
“He’ll be entered in the National and I think he’s the sort of horse who’ll enjoy Aintree.”
Firebird Flyer is near the foot of the weights, and trainer Evan Williams feels he faces a tall order if he is to gain a first success since winning last year’s Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter.
Williams said: “Truly speaking, it will be really tough for him. He needs everything to fall in his favour to really run his race.
“It is probably a race that is too good for him on Saturday, but it is difficult with a horse like him as there are not many places you can go now.
“If the hype is right about Alary, he is thrown in at the weights.
“Firebird Flyer likes Haydock and that is worth bearing in mind. He ran a blinder in the Welsh National and was one of about half a dozen horses turning into the straight still on the heels of Native River.
“The winner sprinted down the straight and I just think it was handicappers taking on a proper Gold Cup horse.
“Chepstow was too quick for him and our horse does go on decent ground, but he has ran his races on very soft ground.”