Ireland launches a three-pronged assault on the £100,000 Sovereign Handicap Hurdle (3.35pm) at Lingfield Park on Friday, the highlight on day one of the Winter Million.
Emmet Mullins is responsible for Carrarea and Sevenna Star as he seeks yet another big handicap success on these shores, with Paul Townend an eye-catching booking on Carrarea, while compatriot Sean Doyle sends over the in-form Lucky Max.
Lucky Max made a winning reappearance at Clonmel in October and has continued his rise through the handicap with a pair of comfortable victories at Cork, most recently in early December.
Doyle said: “Lucky Max seems to be in very good form. He started heading over this morning and should arrive at Lingfield this evening, so fingers crossed he travels over OK.
“After maturing really well, he has started to hurdle properly. He was a little up in the air, even going back to his point-to-points, and it has taken him a while to get his jumping together. He probably wasn’t quite right last season either, but he seems a different horse now.
“We are hoping for the best – it is a competitive race and definitely a step up on anything he has faced before. If he could pick up some nice prize money, we would be delighted.”
The home challenge is led by the Harry Fry-trained Metier, who tackles heavy ground for the first time since bolting up in last season’s G1 Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown Park.
Gary Moore has a 30 per cent strike rate over jumps at Lingfield Park this season and the West Sussex handler aims to continue the trend with recent course and distance scorer Hudson De Grugy.
Gowel Road tops the weights for Nigel Twiston-Davies after finishing third in a Listed handicap hurdle at Newbury in November, while bottom weight Destrier is one of two runners for Dan Skelton alongside Antunes.
The 12 runners are completed by Hacker Des Places, Mack The Man, Chti Balko and Thibault.
Castleford Handicap Chase victor Eclair D’Ainay concedes weight all round in the £50,000 racehorselotto.com Handicap Chase (1.50pm). The two-mile contest also features recent Kelso scorer Cedar Hill and Frero Banbou for the in-form combination of Venetia Williams and Charlie Deutsch.
A closely matched field of seven go in the £50,000 Weatherbys NHstallions.co.uk Novices' Chase (3.00pm) over just shy of three miles, including wide-margin Exeter winner Broken Halo and Fantastikas, who was third in the G2 Dipper Novices’ Chase last time out. Queenohearts, a G2-winning hurdler for Stuart Edmunds, makes her debut over fences for Kim Bailey.
Grade 2 winners On The Blind Side and Emitom feature among five runners in the £50,000 Cazoo Hurdle (2.25pm) over two miles and seven furlongs, in which high-class chaser Top Ville Ben also runs.
Anthony Honeyball has two leading chances in the £45,000 Winter Million EBF Mares' Novices' Handicap Chase (1.20pm) courtesy of Belle De Manech and Deja Vu. Crossgalesfamegame is a first runner at Lingfield Park for Sandy Thomson, who also saddles the aforementioned Cedar Hill.
Love Envoi and Nurse Susan put their unbeaten records on the line for Harry Fry and Dan Skelton respectively in the opening £30,000 Winter Million Mares' Novices' Hurdle (12.50pm) over two miles. Paul Nicholls is represented by Rainyday Woman, who brought up a three-timer in a Listed event at Taunton last time out.
A field of 10 in the concluding Winter Million Handicap Chase (4.08pm) includes impressive recent Warwick winner Neil The Legend for Nicky Henderson.