With some running plans for high-profile horses in the weekend's key jumping contests weather-dependent and still in flux, at least one man has defiantly set his stall out. Come hell or high water – and it is raining in the north-west – My Way De Solzen will make his eagerly awaited seasonal debut against Kauto Star in the Betfair Chase at Haydock on Saturday.
The presence of the Alan King-trained pretender will provide a real test for the reigning monarch, whose long-time unbeaten run came to an end on his own first run of the campaign at Aintree last month, and will add a real edge to what is not only the first Grade One chase on the domestic programme but also, as the opening leg of the £1m Betfair Bonus series, the first step on what could be a road to riches.
"Of course it is a tough race for his first run of the season," said King, "but we have no option. In an ideal world I would have liked to have had a run into him before this race but it hasn't worked out. But he had an awayday last week when he worked on grass, which has brought him on no end."
Kauto Star hit the bonus jackpot last year after adding the King George VI Chase at Kempton and the Gold Cup and My Way De Solzen, last year's Arkle Trophy winner, is second favourite for both Saturday's race and the Boxing Day showpiece.
Though the French-bred seven-year-old was last season's top two-mile novice chaser, he was a top-class staying hurdler, winner of the World Hurdle at last year's Festival, before turning his hoof to fences and King has no doubts about Saturday's three-mile trip.
"We were always going to work up in trip this time," he said, "as this season has been geared towards the King George. I couldn't be happier with the horse, I'm not worried about the trip and he will definitely run.
"I might not be sure he's good enough to beat Kauto Star, but he's good enough to run a huge race. He's entitled to be there and it's going to be thrilling. There are some smashing horses at the moment and I hope the punters appreciate it."
My Way De Solzen's regular rider, Robert Thornton, will be in the saddle for the gelding's acid test, but Kauto Star will have a new jockey when Sam Thomas, trainer Paul Nicholls No 2, replaces injured Ruby Walsh.
Gold Cup runner-up and third, Exotic Dancer and Turpin Green, are likely to reoppose their Cheltenham conqueror on Saturday though Exotic Dancer, a distant third when Kauto Star was second to Monet's Garden at Aintree, will be without Tony McCoy if the Ulsterman is required for duty on hurdler Wichita Lineman at Ascot. Veteran Beef Or Salmon, runner up in the two previous runnings, makes the trip from Ireland.
Saturday's feature will be the first chase run over Haydock's new course with portable fences; the ground is likely to be, at best, good to soft. Wintry showers are forecast and the possible deterioration in conditions have prompted the removal of one rival to the big two.
Aces Four, from Ferdy Murphy's in-form Leyburn yard, is likely to take up his alternative engagement in the Peterborough Chase at Hutingdon the same day. The eight-year-old, one of last season's best staying novices, was pulled up behind Betfair-bound Ollie Magern in the Charlie Hall Chase, but as a cobweb-blowing exercise it delighted his trainer. "He came out of the race fine and we were thrilled," said Murphy, who added a treble at Hexham yesterday to L'Antartique's Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham on Saturday.
Balls are in the air ahead of Saturday's three important jump meetings, but for the year's top Flat horse Dylan Thomas, they have hit the ground. The four-year-old's career is to end in anticlimax after he was ruled out of Sunday's Japan Cup. Local authorities refused to release Aidan O'Brien's charge from quarantine after his trip to the Breeders' Cup as he failed a test for equine viral arteritis, because a vaccination in America against the disease caused a raised level of antibodies. Instead of the Tokyo prize, the Arc hero may divert to next month's Hong Kong Vase, which would add a mere half-million to his £3.3m earnings.