In these early skirmishes, War Of Attrition has everything to lose and, seemingly, practically nothing to gain. But his latest foray, at Thurles this afternoon, represents another crucial stage on a precarious journey back to the sport's defining battlegrounds.
The 2006 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner is fortunate that the man poring over the maps, back in the general's tent, should be as artful a strategist as Mouse Morris. When War Of Attrition made his comeback at Punchestown last month, after an absence of 658 days with tendon problems, his trainer knew perfectly well that an easy defeat of another troubled Gold Cup winner, Kicking King, represented barely half the battle. Morris reserved his real apprehension for the next morning, when he went into the horse's stable at Everardsgrange.
Much to his relief, the horse's tendons were cool, and nor has Morris been given any anxiety since. He sensibly elected not to risk War Of Attrition on awkward going at Wetherby last Saturday, and instead sends him down the road to meet another small field in easy ground. Two of his rivals might once have commanded respect – Central House and Rathgar Beau have both beaten Moscow Flyer in their time – but they share a rather gnarled look nowadays. In contrast War Of Attrition, lest we forget, is entitled to remain in his pomp at nine.
He might have faced sterner opposition from Snowy Morning, but Willie Mullins has decided to wait a little longer and may now send the Grand National third to Haydock on 22 November for the Betfair Chase. That race is firmly on the agenda for Kicking King, another to have declined the opportunity to run at Thurles, though of course Kauto Star will be waiting for them there.
Another steeplechaser testing the water after a long absence is Character Building who, at Towcester this afternoon, makes his first start since finishing third to Denman in the Hennessy Gold Cup. His form when previously a close second in the National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival was reinforced by Irish and Welsh National wins respectively for Butler's Cabin, the winner, and Miko De Beauchene, going well when unseating three out.
John Quinn starts him off in a handicap hurdle, where he naturally runs off a lower rating. "I would never run a horse if I thought they would need the run in a big way," Quinn said yesterday. "He went lame behind last season, but he's well now and I would expect him to run a race tomorrow. He's in the Hennessy, but we will just get this race out of the way first."
One of the pleasures of the jumps season, now really gathering momentum, is that good horses can show up at any midweek meeting. At Chepstow yesterday, for instance, Tom George introduced a nice prospect in Secret Tune, placed at Royal Ascot during a light career on the Flat.
But then that is something Paul Nicholls seems to do every day of the week, albeit the champion trainer was surprised that The Gossmoor Yank proved able to win the other division of the same race. "He was very, very green," Nicholls said. "It looked a good maiden hurdle, and I thought he would want further. He will improve enormously as he gains experience."
Over at Huntingdon, however, Cosmea failed to consolidate her status as early favourite for the JCB Triumph Hurdle. Alan King has a fine record with juveniles and this filly had made a bright start over timber at Wincanton, but she made pretty hard work of landing odds of 2-7 round this sharp track.
* The Clive Cox-trained three-year-old Electrolyser was cut from 8-1 to 6-1 yesterday by Ladbrokes in their betting on Saturday's November Handicap.
November Handicap (1m 4f, Doncaster, Saturday) Ladbrokes latest odds: 4-1 Presvis, 6-1 Electrolyser, 8-1 First Avenue, 10-1 Night Crescendo, 12-1 Tarkheena Prince, The Betchworth Kid, Blimey O'Riley, Magicalmysterytour, Menwaal & Pevensey, 14-1 Young Mick & Merchant of Dubai, 16-1 Ajan, Hits Only Vic, Tastahil & Tropical Strait, 20-1 Cape Tribulation, Redesignation & Spring Dream, 25-1 others