Nicky Richards is hoping Ribble Valley can take advantage of a drop in class by returning to victory in the Trial Unibet Champion Hurdle at Haydock.
The lightly raced eight-year-old was last seen finishing third behind the Champion Hurdle Brilliant heroine in the Grade One Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle in November.
After taking a short hiatus, Ribble Valley – previously triumphant on his return to action at Carlisle – will be groomed by manager Greystoke for the sophomore two-mile award on January 23.
Richards said: “The plan at the moment is to lead Ribble Valley in the Champion Hurdle Trial at Haydock.
“He’s working well and he looks good so hopefully we get a good race with the weather.
“He just needs to be a little more streetwise because when he won he went around the bridle.
“He didn’t dishonor himself at Newcastle, and I hope there will be a hurdle race in him over the next few months.”
While Ribble Valley failed to make his debut at the top level a success, Richards believes the pitch could have affected the outcome.
He said: “I think the pitch was a bit faster than expected at Newcastle.
“He’s a very big horse, and this terrain probably wasn’t 100% suitable for him, especially on the straight.
“Amazing is the best jump filly in the country, and that day he wasn’t good enough. That said, it was only his fifth hurdle race, so he was in the deep end.
With a pursuit stint on the agenda for Ribble Valley next season, Richards is confident he’ll be seen with even more effect when he jumps over a fence.
He added: “You half thought he could be an Arkle horse this season, but he had only had four points under his belt and he needs to be a little more streetwise, which is why we have overcome obstacles.
“I hope running him against good horses over the hurdles this season will put him in good place on the fences next season.
“I hope he ranks very high among the best boys when he goes after the novices.”
Richards plans to continue taking small steps with Castle Rushen, who backed up his first victory over hurdles at Ayr in October with another emphatic success on the Scottish track the following month.
He said, “Castle Rushen is a great horse. I don’t know where he will run next, but it will probably be in February.
“We’ll have to put him in the high end at some point to see where we’re at with him, but we’ll just stay stable for now.”
With Castle Rushen appearing to enjoy the passage at two miles and three stadia the last time around, Richards expects the gelding owned by Trevor Hemmings to campaign for similar trips in the future.
He said, “As you go up in class you need more things in your favor – and even if he would win twice again, I imagine two and a half would be his trip.
“He’s a good traveler, and I know it wasn’t a race he won last time around, but he did really well.”
An outing to the Randox Health Grand National Festival could be a long-term goal this season for Castle Rushen.
“You know what colors he is, and there’s no doubt it would be nice to be there for Trevor, and I’m sure he would do well on a little nicer ground,” Richards added.
“We have a few errands to go before confirming these plans, but it’s good to think of a meeting like this.”