Donald McCain believes the performance of Cinders And Ashes in the Stanjames.com Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle on Saturday week will determine his credentials for Cheltenham in March.
The five-year-old, who is currently 9-4 favourite with the race sponsors, concluded last season with a tenacious victory over another Newcastle contender, Darlan, in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle.
"He's doing grand at the minute and looks well going into the Fighting Fifth," said McCain.
"I think he is a very good horse and I just hope he can get up to win, but it'll be tough. I have entered him because he won the Supreme Novices' Hurdle at the Festival, so he has every right to be there.
"However, looking further ahead, whether he can win a Champion Hurdle or not, I just don't know yet. We'll see at Newcastle."
The Cheshire-based trainer is bidding for a third Fighting Fifth success in three years, after winning the last two renewals with the Tim Leslie-owned pair, Peddlers Cross and Overturn.
McCain said: "Overturn is in good order at the minute and came back (from his chasing debut) looking well. I was very pleased with his performance at Sandown.
"Eventually, we will be looking for the best two-mile novice chase races for him, but he needs to get some more experience first.
"Peddlers Cross is also grand at the minute and in class work now. He isn't ready to run yet, but he is coming along nicely. There is no reason why he shouldn't regain his past form because he is a very good horse.
"We aren't sure whether he will be best suited to two miles or three this year. We'll have to wait and see how he performs throughout the season."
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