Tony McCoy feels Darlan has to go close in the williamhill.com Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on Boxing Day if he is to warrant a place in the Champion Hurdle itself.
Nicky Henderson's charge is among an eight-strong field for the Grade One contest, which also features his stablemate Punjabi, who has not raced for 978 days.
"The ground will probably be soft enough for Darlan, but it's the time of year when he needs to get out - hopefully he can make up into a good horse," said McCoy.
"He's a narrow-framed sort of horse and hopefully he will improve with time. He's got to step up a lot to be a champion hurdler, and as yet he's got a lot to prove.
"We're working with the hope he is going to be a good horse, but in terms of ratings if he were to run in a handicap against the likes of Zarkandar or Rock On Ruby he'd be getting plenty of weight off them.
"At the same time, the Christmas Hurdle is the right race for him if he is going to make up into a Champion Hurdle horse. He needs to be performing pretty well, even if the ground is not in his favour."
Countrywide Flame, winner of the Triumph Hurdle and the Fighting Fifth Hurdle, heads the runners.
Trainer John Quinn opted for this race rather than go to Ireland for the Istabraq Festival Hurdle at Leopardstown on December 29, meaning he will face Cinders And Ashes, the horse whom he beat at Newcastle at the beginning of the month.
Darlan's owner JP McManus also has the Jonjo O'Neill-trained Get Me Out Of Here, while Paul Nicholls saddles Dodging Bullets, winner of both his starts this term. Raya Star and Mad Moose complete the line-up.
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