Alan King is among the trainers who are hopeful the dry spring will not be to the detriment of the horses who line up in the Dubai Duty Free Finest Surprise Stakes, which kicks off a fascinating eight-race card at Newbury on Saturday.
Registered as the John Porter Stakes, the mile-and-a-half contest has attracted a field of seven and all bar two are making their seasonal debuts.
Raymond Tusk returns to the scene of his decent runner-up effort to I Am Maximus in a competitive maiden hurdle in December – one of three unsuccessful tilts in that sphere – on the back of a four-length conditions race win at Doncaster last month.
The Barbury Castle handler insists the recent outing on the Flat will have done him good.
“He did not quite take to hurdling this year, although he ran OK,” said King of the seven-year-old, who will again be partnered by Martin Harley.
“He looked back to his old self a bit at Doncaster the other day. He seems to be in good shape since.
“I hope it does not dry up too much for him – good, good to soft would be ideal. It looked the obvious place to go after Doncaster. I think that may have done his confidence a bit of good.”
Red Verdon has also had an outing already this term. The nine-year-old drops back in trip having been beaten a neck on his reappearance over an extended two miles at Wolverhampton last week.
Ryan Moore, who won the Listed Esher Stakes aboard the gelded son of Lemon Drop Kid last July, renews the partnership.
Coach Ed Dunlop said: “He came out of his race well, when arguably unlucky the other day with his first run back.
“Of course it is competitive, but the horse is in good shape and we are very pleased with him. He is a lovely soul and would hope he would run well.”
William Haggas, who won this race in 2012 with Harris Tweed and again last year with Al Aasy, is represented by Ilaraab, who has to concede 3lb to his six rivals on his first run since landing the St Simon Stakes over course and distance last October .
Max Vega, who was a length behind that day off level weights, reopposes in the Group Three contest.
His trainer, Ralph Beckett, who took this race eight years ago with Cubanita, fears that watering to maintain the ground – officially described as good, good to soft in places – might not be enough.
“He would prefer a good drop more rain, but he is not going to get that,” Beckett said.
“I’m not sure we can turn around the form with Ilaraab even with a 3lb pull on this ground, but it is a good starting point and he is very well.”
The Charlie and Mark Johnston-trained Thunderous, who has not been seen since finishing fourth in the Hardwicke at Royal Ascot and has been subsequently gelded, and Queen’s Vase third Stowell, trained by John and Thady Gosden, also make their seasonal debuts.
Invite, the only filly in the race, completes the field.
Last seen chasing home Eshaada when fifth in the Group One British Champion Fillies & Mares Stakes at Ascot in October, trainer Andrew Balding feels she will be better with cut underfoot.
He said: “I’ve been very pleased with her over the winter. She is not the most exuberant work-horse but I’m happy with her fitness levels.
“Obviously, her best form is with genuine give in the ground and while they are saying it is still on the slower side of good, it obviously could be a little bit quicker come raceday.
“This looks a nice starting point for her and we are just looking to build for the rest of the season.
“She will really come into her own when we get genuine slower ground.”