HANDLING Catterick's notoriously sharp track is a tricky business, but it holds no fears for previous course and distance winner Barton Dante (1.00).

Mick Easterby's four-year-old won doing handsprings at the course in November, nipping around the top and bottom bends in greyhound-like fashion.

As a result of the victory she has to shoulder a 7lb penalty, although fortunately her mares' weight allowance of 5lb goes a long way to offsetting the extra burden in the Ampleforth Novices Hurdle.

The main danger is almost bound to come from Little Docker, trained by Mick's nephew, Tim.

Jockey Russ Garritty rode both horses on their most recent starts, but as he normally partners the majority of Tim's jumpers, it is not surprising Russ has opted to be reunited with Little Docker.

Little Docker's second placing to Benbyas at Wetherby received a major boost when the latter made all to score at Cheltenham. And using that contest as a yardstick, Little Docker will doubtless be installed as a very hot favourite, hopefully ensuring Barton Dante goes off at 3-1 or better.

There is a seasonal tip in the opener in the guise of Gem Of Holly (12.30).

Gem Of Holly is scheduled to be ridden by 23-year-old Laura Hislop, who booted home her first winner at Hexham last week on Harry Hooly.

With the adrenalin still pumping through her veins from that success, Laura can quickly double her tally aboard Gem Of Holly, a promising third at Market Rasen a fortnight ago.

There's nothing worse than finishing second, a fate to have befallen Pur Tresor (2.30) on his last couple of outings.

If there is a plus side, George Moore's chestnut has lost nothing in defeat, going down to the smart pair Mirjan and Jukanoo respectively.

As far as I can foresee there's no challengers of their calibre in the Christmas Time Hurdle, which could play into the hands of Pur Tresor, a habitual pace-setter on a track that eminently suits his ebullient style of running.

The Pipe/McCoy combination took a blow to the solar plexus when expensive purchase Magnus bit the dust at Newbury yesterday.

But they're never down for long and barring accidents the dynamic duo appear to hold plenty of the aces at Exeter via Polar Red (12.50), Carryonharry (1.50), and Ravenswood (3.50).

McCoy has also been snapped by neighbouring Somerset handler Philip Hobbs for Celtic Native (1.50), who surely only has to put in a clear round to collect the Christine Loze Birthday Novices Chase.

Fast ground at Ludlow means they'll be going helter-skelter throughout, putting even more of a premium than usual on safe jumping.

One candidate likely to stay on his feet is Forrest Tribe (1.10), down 20lb in the ratings since being trained by Mickey Hammond in 1999.

He's now with Willie Jenks, who seems to have rekindled the gelding's enthusiasm judged on Forrest Tribe's respectable third to Machalini at the track in October.

*An ante-post plunge on former smart Flat performer Prizeman may yet prove to be wide of the mark, the horse's trainer Nicky Henderson revealed yesterday.

The three-year-old gelding, formerly in the care of Richard Hannon, has been touted as a potential Triumph Hurdle type in some quarters and attracted support in the betting with Ladbrokes for the race this week.

But after seeing stablemate Green Ideal leap to the head of the betting at 20-1 with William Hill after winning on his jumps debut at Newbury yesterday, Henderson admitted to being surprised to hear of support for Prizeman.

''Green Ideal is a lovely horse who has only had two races on the Flat. He has still got so much to learn,'' said the trainer.

''If everything goes right and if the form looks good maybe we would look at the Triumph, but I wouldn't want to rush him.

''I have just been reading about Prizeman. I can't imagine where the money has come from as he has only just started schooling over poles. His feet have barely left the ground.''

The Triumph Hurdle may also be the target of Kelami, Francois Doumen's charge having gone down by 1 lengths to Green Ideal after a spirited battle.