A good race for punters overall with just the one winner at a double figure price in the last ten years when Weird Al scored at 12/1 back in 2009. Barters Hill (15/8) heads the early betting for Ben Pauling after winning three bumpers and four races over hurdles before his only loss so far when fourth to Unowhatimeanharry at Cheltenham in the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurls at the Cheltenham Festival. Connections were bitterly disappointed that he failed to win that day but have always though he was going to be even better once he was sent chasing, and as long as he can jump (the great unknown ahead of his debut over the larger obstacles), then he certainly has the looks of a chaser and could well win this on his way to the RSA Chase at the Festival 2017 if all goes according to plan, and with his stable hitting a 57% strike rate at present we can certainly understand why he tops the early markets.
Unfortunately, his price is ludicrous in the circumstances and we far prefer the chances of Its’ afreebee (5/1) who has already proved he can jump a fence for trainer Harry Skelton after easily winning his only race over fences so far at Fakenham over fences last month over two miles five. The six-year-old made all the running that day and barely touched a twig and if harry Skelton tries the same tactics here he can keep out of trouble and dictate the pace of the race at leisure which may well spell trouble for the three milers who may not have the speed to cope if he refuses to make this a test of stamina.
The list of high quality horses just goes on with Philip Hobbs declaring Rock The Kasbah (6/1) and if he can match his hurdling mark over fences he would be another major player. Rated 152 over the smaller obstacles he has only had one race over fences at Chepstow when winning by a couple of lengths from Our Kaempfer despite hitting one or two and is another who will be better over further in the long run and may find one or two a bit quick for him here which in turn could force mistakes.
Nicky Henderson has decided to rely on O O Seven (6/1) and the six-year-old son of Flemensfirth brings some rock solid hurdling form to this party including wins at Huntingdon, Sandown and Musselburgh a well as an eighth to Yorkhill in the Neptune Hurdle at the 2016 Cheltenham Festival. That form is decent enough but leaves him a little short of some of these though fences and hurdles are obviously not the same, and he may well go on to be better over fences and certainly looks as if that may be the case.
Our close friend Nigel Twiston-Davies will be hoping for a big run from Flying Angel (9/1) who won by sixteen lengths on his debut over fences at Perth before falling last time out at Chepstow in a race won by Rock The Kasbah, looking well and truly beaten at the time. He may well be the sort to improve with experience but looks up against it here in this class and connections may well be happy if they can walk away with a place.