A competitive handicap to get stuck in to and Cassells Rock (28/1) looks to have been saved for this race by A J Martin since winning a small hurdles race back in August 2015 off 3lb lower. He’s been running in competitive races on the Flat recently, including the Cesarewitch where he was sent off 25/1, and while he was well beaten on his last start at the Curragh he’s always been a better horse on better ground. Conditions should suit him down to the ground and he’s capable of putting in a big run at a very big Each Way price.
Edward Harty’s Sort It Out (12/1) was up there with the leaders throughout last year’s renewal, grabbing the lead after the last fence and holding off the strong staying Arbre de Vie to win by a length. He brought plenty of good form into the race last year, having won three of his last four runs and finishing second to Wicklow Brave in the Vincent O’Brien at Cheltenham in the other. But it’s been a different story this season, where he finished fourteenth in a two mile Grade Three at Ascot on his reappearance in December, before coming fourth out of eight behind Value At Risk on his last run in a Grade Two at Fairyhouse. He’s dropping down in class for this one and will hope to put in a good showing as he looks to defend his title.
Desoto County (8/1) will be attempting a run over 20 furlongs for the first time in this race, but judging by his performances this season, it’s hard to tell whether he will be able to stay the trip. He won at Thurles over two miles in December and looked strong at the end of that race, pulling clear of a modest field to win by over a length. However, he finished weakly on firmer ground when coming fifth and sixth in competitive handicaps at the start of the season and on his two most recent runs in much higher company, he was very one-paced over the final few furlongs, coming third behind Henry Higgins over two miles at Leopardstown, before finishing fourth behind Clondaw Warrior over the same trip on his last outing. I’m sure Gordon Elliott has his reasons for moving him up in trip, it will be very interesting to see how he goes.
Noel Meade will be hoping De Name Escapes Me (16/1) will build on his last outing at Punchestown, when he finished third behind Sandymount Duke over this distance on his maiden hurdling appearance last summer. Since then, has finished first on both of his last two starts, winning a very competitive two miler at Down Royal on decent ground, finishing one length ahead of the dangerous Space Cadet, before going up in trip to win over two and a half miles on softer ground at Fairyhouse, beating a modest field by five lengths when going off as the 11/10 favourite. He’s had a nice break since that November victory and back on his favoured better ground, he should have a big chance.
Waxies Dargle (20/1) was a disappointing ninth in the Killashee at last year’s festival, but after some good recent results, he could be primed for a much higher finish this time around. He was third in the Greatwood at Cheltenham in November, then after a poor patch of form at the start of the year, he put together two good runs in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury and in the Coral Cup, finishing fifth and sixth respectively, going off as a 33/1 shot on both occasions. He stayed well at Cheltenham, in what was his first crack at two and a half miles and the seven year old will come into this race well under the radar. He is certainly capable of a springing a surprise.
The Romford Pele (28/1) was third behind Operating and Road To Riches on his last visit to Punchestown, sparking a run of form that saw him win all of his next three races, including over this distance in a Class Three handicap at Worcester. He returned from an injury lay-off at the start of this season, but it’s taken him a while to get back up to speed. The nine year old finished well ahead of future winners Camping Ground and The Young Master when coming third behind Thistlecrack at Cheltenham in January, before finishing eighth in the Coral Cup behind Diamond King. He had a crack at this year’s Grand National, but Trevor Whelan was unseated at the eighth and it’s unlikely this was ever a primary target for his season.