The list of winners from the past ten years for this two mile Festival trial is a “who’s who“ of the chasing greats with the likes of Al Ferof, Captain Conan, Dodging Bullets, and Garde La Victoire in recent years, and this year’s renewal looks as hot as any and well worth watching for future reference. Paul Nicholls continue in fine form with eleven winners from his last forty-four runners for a 25% strike rate and as he has won this contest five times in the last ten renewals, his runners deserve a mention in any race preview. He had only entered the two horses for a change and now relies on Le Prezien (4/5) who will no doubt try to use his fitness edge to try and find a way to see off the favourite. The best of his hurdling form may not be as god as some but what we do know is he can jump a fence after he finished second to Charbel at Uttoxeter over two miles on his fencing debut. With the better early declarations out he seems to have been gifted this prize in our eyes and ought to take this contest with the minimum of fuss.
Nicky Henderson was going to run Altior here but has decided to rely on Hammersly Lake (11/1) instead and he could still get in to the mix at the finish. Three races over fences have seen a fall at Fakenham, a win at Market Rasen, and a fifth to Rock The Kasbah at Chepstow, but they were all over further than this two miles and others may have too much speed for him over this trip.
Irish trainer Henry De Bromhead had a few entries but now runs the two, with Richard Johnson riding Three Stars (13/2) at the top of the weights as he looks to land his hat-trick after victories at Listowel and more recently at Punchestown. In all honesty that form doesn’t really look quite up to this, especially when you consider he has to give weight away all round, but beauty is as beauty does and he seems to jump well enough before taking it up a long way out and it will be interesting to see if the same tactics are employed this afternoon.
Unfortunately, the stable have also decided to run Some Plan (9/2) here and he looks to be the stable number one with David Mullins booked to ride. Although a decent enough handicap hurdler he would be about a stone below the best of these over hurdles but did win on his chasing bow by seven lengths at Punchestown though he also hit a few fences on his way around and if he does that his chances could very quickly disappear in this class of contest.
To round things off, Colin Tizzard has had six winners from just the twenty-nine runners in the past two weeks for a £23.10 level stakes profit to £1 and he runs Mick Thonis (18/1) who looks up against it. His hurdling form would leave him with an awful lot to find but he caught the eye on his chasing debut here over half a mile further when runner up to the highly regarded Shantou Village, making the running until headed three out and if jockey Aidan Colema employs the same tactics here he could have them all off the bridle if able to skip the field over this shorter trip.