Four winning favourites in the last ten years and just the two at a double figure price back in 2006 and 2007 suggest punters do well here and with star names such as Cue Card, Dodging Bullets, and Altior collecting first prize, this is rarely, if ever, won by anything other than a very good horse.
Looking at the early betting and David Pipe’s Moon Racer (15/8) seems sure to go off favourite after he won his first race over hurdles last time out. He had a close battle with Ballyandy, with the pair of them pulling 20 lengths clear of the rest of the field. That was his first attempt over obstacles after some solid bumper form that included the Cheltenham Champion Bumper in 2015. It will be interesting to see if he can go on from there and make up for lost time after a lengthy absence through injury and he does have that turn of foot we all like to see from the better horses.
We cannot claim to know who will improve the most for their first run of the season, but we do know that Nigel Twiston-Davies was not the best of company after Ballyandy (7/4) was beaten that day when a win was clearly very much expected. He won the Cheltenham Champion Bumper in 2016, so the pair have plenty in common. Today he will meet the winner on four pounds better terms for half a length, meaning that form really ought to be reversed, improvement accepted of course. We will obviously be speaking to Nigel ahead of the weekend and will get a better idea of his improvement on the home gallops.
Keep In Line (6/1) was a decent enough handicapper on the flat and has started well over hurdles, He is currently unbeaten after two starts at Huntingdon and Bangor, jumping better the second time when the race was run at a sensible pace rather than the crawl he faced at Huntingdon. He seems assured of a decent pace again here which will help, but this looks sure to be far tougher than anything he has faced as yet. It will be interesting to see how Alan King’s charge gets on this afternoon.
Eve Johnston Houghton is hardly renowned for her prowess at the winter game but she does have an interesting entry here in What About Carlo (25/1), a very useful handicapper on the flat with six wins in total at Goodwood, Sandown, Epsom and Newbury. Today is his first ever start over hurdles and he does look up against it in this sort of company but je is still worth a watching brief for the future as there are plenty of futures races in lesser company that he may well be able to mop up once we know if he can jump.
Despite numerous declarations, trainer Keith Dalgelish has decided to send Mirsaale (25/1) here and he could be interesting with Brian Harding in the saddle. Decent enough on the flat, he won his first two races over hurdles at Perth before coming unstuck at Chepstow when stepped up in trip to finish third to El Bandit when making most of the running before fading close home and he ought to be a lot happier back at this trip though perhaps not in this exalted company.