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The pick on form, CHAMPAGNE RHYTHM, also has the advantage of course experience and looks the one to beat. Ranieri, De Young Warrior and Franco D’Aunou, who finished a place behind the selection over course and distance last time, all have place claims. But, the biggest danger could come from Paul Nicholls’ hurdling debutant Pozo Emery.
All these carry risks of one kind or another, but a chance is taken that today’s marked drop in distance enables MY WAY to gain an overdue first success over fences. Bryony Frost, the only rider to have won on him, is back on board. The other seven-year-old Esprit Du Large could be the biggest danger.
Storm Arising and Farrants Way ran very well when placed in the same event at Sandown last month, but this might go to last season’s runner-up CLYNE – who returned to form with a second at Haydock three weeks ago and remains well handicapped. Ask Dillon and the improving Exploiteur can also feature.
An intriguing encounter between several promising juveniles. Gary Moore’s Nassalam has routed two thin fields at Fontwell and could be anything. Adagio met stronger opposition at Cheltenham on his second start and already seems genuine and reliable, while Yggdrasil is open to plenty of improvement and should finish closer to Elham Valley this time.
The selection is the ex-French HOUX GRIS, who showed he handles heavy ground when winning at Auteuil last time and represents a stable with a fine recent record in this race.
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The most solid option appears to be the very lightly raced ASK ME EARLY, whose course and distance win on heavy going five weeks ago contained plenty of promise. Hold That Taught should not be far away, but a greater threat may come from chasing debutant Highland Hunter if he takes to this new discipline.
It’s hoped that EASY AS THAT will jump better than was the case on his hurdling debut at Bangor, but he should come on for that experience and he looked well above average in winning both his bumpers. Witness Protection is feared most after only narrowly failing to defy his penalty at Wetherby, though Can You Call is entitled to have some say and Neon Moon is another nice prospect.
Secret Reprieve could be named the winner a long way out in the Welsh National Trial here and he didn’t merely win, he routed his opponents. That makes him very well handicapped today but the Trial was over nearly 3m, while the National itself is over an extended 3m 6f and the ground will probably be extreme.
Proven stamina is preferred, which Springfield Fox does not bring either, for all that he shaped like a thorough stayer last season and there is a niggling doubt over his jumping. The vote goes instead to CHRISTMAS IN APRIL (NAP) whose sparkling win over this trip on heavy ground in the Devon National is a very persuasive piece of evidence.
Lord Du Mesnil is another big player if you forget what he’s done in unfavourable circumstances this season and focus instead on what he delivered in major races in the mud at 3m 4f and 3m 6f last term.
The handicap debutantes Doyannie and Poniente have plenty of potential, but WHITEOAK FLEUR has taken her form to a new level in recent weeks and appears to be thriving. Donald McCain’s mare has a worrying tendency to jump to her right but ought to cope well with today’s ground and gets the nod.
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