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Despite having penalties to carry, it is hard to get away from last-time-out winners RESTANDBETHANKFUL, Trailboss and Sufi, who may come home in that order. Ready preference is for Olly Murphy’s five-year-old, who made an encouraging hurdling debut before scoring at Market Rasen last time. King Ferdinand and Small Bad Bob may fare best of the rest.
Five-time chase winner Go Steady is the one with least to prove, but his latest 7lbs rise in the weights might leave him a shade vulnerable. Preference is for FORECAST, who ran well on last summer’s stable debut and returns from his latest break on a workable mark.
The one that appeals most is Nicky Henderson’s progressive five-year-old HOOPER, who beat a subsequent winner in a Cheltenham handicap last month and may well be able to strike again off his revised mark to make it 3-6 over hurdles.
The main threat could come from Twin Star, who looked a bit rusty at Newton Abbot, but went down fighting in second and is a big player if he can build on that. Others with each-way claims are the versatile pair Ballyellis and Some Day Soon.
The teenager Duke Of Navan hasn’t won for ages for, but Nicky Richards’ charge has enough about him to get to winning post here.
Hit The Bottle will be feared if strong in the betting before today’s debut for Dan Skelton, while Le Pogues Storm was the subject of a big market move before last week’s short-lived stable debut over fences and also looks interesting.
However, SAN AGUSTIN shaped as though today’s step up will suit when grinding out victory over 2m 4f at Southwell on Wednesday and, with a good claimer booked today, he might complete a quick double. Always Able is next on the list.
Strong cases can be made for recent Southwell winner Big Nasty and the in-form Flying Verse, but it may be worth taking a chance with BALLYEGAN HERO despite his record of 0-18 as a chaser. He stayed on well over a shorter trip last time, lurks on a lenient mark and won’t mind if the forecast rain arrives. Reve may appreciate the return to a flatter track and is another to consider.
The Fergal O’Brien-trained ULTIMATE FAME is a half-sister to stablemate and two-time bumper winner Ultimate Getaway, and she’s taken to make a winning start to her career. Fellow newcomer Mr Chill could be the main danger for the in-form Stuart Kittow. Second Subaltern has the best form, but ducked left and unseated John Reddington early on last month’s stable debut.
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