Thyme Hill finished third in the Champion Bumper at the Cheltenham Festival last season and looks set to take high rank over hurdles this term based on his impressive success at Chepstow last month. Thyme Hill faced some experienced rivals when contesting the Grade 2 Persian War Novices’ Hurdle but he proved a cut above, winning with a good deal of authority. He was awarded the Timeform large P on the back of that performance – indicating significant improvement is expected – and he is an exciting prospect. Dancing On My Own was beaten less than eight lengths by Klassical Dream in a Grade 1 at Leopardstown last season and is the biggest danger.
Mick Pastor beat a subsequent top-level winner by six lengths at Auteuil and is clearly the one to beat on his first start for Paul Nicholls. His French form looks the strongest on offer by some distance and he is expected to give his in-form yard another winner. Botox Has also showed ability in France and bolted up on his British debut, so is considered the leading danger.
Wholestone was the best of these over hurdles and has made a good start over fences, completing a simple task at Perth before taking a big step forward when runner-up here last month. He had a few of these rivals in behind on that occasion, when he was only run out of it close home, and he should go close if running to a similar level. Minella Warrior was six lengths behind Wholestone last time and is expected to chase him home.
Big River shaped well in the Ultima Handicap Chase and the Scottish Grand National on his final two starts last season and looks capable of scoring off this sort of mark. On both occasions he made eye-catching late headway, hinting at his boundless stamina, so he should be well suited by these testing conditions. Welsh Grand National runner-up Ramses de Teillee has developed a likeable profile and should give a good account after making the most of a nice opportunity over hurdles last time.
Count Meribel made an encouraging return to action when runner-up to Lostintranslation at Carlisle last month and looks to hold strong claims. He won a novice chase over this C&D last season, so the trip and track are clearly not a problem, and he also has strong form on testing ground. He looks to be on a fair mark and can give trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies a fifth win in this race. This is a competitive event and plenty can be given a chance, including Slate House, who bolted up on his return here, and Siruh du Lac, who proved most progressive last season, winning all four outings.
This is the stiffest test Eva’s Oskar will have faced, but he has progressed rapidly this season and is expected to take the step up in class in his stride. The form of his latest success at Chepstow was given a boost by the runner-up (who looked set to win at Exeter before effectively pulling himself up) and there could be more to come from the progressive five-year-old. The veteran Vieux Lion Rouge arrives on the back of a win over fences at Chepstow and looks well treated in this sphere.
Jatiluwih has won all four starts since joining Philip Hobbs from France and looks fairly treated on his handicap debut. He will need to improve again if he is to extend his unbeaten record, but the authority with which he won at Wetherby last time certainly suggested there was more to come if required. He gets the verdict over Legends Gold, who is also on a winning streak and bolted up last time.
Midnight Callisto justified good support to make a winning debut over shorter at Fontwell, and, while this represents a much sterner test of stamina, she’s bred to stay well. She looked a useful prospect on her first start and can follow up here for the in-form Anthony Honeyball stable. Legends Ryde has been progressive in bumpers and heads the list of dangers.
12:05 Thyme Hill
12:40 Mick Pastor
13:50 Big River
14:25 Count Meribel
15:00 Eva’s Oskar
16:00 Midnight Callisto
* All odds correct at time of posting.