Fraser Island was a fairly useful winner on the Flat for Mark Johnston and looked a smart recruit to hurdles when scoring by 11 lengths on his debut at Newbury last month. There should be plenty more to come from Nicky Henderson’s new inmate and he will likely be tough to beat in this card opener.
A fairly useful hurdler/chaser in France, Saint Xavier was below form when seventh in a Cheltenham Grade 2 last month, but was presumably just having a pipe-opener, and should arrive here much sharper for that run. This looks a decidedly easier task for the French recruit, on just his second outing for Paul Nicholls, and he is expected to be too strong for both of his rivals.
After a trio of quiet runs over hurdles, Sammy Bill has improved markedly since being switched to fences, winning by an impressive 11 lengths at Kempton on his chase debut, before landing an Aintree handicap with loads to spare last month. He is up in the weights again following his most recent success but is clearly the one to beat, so is a confident choice to land the hat-trick.
Top Notch is a high-class chaser with an excellent strike rate. He came out on top with a gutsy display at Aintree in November after seven month off and followed up at Huntingdon the following month, underlining that he is a formidable and versatile force just below top level. He won this race by five lengths last year and he is taken to defend his crown and make it three from three this season.
Notre Pari looked to appreciate the step up in trip, and the switch to a more galloping track, when getting off the mark at Aintree on his handicap debut last month. He may have only beaten mostly exposed sorts, but he did so in a style that suggests there could be plenty more to come as he continues his progression. He is an upwardly mobile six-year-old who proved his opening mark to be a lenient one, and looks to have a good chance of following up off 8 lb higher.
On The Blind Side is without a win this term but he posted a good second at Ascot last month, chasing home the high-class Riders Onthe Storm. This is a less demanding task and, considering he is already proven over three miles, it looks a good opportunity for him to open his account for the season.
Never Adapt joined Nicky Henderson’s yard after a successful debut in a newcomers hurdle in France and showed plenty of ability on her British debut. She pulled her way into a clear lead at Cheltenham in November 2018, before a mistake, and her headstrong nature, cost her a first win for her new stable. She improved again after 13 months off, again at Cheltenham, going like the best-handicapped horse in the race, and nearly getting away with pulling hard throughout, but ultimately finishing third for the second consecutive race. She is obviously capable of much better and looks by far the best handicapped sort in this race, so is taken to get off the mark in the UK at the third time of asking.