Ena Baie has acquitted herself well in a couple of competitive handicaps since winning at Southwell in June, most recently producing a career best to be beaten just a length at Leopardstown’s Christmas meeting.
On that evidence, she remains potentially well treated from only 3 lb higher and is well worth supporting in this valuable prize, with the prospect of even better to come after only five starts over hurdles.
Aspire Tower has looked an above-average prospect in two starts over hurdles to date, having little difficulty in dispatching a couple of useful sorts in a Grade 2 over this C&D last time, making all the running to beat a subsequent winner by 17 lengths.
Henry de Bromhead’s charge powered on relentlessly that day to clock a time that stacked up well against others on the card, and, with further improvement on the cards, he rates the clear one to beat in this Grade 1 prize before a tilt at the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Easywork maintained his unbeaten record over hurdles with a dominant success at Limerick on Boxing Day, jumping fluently and looking the sort to hold his own in graded company as he forged clear in the straight.
Admittedly, this represents an altogether different test, dropping back to two miles on his first foray into Grade 1 company, but he clearly has a big engine and is fancied to confirm himself an exciting prospect by bringing up the hat-trick.
Silver Sheen has improved with each start over hurdles and took his form to another level when completing the hat-trick at Warwick last time, striking on his first start in handicap company in gutsy fashion. He looked beaten when shuffled back on the home turn but rallied well and stayed on strongly to lead again in the dying strides.
Clearly on a sharp upward curve, he may yet have even more to offer, especially when there is an even greater emphasis on stamina, and a 3 lb higher mark than last time shouldn’t prove beyond him.
Faugheen has demonstrated that he retains plenty of ability with a pair of chase wins at Punchestown and Limerick this season, with the fan favourite having taken to fences like a natural at the age of 12. His latest success in Grade 1 company saw him produce a high-class performance to beat Samcro by 10 lengths, the pair having the race between them from four out before Faugheen powered clear in the straight.
That form comfortably sets the standard here on Timeform ratings, and, still open to more improvement after only two starts over fences, Willie Mullins’ charge looks sure to take plenty of beating once again.
Kemboy identified himself as a leading contender for top honours in this division with a hat-trick of Grade 1 wins in 2018/19, including when beating stablemate Al Boum Photo in the Punchestown Gold Cup last May.
Admittedly, he was below that form when only fourth behind Delta Work in the Savills Chase over C&D last time, but he is entitled to improve with that first run of the season under his belt, and, Timeform’s joint-highest rated chaser in training (along with Cyrname), there is no doubt he is the class act in this field if returning to his best.
At The Acorn failed to trouble the judge in his first four starts over fences, but he left those efforts behind with a much-improved display at Fairyhouse last time, taking it up on the run to five out and always in control from there, ultimately winning with more in hand than the official margin would suggest.
Still relatively lightly raced in the context of this race, Tony Martin’s charge sneaks in at the bottom of the weights and is fancied to find the progress necessary to play a leading role.
Castra Vetera made a promising start to her career when winning a Fairyhouse bumper in December, handling the conditions testing well as she stayed on strongly in the final furlong to land the spoils by seven lengths.
The bare form of that effort gives her a bit to find with the penalised Bigbadandbeautiful on Timeform ratings, but she arguably has more scope for improvement than that rival and is fancied to make the weight difference between the pair count in an interesting finale.