VIROFLAY was the best of these on the level when trained in France, and having joined powerful National Hunt connections. He rates a very interesting hurdles debutant for a yard that have tasted success in this race numerous times in recent years. Overpriced Mixer was well held on his debut for Nicky Henderson at Newmarket, but has presumably been purchased with jumping in mind and is feared most.
FAIRWAY FREDDY was the first runner of the year for the yard and shaped as though he’d come on for the run when third at Warwick last month. That was just his second start over fences, making some novicey mistakes, but still leaving the impression there is plenty more to come in this sphere. He makes a fair bit of appeal. Demon D’Aunou wasn’t seen to best effect when fifth at Perth last time, so looks the one to give Nick Gifford’s improver most to do.
FIDELIO VALLIS ended last season very much on the up, winning his last two starts and looking potentially smart when last seen, beating a subsequent winner with a fair bit in hand. There should be even more to come from him this season,
He makes plenty of appeal on his return from seven months off for a red-hot stable. Headstrong front runner For Pleasure conceded 10lb to a pair of bumper winners at Stratford last month and will ensure the selection doesn’t have it easy.
LOCKER ROOM TALK was beaten only by a couple of progressive subsequent winners when going for the hat-trick at Musselburgh on his final start last season. That looks solid form, and he will remain of interest from this sort of mark on his seasonal return. This does look competitive, though, with in-form pair Leapaway and Darling Maltaix heading the dangers.
VERDANA BLUE and Silver Streak have won this between them the last two years and stand out at the weights, the former getting the nod after her mighty run in the Ebor. She was a non-runner in the Cesarewitch at Newmarket recently, but she is a class act on her day over hurdles and, provided the ground isn’t too testing, she should take all the beating. The selection’s stablemate Brain Power also warrants consideration.
PONTRESINA was denied a winning chase debut in the stewards’ room at Fontwell last month, but that was a promising start to life over fences. He’s open to further progress in this sphere, so is fancied to gain compensation. Mr Mafia seemed to overdo the front-running tactics at Warwick last time, so probably remains in form and may provide the chief threat ahead of Top Decision.
SUNRISE RUBY returned to action with an impressive all-the-way success at Newton Abbot last month, banishing the memory of some short-priced defeats last season. That wasn’t a strong race, but this might not take much winning either, and she’s selected to follow up now in the groove. The Domino Effect is feared most.
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