A valuable early-season prize for four-year-olds who could be hard to place later in the season, and the one to beat is ALLMANKIND, who was the best of these last year. A bold front-running sort, he won his first three starts over hurdles – notably the Prestbury Juvenile Hurdle over course and distance and the Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow. Allmankind did too much too soon when last seen in the Triumph and remains with the potential for better this year.
Southfield Theatre is a solid operator who has the best form on offer, but he could prove vulnerable to chasing debutant PILEON, who was very progressive over hurdles last season. He won novice events at Catterick and Ffos Las and proved better than ever when an excellent second in the Martin Pipe at the Cheltenham Festival last time. A recruit from the pointing field, Pileon looks very interesting now having his attentions switched to fences, and he looks the one to side with in receipt of 5lb from his rivals.
A typically competitive handicap where several have plenty to recommend them, but the one that tops the list is NEVILLE’S CROSS. He shaped well in three starts over hurdles last season, but has improved significantly since sent handicapping and stepped up in trip.
Neville’s Cross was always travelling well when making a winning return at Uttoxeter last month, and looked a smart prospect when bolting up by 20 lengths at Hereford 11 days ago, recording an excellent timefigure in the process. There is more improvement in him, and he still looks competitively handicapped.
This is the strongest race that MANOFTHEMOUNTAIN has contested, but he has done little wrong so far, winning all of his completed starts over fences. There was plenty of support around for him on his return from nine months off at Bangor last month, and he never gave his backers much to worry about – typically travelling well and jumping soundly in the main. The manner of that success suggests he has even more to offer and a subsequent 8lb rise may not be enough to stop him.
STREETS OF DOYEN has been rampant in Ireland of late, winning his last three starts, not needing to be at his very best to complete a hat-trick back in novice company at Cork last week. He was perhaps a little fortunate too, the long-time leader seemingly finding just as much as Streets of Doyen in the closing stages before falling at the last. Still, the level of form Streets of Doyen has shown makes him a leading player here, and Richard Johnson is a positive booking.
A typically wide-open amateur riders’ event and it may pay to take a punt on the seven-year-old mare OSCA LOCA. A comprehensive winner of a mares’ hunter at Cork in 2019, she shaped well with a view to returning to chasing when sixth over hurdles at Chepstow and the step back up in trip promises to suit. Call Me Vic, who was prolific in points when last seen, may prove the biggest danger for Fergal O’Brien who has a good recent record in the race.
SMURPHY ENKI spreadeagled his field when making a sparkling winning debut in a bumper at Wincanton when last seen in March – looking a smart recruit – so is taken to make a winning return in this much tougher contest for the excellent Chris Gordon team. Nicky Henderson landed this contest 12 months ago and his well-bred newcomer I Am Maximus is feared most.
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