Espion got off the mark over hurdles at the third attempt last term, still green but suited by the step up in trip and ultimately winning decisively at Uttoxeter, forging clear after being shaken up on the flat. His reappearance run is best excused, all but coming down at the eighth and not persevered with once held. He remains with potential and, considering he ran well at this venue on just his second start over obstacles, he is an interesting contender.
Sevarano made good progress over hurdles last term, winning his first two starts of the season, and running even better in defeat subsequently, the pick of those performances coming when second in the EBF Final at Kempton in March. He has long appealed as the type to do even better as a chaser, so he is of real interest on his first attempt over fences.
Lord Of Kerak boasts a good pedigree – brother to a winner and half-brother to the very smart chaser Hell’s Kitchen – so he made obvious appeal ahead of his debut at Uttoxeter last month, and he duly shaped with abundant promise, initially posing a threat to the winner after the pace lifted but just undone by inexperience late on. He is open to significant improvement and is likely to win before too long.
A high-class Grade 1 winner over hurdles, If The Cap Fits made a successful debut over fences at Ffos Las last month, taking a while for the penny to drop but jumping with plenty of purpose later in the race, ultimately winning with plenty in hand. He remains open to further progression and should have little trouble landing the double.
An impressive winner on his sole start in bumpers, Mister Coffey made a smooth switch to hurdling on his first outing for Nicky Henderson at Newbury in December, looking something out of the ordinary as he showed good speed to leave his rivals behind late on. He failed to replicate that form at Huntingdon the following month, simply too free, but he is probably best afforded another chance given how exciting he had looked previously. The fitting of a hood should help with his greenness, and his opening mark looks on the lenient side.
An easy winner of the bet365 Gold Cup at this venue back in 2018, Step Back had edged down the weights due to a barren spell last season, but he got back on track at Wincanton last month, taking advantage of his falling mark to regain the winning thread. He was arguably seen to best effect on that occasion, but he clearly still retains his ability, and is certainly shortlist material from just 3 lb higher.
Paul Nicholls is enjoying a cracking start to the season, and, at the time of writing, has sent out four debutant bumper winners already this term, making it difficult to oppose Flemenstide. Purchased for €325,000 as a three-year-old, Flemenstide hails from the family of Master Minded, and makes obvious appeal ahead of his debut.
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