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Paul Nicholls won this race 12 months ago with Bravemansgame, so STAGE STAR looks an intriguing runner in this year’s renewal and will likely prove hard to beat judged by his impressive hurdling debut at Cheptstow in October. He was one of the best around in bumpers last season and made a seamless transition to hurdles, quickly asserting away from his rivals and winning with any amount in hand.
Stage Star is open to significant improvement now and will prove hard to beat. Bumpy Johnson’s form is on an upward curve and he is rated next best, with Nicky Henderson’s newcomer Kincardine not taken lightly either in a fascinating opener.
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Only four runners, but this is an intriguing race where a case can be made for them all. However, slight preference is for TEA CLIPPER, who was a useful hurdler and looks like he can develop into an even better chaser this season.
He jumped well in the main and showed a good attitude to get the job done, rallying well and was pulling clear in the closing stages. He looks a sure-fire improver now and is worthy of his place in this grade. Nassalam also looked a good prospect when making a winning chasing bow at Ascot and looks an obvious danger with his healthy weight-for-age allowance.
This race revolves around JONBON, who cost £540,000 and is a brother to top-class Douvan. He created a deep impression when making a winning start under Rules in a bumper at this track on his sole start last season, and he is a most intriguing runner now switched to hurdles for top connections. This is no walk in the park though, with Good Risk At All and Boombawn both interesting contenders – especially the former who boasts some very strong bumper form.
MISTER COFFEY progressed into a useful hurdler last season, making a mockery of his mark on handicap debut at Sandown, and improving in defeat afterwards – his best effort coming on his final start when hitting the frame in a Grade 3 Handicap at Aintree’s Grand National meeting. A tall, imposing type, he is very much the type to progress further over fences, and looks most interesting for a top yard. Solo got firmly back on track when just denied at Ascot on his chasing debut and is an obvious threat.
A competitive handicap where several make appeal, but it is UMBRIGADO who tops the shortlist. He proved most progressive over fences last season, completing a hat-trick in the Greatwood Gold Cup over course and distance in March before running below form in a Grade 1 at Aintree on his final start.
He has since shaped well in a couple of pipe-openers over hurdles, and this has likely been his early-season target. He remains well handicapped from just 2lbs higher than his last win at this course and a big run is expected. Top-weight Fanion d’Estruval is likely to be sharper for his return, so rates the main threat.
PAISLEY PARK didn’t quite hold the same dominance over hurdles last season, but he still managed to win the Long Walk at Ascot and is sure to strip fitter for his seasonal reappearance at Wetherby last month. He wasn’t suited by a slow pace that day, hitting his customary flat spot and unable to recover. Cheekpieces are an interesting addition and he looks the one to beat again in this contest.
EYEOFTHESCORPION took another step forward on his reappearance at Ffos Las last month and it would be no great surprise if he improved further to get back to winning ways in a race that should suit. One For You also has an upwardly-mobile profile, so he’s feared and a solid showing is expected from Polish.
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