Willie Mullins 10-year-old has won both his starts this season and will relish the testing conditions at Prestbury Park.
Mullins has also declared Douvan, but he is due to run in the Queen Mother Champion Chase 24 hours earlier.
Nicky Hendersons eight-year-old, unbeaten over obstacles, looks like the meetings class act and beat Polotlogue, who had been making hay in his absence, with such contemptuous ease on his belated reappearance after a wind operation at Newbury last month that not even the heavy ground should stop him today.
One should not be put-off by his momentary lameness due to some pus in his frog, the fleshy V on the underside of his foot, on Monday and if he gets beaten a poison frog is unlikely to be top of Nicky Hendersons list of excuses – however exotic that sounds.
In years gone by numerous big race winners will have suffered similar hiccups that late on in training – it will just not have been reported. But in the day and age of mobile phones, the ability to lay horse to lose at the press of a button, and the demand for transparency, Henderson fulfilled his duty to let the public know as soon as Patricia Pughs gelding had taken a lame step.
Of course one should not need any reminding of the salutary lessons handed out by Festival good things in the past; that certainties do not exist. You only have to go back 12 months to Douvan, in this race last year, for evidence of that. Those who had backed him at 2-9 knew their fate a long time before he trailed in seventh behind Special Tiara, lame with a fractured pelvis.
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It will be a remarkable training performance by Willie Mullins if he can get him back to win or, even, put it up to Altior without a run for a year and having virtually decided to draw stumps with him for the season before Christmas.
One suspects Mullins has been treading on eggshells with him and a fortnight ago he was still sufficiently worried about putting the gun to head in his final gallops. But Walsh has sided with him over stable companion Min who, in his absence has risen to the number one spot in Ireland.
“He was still able to exercise in the water treadmill this morning, which he regularly does anyway, and a poultice will now be applied and left on overnight to draw out the puss.”
Mins form ties in closely with Simply Ned and, as much as one respects the Cumbrian chaser, he is not a Champion Chaser. For a long shot to follow Altior home it might pay to go with Ordinary World. Henry de Bromhead knows a thing or two about winning this race and, though Ordinary World does not win often, he was a threat to Min last time when making a mistake at the last.
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If Altior has already proved himself to certain extent, already winning twice at the meeting, this is the day of reckoning for Samcro who has already been described as the second coming. Gordon Elliotts six-year-old has looked imperious in three starts over hurdles. The jumping, the cruising, the turn of foot – it all looks so easy for him and he may yet be another Arkle in waiting.
Owned by pantomime villain Michael OLeary and trained by Gordon Elliott he can no more be regarded as the small mans horse than Faugheen but he will nevertheless be Irelands flag-bearer and expect a Danoli-like reception if he wins the Ballymore Novice Hurdle.
He will be no price, however, and it may pay to oppose him or at least go each-way on Colin Tizzards Vision Des Flos, an expensive disappointment to the Potts family until a wind operation seemingly turned him round and he romped home by 31 lengths at Exeter last time. When asked by the trainer why he had won so far, Tom Scudamore replied that he was still running away up the run-in.
Cheltenham labels Wednesday Ladies Day and Bryony Frost can give that added resonance by winning the RSA Insurance Novice Chase on Black Corton with whom she has struck up a remarkable understanding. The Irish will be keen on last years Pertemps winner Presenting Percy and the lovely Monalee but Black Corton appeared to add a turn of foot to his repertoire at Ascot last time and he is the one to beat.
This year he runs Sub Lieutenant, who finished second 12 months ago, and Galway Plate winner Balko Des Flos. Both are trained by Henry De Bromhead.
Despite owner Michael OLearys efforts to quash the hype, SAMCRO arrives with a sizeable reputation and his racecourse performances say that he deserves it. He has won all three hurdles races easily, including a Grade One at Leopardstown, and there is a strong suspicion we have yet to see just how could he is. Vision Des Flos showed the benefit of a wind operation when turning a competitive Exter Listed race into a procession and should ensure Samcro earns his prize. Black Op represents the team that won Tuesdays first race and they will have a solid line to novice form. Neither ground noir track are an issue. Next Destination finished third in last years Champion Bumper here and has built on that level of form over hurdles. His Grade I success at Naas last time was achieved with authority and we know that he can battle when needed.
Michael OLearys Ryanair sponsor the race but his Gigginstown House Stud have never managed to win it, despite going close on several occasions.
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The versatility of PRESENTING PERCY is rare in a staying chaser and that quality suggests he is a cut above the average. His progressive chase form over three miles plus is enough to put him in with a solid shout anyway, but it was his latest performance, when chasing home the smart Our Duke over 2½ miles that underlines his class. The trip would have been plenty sharp enough for Presenting Percy – he had won over 3m 5f two runs earlier – yet he traded blows with a horse that is third favourite for Fridays Timico Gold Cup.
There will be plenty of interest in Black Corton, the mount of Bryony Frost. The pair have formed a formidable team this season and should be thereabouts. Elegant Escape has stamina as his strong suit and should make a bold show. Ballyoptic is too inconsistent to have too much faith in but there is no denying his ability.
TOPOFTHEGAME fits the usual profile of winners in this trappuy puzzle in that he is relatively lightly-raced and progressive. He has also shown form here as have 80 per cent of the winners during the past 10 years. The manner in which he travelled easily and then stayed on strongly at Sandown last time has the mark of a smart performer who is ahead of his mark. William Henry beat Topofthegameinto fourth place at Kempton in january but that fast track and a lack of pace in the race were against the selection and he should turn the tables. Mount Mews reverts to hurdles after some disappointing chase efforts and would have claims on his best form, were he to be reinvigorated by the smaller obstacles.
ALTIOR, late injury scare or not, is definitely the one to beat. Much has been made of the wind operation that prevented him returning to racecourse action until Newbury last month, but it was a minor procedure that he underwent. Altior showed the problem was behind him when soon putting Politologue to the sword that day and winning by four lengths. This was a fine display – close to his best previous form – as Politologue had been in the ascendancy with three smart wins in top class races to his credit. Douvan has something to prove and has not been seen since sustaining a serious injury in this race a year ago. Min, who clocked a decent time at Leopardstown last time, could prove a bigger threat.
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Previous experience of this tricky cross country course is always invaluable and there is no shortage of proven performers in this tight field. perhaps the most progressive is BLESS THE WINGS and he is a tentative choice. Cause of Causes, Cantlow and Josies Orders all have similar sorts of claims. The Last Samuri, a smart horse at Aintree, is interesting.
THE KING OF MAY ran a cracker on his first run in this country when a staying on third in a hot race at Musselburgh and can take advantage of a decent mark, especially as this stiffer track will suit. Eragon De Chanay makes a quick reappearance after scooting up at Sandown last Saturday and would assuredly have had more than a 5lb penalty is the Handicapper had been in possession of that form when framing these weights. Turning Gold and Mercenaire have place claims.
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This is never a race to be confident of solving as there is always so much untapped talent waiting to appear. ACEY MILAN has plenty of experience and has shown smart speed for a bumper horse. The Irish have won six to Great britains four in the past 10 years. Blackbow and Felix Desy look their principal hopes this time around.