This fantastic juvenile event is still known to most of us as the Fred Winter, another notoriously tough betting handicap.
Not only do we have 22 runners to look through, but we must also keep in mind that every trainer involved will have trained their horses to peak here meaning that past form isn’t so reliable.
Throw into the mix the fact that as lightly-raced four-year-olds we haven’t seen them in a race this tough as yet and you have great difficulties to face in narrowing this field down.
Narrow it down we have though, with these six being our picks against the field:
Although we took the decision to drop Brazil and Petit Tonnerre from our list, JP McManus is still represented by Champion Green and in fact he carries the first-choice colours.
Champion Green is trained by Joseph O’Brien and is ridden by Rachael Blackmore, more ticks in more boxes, while his maiden hurdle win at Naas in January reads well in the context of this race.
He made all there against 17 rivals, but still came away an easy winner and showed that he has plenty more to give yet.
Gordon Elliott is clearly looking to come back with a bang this year and his Ebasari gives him another major chance.
His stable and hurdling debut in January is what gives him a chance. The form of that opening win makes him look well treated if allowing for the usual natural progression, though enthusiasm is tempered slightly by the fact that he has run twice since and has been soundly beaten both times.
A most fascinating contender. Many will wonder why a horse who hasn’t raced outside of France, makes his stable debut and hasn’t been seen for nine months is such a short price in the betting. But look closer and you’ll see a horse with a major shout.
Beaten on all three starts in France, Gaelic Warrior has been handed a rather lowly handicap mark of 129. He’s been snapped up by Rich Ricci, sent to Willie Mullins and will be guided round by Paul Townend.
Based on the form of some of the horses he finished near in France, he is indeed a well handicapped type. With the greatest of respect to his former yard, we also expect plenty of improvement now for being with Willie Mullins, for going on better ground and having no doubt strengthened up since last seen. Big chance.
Paul Nolan’s Galileo colt has gone 321 since sent hurdling. He has finished close to Pied Piper and The Tide Turns and won last time so his form is not in question at all.
What we have to attempt to work out is whether or not he needs the ground softer than he’ll face here and whether his handicap mark is a workable one in a race of this nature.
128 doesn’t seem too big and we can take a chance on the ground, keeping HMS Seahorse on the list.
Jane Williams sends this one from Devon and he is not without a chance at all.
A winner both on debut and last time out at Warwick in preparation for this, in between Saint Segal was an impressive second in the Grade 1 Coral Finale at Chepstow so he’s up for this sort of level at least.
He was handed a mark of 126 for that run, one that may still underestimate him in our opinion.
The Tide Turns
Although rated higher than some of the others on the list at 137, The Tide Turns isn’t necessarily badly handicapped as he has earned that rating.
The Tide Turns beat HMS Seahorse on his hurdling debut and was immediately sent into Grade 1 company next time.
Although beaten, he acquitted himself well behind Vauban and then simply couldn’t cope behind Champion Hurdle contender Teahuppo last time out.
Assuming conditions are right for him, The Tide Turns is a serious contender back against his own age group.
Those towards the top of the market may well be the ones to concentrate on.
There is plenty to like about The Tide Turns’ profile and he rates as a big danger and is a better price than the selection. However, Willie Mullins’ recruit GAELIC WARRIOR looks like being capable of at least the same level and yet gets into this race off a mark some 8lbs lower.