Fourteen are set to face the starter in tomorrow's Cheltenham Gold Cup (3.20), the highlight of the week.
On ratings last year's winner Bobs Worth has three pounds in hand over Silviniaco Conti, ten pounds over Last Instalment and more over the remainder of the field. Nicky Henderson's charge was beaten the best part of 40 lengths behind Cue Card on his seasonal debut in Haydock's Betfair Chase but bounced back to form to take the Lexus at Leopardstown. He remains unbeaten at Cheltenham in five runs.
In a TV interview Ruby Walsh told viewers that if the ground stays good, Bobs Worth wins, a reference to the fact that Silviniaco's chance would be better served by more cut underfoot. Bobs Worth looks the most likely winner but at around 2/1 Bobs Worth isn't worth a bet in my book and, to be honest, I'm struggling to find an each-way alternative at a price that makes some appeal.
McCoy has already given away the winners of the Champion Hurdle and the World Hurdle so far this week. In this race perhaps we shouldn't read too much into the fact he was released from the ride on Teaforthree by trainer Rebecca Curtis and has been snapped up by Nicky Henderson to steer the Hennessy winner Triolo D'Alene. This one worked well recently and still holds a Grand National entry... 20/1 for the Aintree showpiece next month, he's as low as 8/1 with Ladbrokes for this yet is rated some 22 pounds inferior to his stablemate.
Over the years The Giant Bolster has done this blog a good turn or two; on his day he's a talented individual (finished second at odds of 50/1 in the 2012 renewal) and he obliged nicely the last day but he's quirky and you can never be certain he'll turn up in the right mood. Tom Scudamore gets the best results but the jumping, fragile on occasions, could be shown up on quicker ground.
Triolo D'Alene (12/1 Paddy Power / bet365) is the best each-way shot I can come up with. At seven years of age there may be improvement to come and he'll certainly appreciate good ground.
The Albert Bartlett (2.40) is intriguing.
Briar Hill from Willie Mullins' yard puts his unbeaten record on the line; unsurprisingly he's a short price to emulate stablemates Vautour and Faugheen by coming home first in a novices' hurdle. The challenge from this side of the Irish Sea is headed by David Pipe's course and distance winner Kings Palace, Challow Hurdle winner Captain Cutter and Deputy Dan. The last-named took the Leamington Novices' Hurdle at Warwick in January but that day Mullins' Rathvinden (third in the Neptune on Wednesday) fell when well in contention and Killala Quay pulled up (subsequently fourth in the Neptune) which detracts a little from the form.
Quoting Mullins from the Weekender (5th March): 'He has to be one of our better hopes for the week.'
That said, on official ratings Kings Palace has nine pounds and upwards in hand over his field.
I've had my fingers burned earlier in the week opposing a Mullins hotpot (Faugheen) with a Pipe horse (Red Sherlock) but at the prices Kings Palace (7/2) is my play against the favourite while Captain Cutter's chance is respected.
And on the final day it's all to play for in the race for top rider with Walsh, Geraghty and Scudamore on three winners apiece...