Trust pair of Champs
Simon Holt previews Saturday's feature action from Chepstow and Leopardstown.
Sam Twiston-Davies looked a disappointed young man after being narrowly beaten aboard The New One at Kempton on Boxing Day but could emerge with a muddied smile on his face after partnering TOUR DES CHAMPS in Saturday's Coral Welsh Grand National at Chepstow.
Although a few pounds out of the handicap and set to race off a mark of 137, this strong-staying six-year-old was officially rated 139 at one stage last season and has been far from disgraced in two outings so far this term on good ground behind Balthazar King and Alvarado in staying tests at Cheltenham.
Looking at his form overall, Tour Des Champs seems better with some give underfoot and, albeit in an uncompetitive affair, won in heavy going at Ffos Las last February which bodes well for his handling of what could be extreme conditions here.
Stamina should not be an issue and he has already run well in one 'National', finishing fourth behind Godsmejudge in the Scottish version over four miles and a furlong at Ayr in April. Open to further improvement and, he looks a cracking each-way bet at a big price for the Twiston Davies team.
While saddled with top weight, Tidal Bay is not one to dismiss lightly even though 11st12lb will take some carrying in the deep ground.
Although now well into the veteran stage, this classy hurdler/chaser retains plenty of ability and this staying test ought to suit him well. It was only 12 months ago (to the day) that he was winning at Grade One level in the Lexus Chase and a reappearance win over hurdles at Wetherby was accomplished stylishly
Further down the weights, Merry King should also go well after staying-on in fifth - one place behind Highland Lodge - in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury where ground conditions would have been lively enough for both horses.
And last year's runner-up Teaforthree is certainly another to consider and, given his fine third subsequently behind Auroras Encore at Aintree, is becoming a popular horse.
However, up 9lb since being beaten narrowly by Monbeg Dude and making his seasonal debut here (he needed his first two outings last term), there may be better days for him later in the season when the Grand National will presumably again be his chief target.
There shouldn't be much between Hey Big Spender and Vintage Star who fought out a good finish in the Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle recently while Well Refreshed also has a big shout on his long-distance win in heavy ground at Haydock last season providing he can put in a clean round of jumping.
Irish raider Goonyella has been prominent in the ante-post betting and is another who should stay very well having won at this distance in heavy ground at Punchestown in April while Knock A Hand and Mountainous both represent the Richard Lee yard which sent out Le Beau Bai to score two years ago.
At Leopardstown, the Lexus Chase provides a fascinating rematch between Bobs Worth and SIR DES CHAMPS, first and second in last season's Cheltenham Gold Cup.
However, both horses have made unsatisfactory reappearances recently; Bobs Worth was way below his best behind Cue Card in the Betfair Chase at Haydock and Sir Des Champs took an early purler of a fall at Punchestown.
On his form here last term which included a close fourth behind Tidal Bay in this race and a defeat of Flemenstar in the Hennessy Gold Cup, the Willie Mullins-trained dual Festival winner could turn the tables on a becalmed Bobs Worth over this bare three miles having tied up over an extra two furlongs in the Gold Cup. But he needs to have recovered from that fall.
This track ought to suit Bobs Worth better than Haydock but it was still concerning that he was beaten so far out on his seasonal debut.
Of the others, the promising Unioniste might be capable of going close following his recent win at Aintree.
The Paul Nicholls-trained grey is a sound jumper who is progressing nicely.