Annie to Power to Cheltenham win
Man On The Spot previews all six races shown live on Channel 4 on New Year's Day.
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Taquin Du Seuil beat OSCAR WHISKY by a neck here in November and while Nicky Henderson's charge, who has since got the better of the smart Wonderful Charm on this course, is now 5lb worse off, he should turn the tables on his younger rival with experience under his belt. Timesawastin has already been beaten in a couple of handicaps and his future lies in that sphere but Close House was still in contention and apparently going well when falling behind the selection on his chasing bow and he could make life interesting getting 7lb if that mishap hasn't affected his confidence.
Kealigolane won over 3m here last month but Barry Murtagh's grey is equally effective over this shorter distance. Mr Moonshine was an excellent third in the Becher Chase at Aintree last time and will be thereabouts if that hasn't taken too much out of him but VIVA COLONIA must also be a factor taking a huge drop in class having taken on Sire De Grugy and company in the Tingle Creek last month. A dual course and distance winner early last year, the top weight had Mr Moonshine behind when third in a Grade 2 at Aintree in the autumn and is only a pound worse off today. Upsilon Bleu looks the pick of Pauline Robson's two runners and rates a bigger danger than Quito Du Tresor and Bar De Ligne.
The Giant Bolster, Burton Port and Quartz de Thaix all revert to hurdles having lost their way over fences. Poungach has also been chasing while Whispering Gallery returns from a lengthy absence, though has won 10 of his 17 career starts on the Flat and over hurdles. Florafern should improve on her third at Ascot but it's difficult to imagine that RETURN SPRING won't be in the firing-line again. He's gone up another 4lb since his close second to Sunnyhillboy over track and trip last month but is clearly in good form and likes the uphill finish here.
With several front-runners facing the starter, this is likely to be run at a frenetic gallop. Ifandbutwhynot will probably be near the head of the market courtesy of his defeat of Chatterbox in a Listed handicap at Newbury but is one of those that likes to force the pace. Strongpoint, successful over 2m4f here last month, is another and Titus Bolt will be prominent. New Year's Eve faces a stiff task at the weights and Ultimate has taken an unusual route having contested a 3m chase at Newcastle when last seen. Zaplamation is on a hat-trick and had Deepsand well behind at Wetherby last month but John Quinn also runs the returning Hidden Justice. LOCAL HERO is probably thought of a summer performer but has won in the past at this time of year and on soft going. He goes well fresh and, with the race likely to be run to suit, could spring a bit of a surprise here under regular pilot Paul Bohan.
Double Ross has gone up 7lb for his win in a similar contest over track and trip last month but should be thereabouts again and appears to have the beating of Drumshambo and Silver Roque. Not for the first time, Cedre Bleu was found little at Ascot 11 days ago but the 3m that day probably also stretched his stamina and he won't be far away if Daryl Jacob can play him late. Ludlow winner Pickamus seems to need further nowadays, however, while Kumbeshwar's best form is over 2m. CARRICKBOY hasn't figured in a couple of starts this season but is starting to come down the weights again and the ground will be much more in his favour this afternoon. He gets a tentative vote as Ackertac's yard isn't really firing at present.
ANNIE POWER was receiving 11lb when beating Zarkandar by five lengths at Ascot in November but took a long time to master the seven-year-old and her old rival is 4lb better here. He also has vital Cheltenham experience having won the Triumph Hurdle in 2011 and finished fourth to Hurricane Fly in last year's Champion Hurdle whereas Willie Mullins' mare will be seeing the HQ of National Hunt racing for the first time. But we're going to stick with Ruby Walsh's mount as she always seems to find more when required. Empire Levant is in as a pacemaker and is likely to be coming home in his own time.