Grand types in the Greatwood
Given the increasingly Chelt-o-centric nature of the British jumps programme, it's perhaps no surprise that the big race at Newbury this Saturday has lost a little of the sheen with which it was first launched.
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A £100,000 contest when first staged in 2004 and won by the smart chaser Isio (who gave Moscow Flyer a race in his only subsequent start in Grade One company at Aintree), the prize money has gradually dropped away ever since.
Its proximity to Cheltenham doesn't help the race's cause as it offers less than a fortnight of turnaround time and the two winners to go from this race to the Festival have both failed to make an impact.
However judged on his own merits, even as a £50,000 race, the Stan James Supporting Greatwood Gold Cup at Newbury offers a fine opportunity for horses who don't necessarily have Cheltenham on their agendas - indeed it was used as a stepping stone to Aintree by Big Fella Thanks in 2010 when he won this race before finishing fourth in the Grand National the following month.
Big Fella Thanks is back this year for another tilt - presumably on his way back to the National again - although a 9lb rise in the weights for his latest win makes him look firmly in the handicapper's grip at present.
He's not the only Grand National candidate with an entry in Saturday's race though, with former winner Ballabriggs an intended runner, along with Paul Nicholls' principal contender Join Together, pulled out of the Racing Plus Chase at the final declaration stage last week.
Realistically neither should have the pace for two and a half miles at this level of competition, but the race looks ideally timed to give us an idea of their form going into Aintree.
Tony Star is another horse who takes my eye in the same race. He returned to form when second to Tetlami last week after a couple of disappointing runs and looks as if he will benefit from moving back up in distance. A big run this weekend and he could well be in the line-up for the Pulteney Land Investments Novice Handicap Chase at the Festival.
I certainly haven't given up on Tartak yet, who is also entered in the veterans' race earlier on the card.
He is a very tempting 19lb lower in the weights than when fifth in the Byrne Plate 12 months ago on his debut for Tim Vaughan, his tumbling rating coming despite repeatedly showing signs of life on ground that was surely more testing than ideal.
He has a host of entries for the Cheltenham Festival handicaps and it will be fascinating to see how he gets on granted a better racing surface if taking his chance at the weekend. I wouldn't be surprised to see some headgear going back on some stage either.
Looking at the rest of the Newbury action, Cheltenham regulars will hope Cockney Trucker goes well in the three-mile handicap hurdle, although he might well need to win to get into the line-up of the Pertemps Final.
He was only beaten half a dozen lengths in the Coral Cup last year, having twice previously hit the frame in the County Hurdle. It would be great to see him back at the Festival again.
Toubab hadn't been asked for an effort when being brought down through no fault of his own at the fourth-last fence in last year's Grand Annual Chase.
He has looked very disappointing last season and exaggerated waiting tactics didn't seem to work at Sandown last time.
However, his form is much better on good ground than on the soft he has been racing on of late and it's not too late for him to throw down a marker for this year's Grand Annual when he lines up at Doncaster.
Mentioned earlier, the Nicholls number one Grand National hope Join Together has an alternative entry in the Grimthorpe Chase at Doncaster, although stablemate Harry The Viking may be a likelier runner in that race.
Nicholls reported recently that Harry The Viking is also being trained with Aintree in mind, however a tilt at the Kim Muir en-route has also been mooted.
With just two starts under his belt so far this season (on unsuitably soft ground) he has hardly been over-raced. A win here and he would definitely come into the Kim Muir reckoning if connections decide to give it a whirl.
Should any racecourse action in Ireland this weekend have a major ante-post bearing, it's more likely to happen during the post-racing gallops than in any race, although quite how much information enabling the identification of any of the horses involved will be allowed to leak out to the great unwashed remains to be seen.