View from connections ahead of Saturday's EBF Stallions & TBA Mares' "National Hunt" Novices' Hurdle Finale at Newbury.
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Fergal O'Brien is hopeful Down Ace can put her disappointing run at the Cheltenham Festival behind her as she turns out swiftly for the EBF Stallions & TBA Mares' "National Hunt" Novices' Hurdle Finale at Newbury on Saturday.
A point-to-point winner in Ireland before being snapped up by O'Brien for £21,000 in January of last year, Down Ace has proved a good investment.
The seven-year-old won bumpers at Cheltenham and Bangor before completing a hat-trick over hurdles at Towcester, Lingfield and Taunton.
Her unbeaten record came to an abrupt end as she was unable to land a telling blow behind Quevega in last week's Mares' Hurdle at the Festival, but O'Brien feels his charge can bounce back.
The Gloucestershire handler said: "She didn't really have that hard a race at Cheltenham, as she never really got into it. We were very disappointed as she was pretty much beaten after three hurdles.
"The ground was probably quicker than ideal and they were always going that bit quicker than she wanted. Denis (O'Regan, jockey) was easy on her and hopefully things will suit her a bit better.
"They should go a bit slower and there is some rain forecast. We are claiming 7lb off her with Ali Stirling taking the ride, so fingers crossed she can bounce back."
As a daughter of his classy race mare Liberthine, Free Thinking is a six-year-old close to the heart of owner-breeder Robert Waley-Cohen.
Nicky Henderson's dual bumper scorer made a winning debut over hurdles at Ludlow in November, but has twice been beaten since then, most recently going down at odds-on to the Alan King-trained Bull And Bush at Doncaster in late February.
Waley-Cohen said: "She's a home-bred mare and I think we'd all dearly love to win this race. She's got some black type from being placed in a Listed bumper, so it would be nice to get some black type over hurdles.
"She was giving half a stone to a pretty good horse of Alan King's at Doncaster last time and jumped a bit like she wants a steeplechase fence.
"We'll see how she runs on Saturday before we decide whether to run her again before the end of the season.
"It's a handicap, so if the handicapper has got it right, they all have a chance."
Henderson is aiming to secure his fifth victory in the last eight renewals of this Listed event over two miles and five furlongs.
Tim Easterby's northern raider Run Ructions Run has not yet finished outside the first three after nine career starts.
The Great Habton handler said: This has been the plan and she's in good form, so we'll see how we get on. She's done nothing wrong and I don't think the ground matters to her, to be honest. We're happy with her, she's in good nick, so we'll hope for the best."
Jamie Snowden shoots for another big prize with Joanne One following the Berkshire trainer's maiden Cheltenham Festival triumph with Present View last week.
The six-year-old began the season with victories at Ffos Las and Exeter, but was a beaten favourite at Market Rasen in January and was only sixth in a jumpers' bumper at Kempton last month.
Snowden said: "She looked really good when she won her two novice hurdles early in the season and we thought she was well handicapped on a mark of 120, so we took her to Market Rasen.
"Unfortunately Brendan (Powell) couldn't ride her that day, so AP (Tony McCoy) sat on her for the first time and she was beaten just over a length. The ground was very heavy that day and things just didn't go her way.
"She was a bit disappointing the last time we ran her in a jumpers' bumper, but that was probably the wrong thing to do. We've been easy on her since and she's certainly better than she showed that day. She seems well and hopefully it's not one run too many."
A 15-runner field is headed by Toubeera, while Alan King saddles The Pirate's Queen and Midnight Cataria.
The Barbury Castle handler told his website, www.alankingracing.co.uk: "The Pirate's Queen got stuck in the ground at Wincanton and did not see out the trip, but I am hoping she will stay on better ground.
"We also run Midnight Cataria, who won well last time at Ludlow. We are dropping her back in trip, but that was her best performance to date and I am hopeful she will also be competitive."
Other contenders include Paul Nicholls' hat-trick-seeking Fairytale Theatre and Anthony Honeyball's recent Market Rasen scorer Lily Waugh.