Simon Holt previews Saturday's action at Newbury and Newcastle and sides with Singlefarmpayment in the feature Ladbrokes Trophy.
In a typically strong renewal of the Ladbrokes Trophy (formerly the Hennessy) at Newbury on Saturday, SINGLEFARMPAYMENT is perhaps the most progressive runner in the line-up.
The seven-year-old has steadily improved over both hurdles and fences in the last two seasons, and a reappearance second behind the re-opposing Cogry (with whom he is now 5lb better off) at Cheltenham last month should have put him spot on for this obvious target.
A little 'hot' in the preliminaries that day, Singlefarmpayment travelled strongly - as he usually does - throughout that race but, at a time when trainer Tom George's runners were coming on for a run, he too looked as if the outing was just needed from the final fence.
On some of last season's form, notably a victory at Cheltenham (Label Des Obeaux, now 6lb worse off, third) and a short head second to Un Temps Pour Tout at the Festival in March (Label Des Obeaux and Pilgrims Bay both unplaced), Adrian Heskin's mount appears well capable of a big-race win and this could be it.
At the adjusted weights, Cogry may well struggle to hold a fitter Singlefarmpayent this time but, with his trainer Nigel Twiston Davies stealing the show on recent Saturdays with Splash Of Ginge and Bristol De Mai, he cannot be written off especially as his jumping seems much more reliable than was once the case.
Meanwhile, jumping ability in such a hot handicap could just be the main question surrounding the chances of Whisper who was not completely fluent when accounting for sole rival and subsequent winner Clan Des Obeaux on his Kempton reappearance having twice chased home the smart Might Bite at Cheltenham and Aintree in the spring.
However, with a clear round, this formerly high-ranking staying hurdler must go close despite not being particularly well in under his 4lb penalty.
Of course, the class act in the field is former Gold Cup winner Coneygree who is twice a course winner and, at his best, would take a deal of beating despite top weight.
However, the now ten-year-old is notoriously fragile and, although an excellent third behind Sizing John and Djakadam on his last comeback at Punchestown in April, he was pulled up with a circuit to travel in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby on his seasonal debut early last month with connections blaming an over-reach.
It will be fascinating to see if Coneygree can bounce back here as this race is really made for him, but he clearly comes with risks attached.
In recent days, most betting interest has surrounded the Willie Mullins-trained Total Recall who, on his first start for Ireland's champion trainer, bolted up in the Munster National at Limerick in early October.
Despite a steep 18lb rise in the weights, Mullins has given the impression in interviews that he considers the son of Westerner still well handicapped and, while it is hard to make a case for him on past form, the market has been speaking strongly in his favour.
American has been another popular horse in the ante-post market having looked a good prospect when winning all three of his chases last season.
Harry Fry's gelding is another fragile sort apparently but has much potential even if a 9lb rise for winning a race he was widely expected to win at Uttoxeter last March looks steep enough.
Last year's runner-up Carole's Destrier (off since last December) and the well-handicapped Badger Ales Chase winner Present Man (up 8lb for that win but carrying just a 4lb penalty here) are others to consider in a race to really look forward to.
The other big chase of the day is Newcastle's At The Races Rehearsal Chase in which BORIC could take advantage of his light weight.
Callum Bewley's mount is up in class here after splitting Audacious Plan and subsequent winner Delusion Of Grandeur in the Durham National at Sedgefield early last month, when he stayed on strongly in the closing stages, and had earlier been narrowly touched off at Carlisle.
But Boric has definitely improved in the last six months or so; he took the Highland National at Perth in April and, with stamina guaranteed, he may prove a good value each-way bet if all eight runners stand their ground.
Amongst the higher-weighted opposition are some decent stayers, the pick of which could be Bishops Road, fourth last year and back on his winning mark at Haydock the previous February while Beware The Bear is highly regarded by trainer Nicky Henderson despite proving a little disappointing on his final two starts last term.
Posted at 1500 GMT on 01/12/17.