Esprit Du Large
The Evan Williams-trained Esprit Du Large registered a seriously impressive performance when landing the Henry VIII Novices’ Chase at Sandown in December and appears to have been forgotten slightly in the Racing Post Arkle field. He registered a Racing Post Rating of 159 there which is bettered only by the clear market leader Notebook, yet Esprit Du Large remains a double-figure price in the betting. Notebook also endured a particularly hard race at Leopardstown at the Dublin Racing Festival recently, whereas Esprit Du Large has been deliberately kept fresh for this assignment. He has only made three starts over fences and is open to plenty of improvement.
The Mares’ Hurdle market is dominated by standout talents Honeysuckle and Benie Des Dieux but the improving mare Stormy Ireland should not be underestimated. She has romped home in each of her three starts this campaign and her form in defeating Elfile was boosted by that mare scooting home in a Grade 3 at Punchestown on Wednesday. Stormy Ireland was second in the Mares’ Hurdle last year and can have a big say in this season’s contest too. To aid her chance further, Honeysuckle and Benie Des Dieux, the two mares vying for ante-post favouritism, are far from guaranteed runners with other possible engagements at The Festival.
This former Grade 1 novice chase winner made an encouraging return to the track after a 378-day break behind Altior in the Game Spirit Chase last time and merits a second look in the Queen Mother Champion Chase. His trainer Paul Nicholls reported that his seven-year-old would progress quite a bit for the run and he can get a bit closer to Altior at Cheltenham. Altior, Chacun Pour Soi and Defi Du Seuil rightly head the market and Dynamite Dollars will clearly need to improve to play a part at the finish. However, he is lightly raced, possesses a lot of talent and looks set to produce a career-best performance at Prestbury Park.
Un De Sceaux
Former Ryanair Chase winner Un De Sceaux still operates at the top of his game and has acquitted himself admirably in two Grade 1 events this season behind Defi Du Seuil. He looks a big price in his bid to regain his Ryanair Chase crown. The race lacks strength in depth and 12-year-old Un De Sceaux continues to produce top-class performances despite his advancing years. Nothing suggests he has lost any of his ability or enthusiasm for the game and A Plus Tard and Min, who are much shorter in the market, will definitely need to be at their best to fend off the legendary chaser.
Bristol De Mai
This multiple Grade 1 winner tends to save his best for Haydock but his recent form at Cheltenham breeds encouragement as well. He was third in last season’s Cheltenham Gold Cup and his second to Santini in the Cotswold Chase reads well. He made a shuddering error three out and did remarkably well to pull himself back into contention before being outstayed. He was giving Santini 3lb that day and the pair will meet on level terms at the Cheltenham Festival. Santini is second favourite to Al Boum Photo in the betting, whereas Bristol De Mai is 33-1. The disparity is too great.