Veteran Any Currency in top form as he bids to make amends
Glenfarclas Chase (Cross Country) | 3m6f | 6yo + | ITV/RUK
Any Currency will not start favourite here, but there would scarcely be a more popular winner all week.
Second in 2014 and 2015 when the race was run as a handicap, the 14-year-old finally enjoyed the reward for years of honest endeavour when beating Josies Orders on level terms a year ago, only to be cruelly robbed of the prize months later after testing positive for a painkiller he had been given weeks outside the recommended stand-down period of 14 days.
Though the circumstances gave Enda Bolger and JP McManus no pleasure, Josies Orders was their fifth winner of the race, and though he is absent this time they have some great chances once again.
McManus owns both market leaders in Cause Of Causes, a dual festival winner already for jockey Jamie Codd, and Cantlow, who won the cross-country race at Cheltenham's December meeting.
He also has Colour Squadron, second to Ballynagour in the Plate in 2014, Quantitativeeasing, runner-up in the novice handicap in 2011 making his eighth successive festival appearance, and Auvergnat, who went well here in Jaunary until unseating his rider.
With the exception of Cause Of Causes, who is one of Gordon Elliott's many good chances this week, they are all trained by cross country specialist Bolger, who made this race his own with Spot Thedifference, Heads Onthe Ground and Garde Champetre.
Only ten British runners have made the first four in the last decade and Philip Hobbs is responsible for the only British wins - Balthazar King in 2012 and 2014. Here he has the co-highest rated in the field, Sausalito Sunrise, whose mark of 152 is matched by Bless The Wings and Cantlow.
There have been three winners between 14-1 and 25-1 in the last decade, but they were all when the race was run as a handicap. Long-priced winners are much less likely at level weights.
Know your Cottins
Amazing Comedy is ridden by former champion jockey David Cottin, who is trainer Philippe's son and Francois-Marie's nephew.
What they say
Willie Mullins, trainer of Alelchi Inois
He never got into contention on his cross-country debut over the course in January, but that experience should have done him good. He has good form to his credit over regular fences and we think, and hope, he can improve a good bit on his previous run over the course.
Philippe Cottin, trainer of Amazing Comedy
I wouldn't say this has been a long-term plan but he's in good form at the right time. I think the course layout will suit him and he'll prefer the drier ground as he didn't enjoy the heavy going in the Grand Cross at Pau two starts ago. David [Cottin] knows the track well and I'm not worried about the horse's stamina.
Martin Keighley, trainer of Any Currency
He's under a new regime, with infra red rugs and leg wear, and the physio is delighted with him as he's moving very freely and hasn't required any medication. He wasn't wound up on trials' day but I'm absolutely delighted with him now. Although he's 14 he seems in as good form as he was last year. He comes good in the spring so you'd have to be hopeful he'd be thereabouts.
Enda Bolger, trainer of Auvergnat, Cantlow, Colour Squadron and Quantitativeeasing
Gordon Elliott, trainer of Bless The Wings and Cause Of Causes
Cause Of Causes comes alive at this time of year, as his festival record shows. He's been back to Cheltenham to school since finishing fifth over the course in January and is in really good form. Bless The Wings knows the track backways and was second in the race last year. He's in good order.
Michael Scudamore, trainer of Kingswell Theatre
He stays and jumps, and Exeter the other day suggested he'll be better on this ground than the soft we thought he preferred. He took to the course like a natural when Tom [Scudamore] schooled him there.
Philip Hobbs, trainer of Sausalito Sunrise
On ratings he has a very good chance. He has to jump the obstacles and enjoy the experience, but he has done both in his schooling.
Colin Tizzard, trainer of Third Intention
After he won the Old Roan we thought he was set for a good season, but he's difficult to win with and has been a bit disappointing since Aintree. He didn't run badly in this last year and we think he gets the trip, which is why we've taken off the blinkers.
Richard Hobson, trainer of Valadom
The trip is a concern because of his enthusiastic style of running, but so long as he doesn't have one of JP's breathing down his neck the whole way I think he has a great each-way chance. He's been round before and he's stronger now.