West Approach takes Thistlecrack route as owners go for glory
Thistlecrack produced the standout performance of last year's festival and now his half-brother gets the chance to continue the family run, although with nothing like the expectation.
West Approach is still a novice but his sporting owners John and Heather Snook have never been afraid to take the bold route.
West Approach has only won once from 11 runs over hurdles, but he showcased his promise on his last two starts especially in January's Cleeve Hurdle when he finished strongly to take third behind Unowhatimeanharry and Cole Harden.
He came from an unpromising position to take third and should be suited the likely tempo of this contest.
Trainer Colin Tizzard said: "We could have gone for the Albert Bartlett, but there are plenty of good horses coming through there and we know he's not far behind the top stayers as he got shuffled back last time and still wasn't beaten far. The owners won this race last year with Thistlecrack and they were keen to have another go."
Ballyoptic back for more
Ballyoptic made the breakthrough to Grade 1 level at Aintree last year but has been unlucky this season, coming down twice when looking likely to take a hand in the finish.
In four runs this season he has suffered two falls and chased home Unowhatimeanharry in his two completions but he has undergone a wind operation since his latest start.
Trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies said: "He was upsides Unowhatimeanharry at Ascot when he fell in the Long Walk. Hopefully he can run well."
Falcon ready to take flight
Snow Falcon was still travelling well when falling three out in the Long Distance Hurdle and has been behind Vroum Vroum Mag and Shaneshill on subsequent completed starts.
Trainer Noel Meade said: "I think British racing suits him as they go a stride quicker than we do in Ireland. I think he's in great shape and, if they go a good clip from the off, I think he's got a decent chance of being bang there when it matters."
Zarkandar in with a chance
Zarkandar has won at the festival already having landed the Triumph Hurdle and was third in this race two years ago when he was brought to a standstill by a bad blunder two out.
Injury kept him off the track for all of last season and has taken time to rediscover his best form, but after a breathing operation following his 38 lengths defeat by Unowhatimeanharry in December he won the Rendlesham Hurdle at Haydock last month.
"It was a good run at Haydock on totally different ground and I wouldn't want it to dry out too much," said trainer Paul Nicholls. "He ran well last time in this and has a chance of running well again."
King star out to prove top dog
The terrier-like Lil Rockerfeller has been out with hounds as part of his build-up and trainer Neil King believes he has him back in top form and ready to snap at the heels of favourite Unowhatimeanharry.
Earlier in the season he finished second to Unowhatimeanharry in the Long Walk and went down by less than a length to Yanworth before that but disappointed at Cheltenham on New Year's Day.
Trainer Neil King said: "We took him out hunting last Thursday to jolly him along, which he thoroughly enjoys. It is something he really thrives on as he loves being out among the hounds.
"It's a big challenge but one he deserves a chance at. He ran three smashing races for us in the early part of the season. When he ran on New Year's Day he came back wrong so we can put a line through that.
"Before that he produced a great effort against Yanworth at Ascot and in the Long Walk against Unowhatimeanharry. I would like to think he has a great each-way chance. He loves Cheltenham, he's in tip-top order after we took him for a racecourse gallop last week and he has been bouncing since."
Relkeel winner 'likes the track'
Agrapart was third behind Zarkandar at Haydock and has a chance of reversing the form on much better terms, but his best performances have been in mud when he won the Relkeel Hurdle on New Year's Day.
His rider Lizzie Kelly said: "He has proved he likes the track. The way I look at it is the better the ground the further he wants. He has performed best on soft because he prefers it but he ran a good race at the Aintree festival where it was probably good ground. He looks and feels really well. These three-mile hurdles are wonderful races to be involved in."
Weather woe for Elliott runner
The fine weather appears to have put paid to Dedigout's chances of adding to Gordon Elliott's fine festival.
"Unlike most of mine, this fella will not be suited by the sun and drying ground. He looks to have plenty of his plate," he said.