DOUBLE SHUFFLE appears to have sound claims of maintaining Tom George's fine record in the Betbright Chase.
The Cotswolds trainer won the 2009 and 2012 renewals with race specialist Nacarat - also placed in both intervening years - and sent out Roc D'Apsis to finish third last season.
The latter is set to have another crack off a 5lb lower mark, so can't be discounted even though he'll be a pound 'wrong' if topweight Tea For Two stands his ground, but looks the yard's second string.
A good deal shorter in the betting than his stablemate, Double Shuffle underlined his credentials for this by winning a valuable course-and-distance handicap over Christmas - the first time he'd tried three miles.
The 7yo travelled well in a first-time hood and scored with a bit in hand from reliable yardstick Go Conquer, who has also finished second in decent Ascot handicaps this season.
The selection, a good third in the 2m4f novice handicap at last year's Festival, seemed to relish this longer trip, staying on strongly in keeping with his pedigree (family of Eider winner Nil Desperandum).
Further improvement is on the cards now his stamina is being exploited, especially as George reckons he knows how to train him better now, having 'overworked' him earlier in the season. A 6lb rise does not look harsh in the circumstances.
Tea For Two shades favouritism in most lists and sets a good standard on last season's Kauto Star win and subsequent decent efforts behind Thistlecrack (King George), Josses Hill (Peterborough) and Bristol De Mai.
Nick Williams' 8yo got back on the winning trail with an odds-on success at Exeter this month and didn't have a hard race ultimately (just taken Alary's measure when that one fell), so shouldn't be unduly troubled by the 13-day turnaround.
Last year's winner Theatre Guide will do well at the age of ten to follow up off a stone higher mark but at least his stamina is proven, which is more than can be said for well-backed Irish Saint .
Paul Nicholls' gelding has looked a non-stayer on previous tries at the trip, although the prospect of better ground offers some hope on that front.
Venetia Williams is strongly represented but Tenor Nivernais (only ran Saturday and went hard from the front to see off Go Conquer), Yala Enki (may want softer ground) and Aso (unproven at the trip) are dodgy betting propositions until running plans are clarified.
Recommended Bet (scale 1-5 points):
BetBright Chase, Kempton 25th February
1pt each way DOUBLE SHUFFLE ( 8-1 William Hill, 7-1 Betfred/Skybet - use 1/4 1st 4 firms )
SHOTGUN PADDY has been given a fine chance by the handicapper to make it third time lucky in the Betfred Eider Chase.
Emma Lavelle’s gelding unseated when favourite for the Newcastle marathon two years ago but fared much better last season, finishing second under a welter burden to lowly-weighted Rocking Blues.
The ten-year-old failed to reproduce anything like that form in the Midlands and Scottish Nationals but was much more like his old self in Warwick’s Classic Chase last month, staying on for third behind One For Arthur.
Goodtoknow, who split the pair, won next time at Hereford and is due to take his chance off a higher mark in the Haydock Grand National Trial.
The handicapper has been generous in dropping Shotgun Paddy 2lb for that encouraging effort, which means he’s set to line up on a 7lb lower mark than 12 months ago and chances are he’ll have significantly less weight to carry too.
Last year’s form is also represented by MYSTEREE, who’s worth adding to the portfolio at big odds.
Then trained by Lucinda Russell, the gelding did well to finish fourth considering his jumping wasn’t always fluent (having only his fourth chase start and would have preferred softer ground).
The 9yo appeared to show improved form on his reappearance/first start for Michael Scudamore in a decent Haydock handicap and can probably be forgiven his subsequent poor run in the Sussex National.
A well-backed joint favourite, he never looked happy after getting behind early that day and should appreciate the return to a more galloping track.
On the book he’s got his work cut out with Shotgun Paddy on 13lb worse terms, but he’s more streetwise over fences now and the current heavy ground is a major plus.
Already Recommended Bet (scale 1-5 points):
Betfred Eider Handicap Chase, Newcastle, 25th February
1pt each-way SHOTGUN PADDY (12-1 BetVictor, Betfair Sportbook, 10-1 Paddy Power, Skybet)
1pt each-way MYSTEREE (20-1 Paddy Power, Betfair Sportsbook, 16-1 general)
Gary provides regular ante-post updates on Twitter. His username is @horsetraderinfo.@horsetraderinfo