MICHAEL'S MOUNT sets the clear form standard on his novice hurdle victory over this trip at Doncaster in February and his Grade 2 third at Kempton last time out. Veiled Secret should be all the wiser for the experience gained on his NH bow at Doncaster last time and is the one expected to put up most resistance. Another capable of playing a supporting role is Never A Word, whose debut fourth at Warwick wasn't devoid of promise.
TREE OF LIBERTY finished a 10-length second to Saint Calvados on his penultimate outing at Newbury and then bolted up in a small-field handicap at Leicester last time, making all. He looks a tactical angle here and with winning C&D form in the book, too, he ticks plenty of boxes. Cap'n has been out of form over hurdles and now debuts over fences, while the 80-rated Over To Midnight cannot be sensibly recommended on these terms.
SILVER KAYF built on his victory at Huntingdon over the extended 2m3f when finishing a creditable third over 2m4f under a penalty at Southwell last time and is considered the safest option. Although penalised for winning at Market Rasen in November, Dans Le Vent is also expected to finish on the premises. If the aforementioned pair prove vulnerable under their penalties, Stage Summit, a bumper winner having his third run over timber, and point scorer Ballymillen, who debuts under Rules, could take a hand.
JUST CAMERON hasn't been the most consistent this season, something that is perhaps understandable given that he is now an 11-year-old, but Micky Hammond's charge is simply the best horse in this line-up and a repeat of his Wetherby handicap win in December would more than suffice. He can be forgiven a poor effort last time and can account for Tornado In Milan, who like the selection isn't getting any younger. Notarfbad did it well at Taunton last time and rates as a danger to all despite a 126-day absence.
This can go the way of OPENING BATSMAN, who has been far from disgraced in two efforts this season at Hereford and Taunton and looks to be of interest now back over three miles. The 12-year-old is a past course and distance winner and can account for Real Milan, who was a game second behind the classy Unioniste at Fontwell four weeks ago, and Tugboat, who continues to run well in defeat and has an excellent amateur on board this time.
Cyrius Moriviere tends to need his first run of a season and duly proved that when running a lot better behind Irish Roe in a handicap at Doncaster in early December. He should prove to be a key contender here if a three-month absence hasn't inconvenienced him. Awake At Midnight looks one to watch making his handicap debut for Philip Hobbs but the vote goes to FLASHING GLANCE, who was third when last seen at Chepstow to Silver Streak and has been given a winter break to avoid the worst of the ground. He has also had a wind operation which could potentially eke out further improvement.
Cheltenham bumper winner HERECOMESTHEBOOM missed the Champion Bumper last week on account of the ground but this is a much easier assignment compared to that and his most recent start at Ascot in a Listed event, so he can defy the penalty. Best To Come is one to consider having cost 64,000 euros as a store, while Inheritance Thief and Looks Frozen have solid claims on what they have achieved so far.
MICHAEL'S MOUNT's form has a strong look to it and he should prove hard to beat. Veiled Secret is clear pick of the remainder.
TREE OF LIBERTY is in a different league to his 2 limited rivals and a clear round will be more than good enough.
DANS LE VENT was third in a hot little race for the track at Market Rasen last time, and he edges the vote on that piece of form. Stage Summit and Silver Kayf look the principal threats.
SPACE ODDITY has been expensive to follow since making a winning chase debut back in May but has plenty going for him here up against ageing rivals. Tornado In Milan got off the mark for the season at Fontwell last time and is the obvious threat.
Better could have been expected from OPENING BATSMAN in this sphere given he was showing useful form in regulation handicaps around this time last year, but he now sports his usual headgear and he should take some stopping. Real Milan is offered as second choice, but an on-song Mr Mercurial would be a danger, also.
An interesting handicap of its type, with the narrow vote in favour of ALL IS GOOD. Robin Dickin's charge was a good winner at Hereford in January, the manner of that victory suggesting further success is in the offing. Birch Hill had yet to be asked for his effort when coming to grief in the Imperial Cup and is feared, while Night of Sin and Flashing Glance are also worth a second look.
HERECOMESTHEBOOM struggled in a listed bumper at Ascot at Christmas but had previously created a fine impression when winning at Cheltenham and is worth another chance to get back on track. Inheritance Thief shouldn't be far away again if ready to go after 4 months off, while Best To Come and Rouge Vif are newcomers to note.