SAM Winner is very favourite and heavy backed by punters although he has had just one start over hurdles this season, when fifth in a Pertemps series qualifier at Sandown in December. Anyway he was a Grade Two winner at Cheltenham in his novice days when he pulled 15 lengths clear of leading Champion Hurdle hope Grandouet. Close House, a David Pipe’s progressive youngster, has no other entries at the Festival and has clearly been targeted at the race, having been kept fresh since winning the Wincanton qualifier on Boxing Day. Stonemaster stayed on well to finish sixth at odds of 100-1 in the Coral Cup last year and he put in an eye-catching run when third at Leopardstown in December. Ely Brown put up a good performance when winning the series qualifier at Warwick in January. Although the winning margin was just over a length, he always looked to have matters in hand under Noel Fehily.
Captain Sunshine looked like being second at worst in the Lanzarote Hurdle at Kempton but fell at the final flight, and dropped himself out in the rear before flashing home to finish second behind Master Of The Sea at Newbury.
The Jonjo O’Neill-trained Shutthefrontdoor completed a hat-trick over hurdles at Carlisle on February 6. This six-year-old, who has had just the four runs over jumps, enjoyed a battling half-length success over Ardkilly Witness in a Pertemps qualifier.
There’s a lot of horses that could perform well in this race: Jetson, Junior, Holywell and Katkeau should be taken into account.