A very competitive event despite the small field but the nod goes to THE UNIT, who arrives here following a short break. It was not the strongest of Grade 1 novice hurdles that he finished third in last April but the son of Gold Well is very talented and he displayed promise in both previous chase starts. Copain De Classe finished behind Space Oddity at Ascot in November and there is no obvious reason why that form should be reversed today.
STOICAL PATIENT is a highly-progressive mare, arriving here with four wins from her last five starts, and a 6lb rise for her latest victory may underestimate her ability. The Last But One was a convincing winner at Musselburgh recently and the handicapper has been very fair by increasing his mark by just 4lb. Sonoftheking is the pick of the remainder based on two decent efforts late last year.
LIL ROCKERFELLER won this race two years ago and he rates the one to beat today, despite a disappointing effort last time out. On his penultimate start the seven-year-old won the Grade 2 Ascot Hurdle in November and it is less than 12 months since his second-placed finish in the Stayers' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. Old Guard is another likeable type and he is only rated 1lb lower than the selection but gets 2lb from him today. Air Horse One and Clyne are others who can make their presence felt this afternoon.
PUPPET WARRIOR built on his maiden hurdle second over C&D when runner-up over a similar trip in a novice hurdle at Plumpton last time and is expected to take a hand on these terms. Niblawi makes some appeal on his Haydock second in December and has place possibilities, though a bigger danger may be penalised 100-1 Ludlow winner Call Me Sid, who is unlikely to be underestimated in the betting this time with that victory now under his belt.
UNIONISTE was touched off by a nose on his seasonal bow in a similar contest at Taunton in January but took a step forward when bolting up in a three-runner affair at Wincanton last time and is expected to follow up to notch a quick double. Real Milan unseated his rider at Market Rasen last time but makes more appeal on his previous second at Ludlow. Gowanauthat has viable place claims on these terms and could similarly take a hand.
Seamus Mullins holds a strong hand here with I See You Well and Burst Ya Bubble, while local handler Richard Rowe saddled Tzar De L'elfe to finish third at Plumpton last time and he could go well once again here. Robinsson is interesting at the ratings, however, two years off the track tempers enthusiasm and it may be best to side with the popular mare DING DING, who finished second at her beloved Plumpton last time and would hold solid claims here if repeating that form here.
SHAUGHNESSY bumped into a promising rival when second on debut, and Oliver Sherwood's 105,000-euro purchase for loyal owner Tim Syder could be capable of going one better here with the form of that Huntingdon bumper looking rock solid. Paul Nicholls' newcomer Southfield Torr is a half-brother to multiple winners Southfield Theatre, Southfield Vic and Southfield Royale and all three of those landed bumpers in their time with the Ditcheat handler. The Flying Sofa finished third on debut in a red-hot Ascot contest before flopping last time and could be capable of bouncing back here, while L'chamise has been pitched into two tough contests to open her career and should be capable of plenty more.
Probably a match between COPAIN DE CLASSE and The Unit. Alan King's charge looks set to take up an entry at Kempton on Saturday but Copain de Classe would be the selection regardless having shaped so well behind the Cheltenham Festival-bound Benatar first time up over fences at Ascot in November.
THE LAST BUT ONE improved on his hurdles form at the first attempt when making a winning start over fences at Musselburgh and is sure to progress and win more races. The thriving Stoical Patient is next best ahead of Brown Bear.
LIL ROCKERFELLER won this race back in 2016, and freshened up by a short break, is the one to beat on these terms if reacting well to a change of headgear. Old Guard and Air Horse One are quality handicappers who can make their presence felt at this level and are expected to give the selection most to do.
In the absence of Darcy Ward, APTLY PUT, Niblawi and shock Ludlow winner Call Me Sid look the trio to focus on, with preference for the first-named runner given that he rates the type to go on progressing.
UNIONISTE is far from the safest conveyance but won hard held at Wincanton at the start of the month and stands out on form. Real Milan looks the one for the forecast.
HIT THE HIGHWAY hasn’t won since January 2016, but is potentially well treated making his debut for an in-form yard, so he gets the nod. Quiz Master is holding his form well so has to enter calculations, as does I See You Well, who’s dropping in class.
THE FLYING SOFA could have simply failed to cope with very testing ground here last time and is worth another chance to confirm the promise of his debut third in listed company. Shaughnessy made an encouraging start to his career when second at Huntingdon over Christmas and may provide the main threat unless the betting suggests a big run is expected from Southfield Torr.