The Fly in the ointment?
Fourth place in the Lexus may have disappointed Sir Des Champs' supporters but Phil Smith believes it was a career best.
Last Updated: 03/01/13 1:59pm
The British Horseracing Association's Head Of Handicapping has raised the mark of Willie Mullins' chaser to a rating of 169 from 162.
Writing in his blog on the BHA's website, Smith revealed that Captain Chris had progressed in identical terms to Sir Des Champs following his narrow defeat to Long Run in the King George VI Chase at Kempton.
The winner remains on a mark of 172 - the same as Silviniaco Conti - which is just 1lb ahead of Lexus winner Tidal Bay who Smith rated as having run to the level of his Hennessy Gold Cup second.
That resulted in First Lieutenant being raised to 170 and Flemenstar remaining unchanged on 169.
Grands Crus also remained on the same mark (157) following his run on Boxing Day but Smith does believe that there's more to come from David Pipe's grey: "Grands Crus travelled like the best horse in the race for most of the way but seemed not to get home, perhaps because of the heavy ground. He looks capable of better in more optimum conditions."
David Dickinson covered the Champion Hurdle races in his blog on the BHA site and, while impressed with Darlan, nominated a potential dark horse to monitor.
Dickinson rated the Christmas Hurdle through fifth home Cinders And Ashes resulting in a 6lb rise for the novice Dodging Bullets (now the highest rated four year old) and a 15lb rise for Darlan.
That takes Nicky Henderson's exciting charge to a mark of 166, the level that Binocular ran to when winning the Kempton feature last season.
Henderson has a particularly strong hand in this division but Dickinson believes that there's one Irish horse that could put the cat among the pigeons and it's not Hurricane Fly.
"There is one other Irish trained horse that might be worth keeping an eye on, if the rain ever relents and were the ground to come up decent in March.
"Rebel Fitz flopped at Tipperary in October but prior to that he had caught the eye giving 19lb and a comfortable beating to subsequent Ladbroke scorer Cause of Causes in the Galway Hurdle. Granted, his bare form leaves him quite a few pounds short of the top but the thing that catches my eye is his career record when the word 'Heavy' is not mentioned in the going description - 112121111.
"So should good ground prevail for the Festival he might yet prove an interesting outsider in what still looks a pretty open year," he opined.