Irish Raptor, KING JOHNS CASTLE and Big Fella Thanks are just three of a hatful that can (literally) be picked out of the hat, and the vote of confidence goes to King Johns Castle. Arthur Moore's gelding has had a nice preparation over hurdles and should be spot on for this assignment. He seemed to relish the fences when second here two years ago and with less weight on his back he must go close if completing. Big Fella Thanks is one of several Paul Nicholls-trained runners who will be hoping to break his trainer's record of never winning the race. This 'fella' was sixth last year and must be a big player with that experience under his belt and an excellent campaign over fences so far this season. Stablemate Tricky Trickster blotted his copybook at Cheltenham in the Gold Cup but this has always been the plan and he is not to be ignored. Niche Market is a solid jumper and the former Irish National winner is considered, along with Comply Or Die who is the chosen mount of Timmy Murphy and it is easy to see why having finished first and second in the last two years. Mon Mome was a revelation last year and his third in the Gold Cup should have put him spot on, whilst last years' winning jockey Liam Treadwell gets the leg up on Nozic who isn't badly treated and should give his owners for the day a good run for their money. Dessie Hughes goes to war with two; Vic Venturi and Black Appalachi. The former beat his stablemate in the Bobbyjo Chase at Fairyhouse in February and has won over these fences before, whilst Black Appalachi was well-fancied for this last year but he came a cropper and this talented front-runner needs to avoid any serious errors. Madison Du Berlais is classy but often a bit guessy at his fences, My Will ran a cracker in third last year but tends to run his best races for Ruby Walsh, whilst Ballyholland will appreciate any drying of the ground in the lead up to the race. Backstage has had this as a target for ages and is interesting if staying, Snowy Morning is classy and despite stamina limitations wasn't disgraced here last year, whilst Can't Buy Time looks the pick of the Jonjo O'Neill runners and he cannot be ignored despite the (relatively) tender age of eight. State Of Play has been aimed at this race since finishing fourth twelve months ago, the omens are right for Character Building given his new owners and he might relish this trip, whilst Irish Raptor and The Package join Abbeybraney on the list of interesting lightly-weighted contenders. The latter especially looks the type to bounce back to form here. Arbor Supreme is another contender for JP McManus and whilst he comes here in good form, he looks short enough in the betting with the stable not firing in the winners. As expected the toughest betting race of the year, but also the most popular. Take the price on any horse with a Christian name in, including the selection King Johns Castle.
Madison Du Berlais (FR) 9-1 (11-12) Prominent, led approaching 3rd, headed next, lost place 5 out, 4th of 13, 31l behind Razor Royale (10-5) at Kempton 3m hcp chs G3 (1) sft in Feb.
Mon Mome (FR) 50-1 (11-10) Held up in touch, reminder 16th, outpaced 4 out, stayed on from next, rallied flat to take 3rd near finish, no chance with leading pair, 3rd of 11, 30l behind Imperial Commander (11-10) at Cheltenham 3m 2f Grade 1 chs (1) gd in Mar.
Vic Venturi (IRE) 3-1 (11-3) Chased leaders, 3rd halfway, improved to 2nd 5 out, challenged 4 out, led entering straight, clear 2 out, kept on well, comfortably, won at Fairyhouse 3m 1f chs Grd 2 sft in Feb beating Black Apalachi (11-8) by 8l, 8 ran.
Black Apalachi (IRE) 5-1 (11-8) Chased leaders, 4th halfway, moderate 4th from 9 out, closed entering straight, ridden into 2nd 2 out, no impression leader, kept on same pace, 2nd of 8, 8l behind Vic Venturi (11-3) at Fairyhouse 3m 1f chs Grd 2 sft in Feb.
Joe Lively (IRE) 33-1 (11-9) Led to 5th, with leader, lost place after 14th, weakened 3 out, 14th of 24, 49l behind Chief Dan George (10-10) at Cheltenham 3m hcp chs G3 (1) gs in Mar.
Don't Push It (IRE) 28-1 (10-11) Always towards rear, tailed off when pulled up before last, in a race won by Buena Vista (10-1) at Cheltenham 3m lstd hcp hdl (1) gs in Mar, 24 ran.
Comply Or Die (IRE) 40-1 (11-4) With leader, led 5th, headed 14th, driven and outpaced 3 out, soon weakened, 13th of 24, 42l behind Chief Dan George (10-10) at Cheltenham 3m hcp chs G3 (1) gs in Mar.
Tricky Trickster (IRE) 12-1 (11-10) Held up in touch, struggling 24th, soon lost touch, tailed off, 9th of 11, well behind Imperial Commander (11-10) at Cheltenham 3m 2f Grade 1 chs (1) gd in Mar.
Niche Market (IRE) 20-1 (11-3) In touch, led 14th, headed 3 out, soon ridden, weakened from next, 9th of 24, 15l behind Chief Dan George (10-10) at Cheltenham 3m hcp chs G3 (1) gs in Mar.
Made In Taipan (IRE) 5-1 (11-10) Settled behind leaders, 6th halfway, headway to 4th 4 out, improved to challenge 3 out, soon led, ridden and challenged before last, headed last, no extra run-in and kept on same pace, 2nd of 10, 8l behind Glencove Marina (11-2) at Navan 2m 4f chs Grade 3 hvy in Mar.
Dream Alliance 9-1 (11-5) Held up in mid-division, jumped right 12th, soon behind and pushed along next, pulled up before 15th, in a race won by Silver By Nature (10-11) at Haydock 3m 4f hcp chs G3 (1) hvy in Feb, 14 ran.
Cloudy Lane 11-1 (11-10) Chased leaders, ridden and no impression from after 4 out, 4th of 14, 14l behind Wogan (10-2) at Doncaster 3m 2f hcp chs (2) gd in Mar.
Nozic (FR) 18-1 (11-1) Held up towards rear, mistake 3rd, mid-division halfway, weakened before 4 out, 9th of 18, well behind Dream Alliance (10-8) at Chepstow 3m 5f Grade 3 hcp chs (4yo+) (1) hvy in Dec.
My Will (FR) 80-1 (11-10) Held up behind, struggling 15th, never dangerous, 7th of 11, well behind Imperial Commander (11-10) at Cheltenham 3m 2f Grade 1 chs (1) gd in Mar.
Pablo Du Charmil (FR) 9-1 (11-12) In touch when fell 5th, in a race won by The Sawyer (10-0) at Cheltenham 2m 5f hcp chs G3 (1) sft in Jan, 12 ran.
Ballyholland (IRE) 8-1 (11-7) Tracked leaders in 5th, close up after 2 out, soon ridden, 4th last, no extra, 7th of 8, 10l behind Tranquil Sea (11-7) at Leopardstown 2m 1f chs Grd 2 sft in Feb.
Backstage (FR) 10-1 (11-5) Held up towards rear, headway to 6th 6 out, 5th 4 out, ridden in 6th and no extra before 3 out, weakened, 8th of 10, well behind Glencove Marina (11-2) at Navan 2m 4f chs Grade 3 hvy in Mar.
Beat The Boys (IRE) 50-1 (11-0) Mid-division on outside, lost place 12th, tailed off when pulled up before 3 out, in a race won by Chief Dan George (10-10) at Cheltenham 3m hcp chs G3 (1) gs in Mar, 24 ran.
Preists Leap (IRE) 33-1 (10-13) Always behind, weakened 3 out, 13th of 16, 37l behind A New Story (9-7) at Cheltenham 3m 7f hcp chs (2) gs in Mar.
Snowy Morning (IRE) 5-1 (11-4) Settled 3rd, lost place after mistake 6th, 7th and outpaced 2 out, 6th under pressure last, stayed on well closing stages, 3rd of 8, 3l behind Tranquil Sea (11-7) at Leopardstown 2m 1f chs Grd 2 sft in Feb.
Can't Buy Time (IRE) 4-1 (11-2) Held up in rear, steady headway 10th, weakened 4 out, 6th of 9, 29l behind Big Fella Thanks (11-1) at Newbury 2m 4f hcp chs G3 (1) gs in Mar.
Big Fella Thanks 8-1 (11-1) In touch, headway to chase leaders 12th, tracked leader going well 4 out, led 3 out, hung left and idled flat, always just doing enough, won at Newbury 2m 4f hcp chs G3 (1) gs in Mar beating Pasco (11-0) by 1 1/2l, 9 ran.
State of Play 12-1 (10-0) Mid-division, lost place 15th, tailed off when pulled up 17th, in a race won by Denman (11-12) at Newbury 3m 2f hcp chs Grd 3 (1) gs in Nov, 19 ran.
Character Building (IRE) 12-1 (10-13) Mid-division, mistake 10th, never dangerous, 12th of 24, 36l behind Chief Dan George (10-10) at Cheltenham 3m hcp chs G3 (1) gs in Mar.
Ellerslie George (IRE) 9-1 (11-4) Chased leader, led 5th, ridden and headed before 17th, weakened before 4 out, no chance when blundered next, 7th of 8, well behind Eric's Charm (11-10) at Newbury 3m 2f hcp chs 0-145 (2) gs in Mar.
Eric's Charm (FR) 9-1 (11-10) Led, mistake and headed 5th, chased leader, led before 17th, jumped right 4 out, strongly pressed and blundered 2 out, hard driven and joined flat, kept on gamely to assert final 150 yards, won at Newbury 3m 2f hcp chs 0-145 (2) gs in Mar beating Knowhere (11-5) by 2 1/4l, 8 ran.
King Johns Castle (IRE) 20-1 (10-11) Held up in rear, slow 3rd, no impression from 3 out, kept on same pace, 11th of 14, 19l behind Vintage Oak (9-10) at Navan 2m 7f hcp hdl in Mar.
Conna Castle (IRE) 7-1 (10-10) Held up in rear, progress to go 4th 5 out, left 3rd next, 2nd after 3 out, in touch when jumped badly right 2 out, no extra when again jumped right and blundered and unseated rider last, in a race won by Let Yourself Go (11-1) at Thurles 2m 2f chs sft in Feb, 7 ran.
Ballyfitz 33-1 (11-1) With leaders led 3rd to next, chased leaders, ridden 3 out, soon lost place and weakened, 13th of 24, 23l behind Buena Vista (10-1) at Cheltenham 3m lstd hcp hdl (1) gs in Mar.
Ollie Magern 80-1 (10-6) Mid-division, outpaced 3 out, soon ridden, kept on under pressure, never on terms, 7th of 24, 13l behind Chief Dan George (10-10) at Cheltenham 3m hcp chs G3 (1) gs in Mar.
Arbor Supreme (IRE) 12-1 (11-8) Held up towards rear, progress 3 out, 7th before 2 out, 4th and headway approaching last, 2nd and stayed on well closing stages, 2nd of 16, 1 3/4l behind Stewarts House (10-4) at Leopardstown 2m 5f Ext hcp ch sft in Feb.
Maljimar (IRE) 17-2 (10-11) In rear, hit 27th, headway 3 out, effort when not fluent last, ridden and kept on flat, 3rd of 16, 3l behind Garde Champetre (11-12) at Cheltenham 3m 7f hcp chs (2) sft in Dec.
The Package 9-2fav (10-9) Held up behind, headway on outside at bypassed 4 out, ridden approaching last, rallied to go 2nd flat, closed on winner towards finish, just held, 2nd of 24, hd behind Chief Dan George (10-10) at Cheltenham 3m hcp chs G3 (1) gs in Mar.
Piraya (FR) 14-1 (10-5) Mid-division, headway halfway, soon chasing leaders, weakened 14th, 9th of 13, 48l behind Razor Royale (10-5) at Kempton 3m hcp chs G3 (1) sft in Feb.
Irish Raptor (IRE) 12-1 (11-4) Prominent, led 5th, headed 8th, led again 14th, headed 18th, under pressure 3 out, gradually weakened, 5th of 8, 28l behind Eric's Charm (11-1) at Sandown 3m 5f hcp chs 0-150 (2) sft in Dec.
Cerium (FR) 200-1 (11-10) Always in rear, struggling from halfway, 8th of 11, well behind Imperial Commander (11-10) at Cheltenham 3m 2f Grade 1 chs (1) gd in Mar.
Palypso De Creek (FR) 18-1 (10-5) Mid-division, driven and outpaced 2 out, soon weakened, 14th of 24, 23l behind Buena Vista (10-1) at Cheltenham 3m lstd hcp hdl (1) gs in Mar.
Hello Bud (IRE) 16-1 (11-6) Prominent, ridden 12th, not fluent 17th, soon weakened, 7th of 24, 29l behind BallaBriggs (11-12) at Cheltenham 3m 1f Am hcp chs 0-140 (2) gs in Mar.
Flintoff (USA) 14-1 (10-6) Soon held up towards rear, under pressure 13th, soon beaten, behind when pulled up 3 out, in a race won by Dream Alliance (10-8) at Chepstow 3m 5f Grade 3 hcp chs (4yo+) (1) hvy in Dec, 18 ran.
Royal Rosa (FR) 11-1 (11-10) Held up, effort 5 out, outpaced next, soon no impression, 5th of 12, 11l behind Its Teescomponents (10-1) at Newcastle 3m hcp chs 0-130 (3) sft in Jan.