With the retirement of triple World Hurdle winner Inglis Drever, last year's runner-up KASBAH BLISS is taken to go one better this season and gets the vote ahead of the progressive Punchestowns and Fair Along. The Philip Hobbs-trained gelding probably found conditions too testing when third behind Big Buck's and Punchestowns in the Cleeve Hurdle here in January and he should be much better suited by the underfoot conditions today. Big Buck's has won under similar conditions to those he tackles here but Paul Nicholls will probably want further rain to fall for his six-year-old. Stable companion Mobaasher needs to improve on all known form to trouble the judge, while Alan King's Blazing Bailey is capable but has been well held in his outings this term. Mighty Man finished second in this event two years ago but has only had one start since then when pulled up at Aintree the following month and Henry Daly's gelding looks best watched. Nicky Henderson's Punchestowns has shown much improved form for being stepped up in trip this season and he warrants plenty of respect under ground conditions that should suit but it is hard to get away from Kasbah Bliss. Francois Doumen's gelding showed his well being with a smooth success in The Rendlesham at Haydock last time and a reproduction of that effort may well suffice.
Afsoun (FR) 11-4 (11-11) Chased leaders, blundered 5th, ridden approaching 3 out, weakened before 2 out, 5th of 7, 29l behind Lough Derg (11-11) at Fontwell 2m 4f hdl Grd 2 (1) gd in Feb.
Big Buck's (FR) 7-2 (11-0) Held up in last pair, ridden and headway after 2 out, took very narrow advantage last, stayed on strongly, ridden out, won at Cheltenham 3m hdl Grd 2 (1) hvy in Jan beating Punchestowns (11-8) by 4l, 8 ran.
Blazing Bailey 6-1 (11-8) Tracked leaders, ridden when hit 2 out, weakened last, 6th of 8, 24l behind Big Buck's (11-0) at Cheltenham 3m hdl Grd 2 (1) hvy in Jan.
Fair Along (GER) 8-1 (11-4) Prominent, led after 5th, quickened pace after 3 out, ridden after 2 out, narrowly headed when hit last, no extra, 3rd of 8, 6l behind Big Buck's (11-0) at Cheltenham 3m hdl Grd 2 (1) hvy in Jan.
Kasbah Bliss (FR) 10-11fav (11-13) Held up in rear, smooth headway after 3 out, led after last, pushed clear flat, impressive, won at Haydock 3m 1f hdl Grd 2 (1) sft in Feb beating Hills Of Aran (11-5) by 8l, 6 ran.
Mighty Man (FR) 5-4fav (11-12) Led until broke down after 3 out, soon pulled up pulled up in race won by Refinement (11-7) at Punchestown 3m hdl Grd 1 (1) gd in Apr '07, 9 ran.
Mobaasher (USA) 8-1 (11-7) Held up, hampered 11th, headway under pressure after 3 out, stayed on to go 3rd last, closed on 2nd towards finish, 3rd of 11, 12l behind Punchestowns (11-7) at Ascot 3m 1f hdl Grd 1 (1) gs in Dec.
No Refuge (IRE) 28-1 (11-0) Tracked leaders, ridden after 2 out, soon one pace, 5th of 8, 19l behind Big Buck's (11-0) at Cheltenham 3m hdl Grd 2 (1) hvy in Jan.
Pettifour (IRE) 33-1 (11-8) Led at steady pace, headed after 6th, prominent, ridden approaching 2 out, weakened approaching last, eased, last of 8, 40l behind Big Buck's (11-0) at Cheltenham 3m hdl Grd 2 (1) hvy in Jan.
Powerstation (IRE) 4-7fav (11-10) Tracked leaders, 7th halfway, headway in 4th 3 out, challenged 2 out, led after, ridden and headed approaching last, no extra and kept on same pace, 2nd of 17, 3l behind Baily View (11-10) at Down Royal 2m 4f hdl hvy in Feb.
Punchestowns (FR) 10-11fav (11-8) Held up, not fluent 9th, headway next, joined leader and travelling well after 2 out, every chance last, soon ridden, stayed on same pace, 2nd of 8, 4l behind Big Buck's (11-0) at Cheltenham 3m hdl Grd 2 (1) hvy in Jan.
Shakervilz (FR) 6-4fav (11-8) Held up, headway to 4th after 4 out, improved to 2nd 3 out, no extra in 3rd before last where mistake, kept on same pace, 3rd of 7, 14l behind Alpha Ridge (11-6) at Gowran Park 3m hdl Grd 2 hvy in Jan.
Tazbar (IRE) 8-1 (11-9) Led to 3rd, remained close up, led again 3 out, ridden and under pressure approaching last, headed flat, rallied and stayed on towards finish, just held, 2nd of 14, nk behind Synchronised (10-4) at Haydock 3m 1f hcp hdl (2) sft in Feb.
Whatuthink (IRE) 3-1 (11-8) Chased leaders, 4th halfway, 3rd 3 out, ridden approaching 2 out, under pressure in 2nd before last, kept on run-in, not reach winner, 2nd of 7, 1l behind Alpha Ridge (11-6) at Gowran Park 3m hdl Grd 2 hvy in Jan.