Al Ferof had Sprinter Sacre and CUE CARD just behind when winning the Supreme Novices Hurdle on this card 12 months ago. All three have done well over fences this season, the former winning here in November before landing the Grade 1 Henry VIII Chase at Sandown. He lost nothing in defeat when third to Somersby and Finians Rainbow in the Victor Chandler at Ascot but Nicky Henderson should know where he stands with Sprinter Sacre on a line through the runner-up. The latter has been hugely impressive in his three runs over the larger obstacles and the manner in which he beat stablemate French Opera in the Game Spirit certainly raised a few eyebrows, though it's questionable how strong that form really is. At the likely odds, it could be worth taking him on with Colin Tizzard's gelding who is the apple of his trainer's eye. He stays further so will probably have to make his own running but those tactics suit him admirably and he looks to have the beating of Al Ferof on a line through Sandown second For Non Stop. He may just stay on too strongly up the hill for Sprinter Sacre, who emptied quickly after the last here last year. Menorah shouldn't be ignored, despite jumping problems, as he was a high-class hurdler and has already won three times at Cheltenham, including at The Festival in 2010, but the Irish challenge this year looks sub-standard.
Al Ferof (FR) 5-2fav (11-7) In touch in 5th, headway to 3rd 4 out, went 2nd and hit 3 out, ridden and not fluent 2 out, lost 2nd between last 2, no extra in 3rd before last, 3rd of 8, 5l behind Somersby (11-7) at Ascot 2m 1f chs G1 (1) gs in Jan.
Blackstairmountain (IRE) 5-2 (11-12) Held up towards rear, no impression in 5th approaching straight, kept on one pace, 5th of 7, 29l behind Flemenstar (11-12) at Leopardstown 2m 1f nov chs G1 (1) sft in Jan.
Cue Card 5-2 (11-7) Made all, clear when hit 2 out, driven out and stayed on well from last, won at Newbury 2m 2f nov chs (3) sft in Dec beating For Non Stop (11-0) by 4l, 4 ran.
Foildubh (IRE) 6-1 (11-4) Tracked leaders, 2nd approaching 5 out, challenged 3 out, soon led, stayed on well under pressure run-in, caught near line, 2nd of 6, hd behind Donnas Palm (11-4) at Navan 2m 1f nov chs G2 (1) sft in Feb.
Menorah (IRE) 4-5fav (11-7) Tracked leaders, hit 1st, fell 3rd, in a race won by Kid Cassidy (11-0) at Doncaster 2m nov chs G2 (1) gs in Jan, 3 ran.
Sprinter Sacre (FR) 2-5fav (11-5) Jumped well, tracked leaders, took keen hold, went 2nd 5th, led after next, hard held, impressive, won at Newbury 2m 1f chs Grd 2 (1) gs in Feb beating French Opera (11-10) by 6l, 6 ran.