Luck and jockeyship always play a part in this but last year's first and second, Salsify and CHAPOTURGEON, have to go on the short-list again. We fancy the runner-up to reverse the form this season as Jack Barber possibly held up the grey too far off the pace last year and he used up a lot of energy in just getting to Rodger Sweeney's charge at the last. A second successive victory in a normally informative Newbury hunter chase should have blown away any cobwebs. Salsify won at Leopardstown last month, however, and arrives in good form again while last year's third Oscar Delta couldn't be ruled out despite running a shocker in that Leopardstown race. Cottage Oak is highly regarded and slammed Current Exchange by 13 lengths at Haydock but the ground may be too soft for Dante's Storm, who pulled clear of Rumbury Grey over this trip at Doncaster, and the once-useful Tricky Trickster was surprisingly beaten at Ffos Las last time. That's Rhythm may have had his chance and prolific Irish pointer Backstage hasn't shown anything like the same form under Rules and Divine Intavention is a much better horse on fast ground.
Backstage (FR) 2-5 (12-0) Mid div, 6th 1/2way, 6l down 5out, prog to 3rd 3out, chall ldr before last, ld early run-in, all out at line, won at Tinahely 3m ire ptp gd beating Russian Regent (12-0) by 1/2l, 7 ran.
Benedictus (IRE) 4-1 (11-7) Jumped left, led, blundered 3rd, headed 8th, chased leader, challenged 3 out, led again before 2 out, came clear before last, easily, won at Taunton 2m 7f hts chs (5) sft in Feb beating Khachaturian (12-0) by 6l, 6 ran.
Chapoturgeon (FR) 4-7fav (11-9) Held up in rear, mistake 9th, headway after 11th, challenged 2 out, led before last, soon clear, easily, won at Newbury 2m 6f hts chs (6) sft in Jan beating Promising Anshan (12-2) by 9l, 11 ran.
Coombe Hill 7-1 (12-3) Tracked leaders, challenged 4 out, led next, headed 2 out, one pace last, 2nd of 14, 7l behind Kirkleigh (11-9) at Wincanton 3m 1f hts chs (6) hvy in Jan.
Cottage Oak (IRE) 9-4fav (11-13) Towards rear, headway from 9th, led 10th, clear after 2 out, stayed on strongly, won at Haydock 3m hts chs (4) hvy in Feb beating Current Exchange (12-2) by 13l, 10 ran.
Creevytennant (IRE) 4-1 (11-9) Made all, not fluent 3rd, jumped right next, not fluent 7th, clear 4 out, stayed on well, unchallenged, won at Musselburgh 2m 4f hts chs (3) gs in Feb beating Moon Over Miami (11-13) by 22l, 7 ran.
Current Exchange (IRE) 12-1 (12-2) Mid-division, chased leaders 9th, chased winner 5 out, blundered 3 out, no impression from 2 out, 2nd of 10, 13l behind Cottage Oak (11-13) at Haydock 3m hts chs (4) hvy in Feb.
Dante's Storm 11-10fav (12-0) Tracked leader and keen, led after 1st, clear from 5 out, stayed on well, eased last 100 yards, won at Doncaster 3m 2f hts chs (6) gd in Feb beating Rumbury Grey (12-1) by 10l, 7 ran.
Divine Intavention (IRE) 15-8 (12-7) Trckd ldr; led 15; drew clr 3 out, won at Countryside Alliance Club 3m ptp gd in Feb beating Louis Pasteur (12-7) by well, 9 ran.
Doctor Kingsley 1-3 (12-5) Led to 6; rdn to ld 2 out; unimpressive, won at Thorpe Lodge 3m ptp gs in Feb beating Canticle (12-5) by 5l, 4 ran.
Earth Dream (IRE) 2-1 (12-5) Hdwy 14; lft in ld 4 out; ro wl, won at Cambridge University Draghounds 3m ptp gd in Feb beating Corredor Sun (12-5) by 4l, 9 ran.
Faasel (IRE) Evens (12-0) (bl) led til hdd 15; 4th & no ch when pu last, in a race won by Lucette Annie (11-7) at Buckfastleigh 3m ptp sft in Feb, 8 ran.
Galant Nuit (FR) 4-7 (12-3) Chsd ldrs; gd prog to disp 15; led 2 out; just held on, won at Jedforest 3m ptp gs in Feb beating Ngong Hills (12-0) by nk, 7 ran.
Hoopy (IRE) 12-1 (11-0) Always behind, struggling after 10th, tailed off, 6th of 8, well behind Epee Celeste (9-7) at Cartmel 3m 2f hcp chs 0-135 (3) gs in Jul.
Keenan's Future (IRE) 50-1 (11-11) In rear, headway 10th on outer, went 4th before 5 out, went 3rd before 4 out, one pace, 3rd of 7, 20l behind Dante's Storm (12-0) at Doncaster 3m 2f hts chs (6) gd in Feb.
Louis Pasteur (IRE) 10-1 (12-7) Lost tch 9; to 12; went rem 2nd flat, 2nd of 9, well behind Divine Intavention (12-7) at Countryside Alliance Club 3m ptp gd in Feb.
Merchant Royal (IRE) 25-1 (12-0) Always towards rear, behind when pulled up before last, in a race won by Salsify (11-11) at Leopardstown 3m hts chs sft in Feb, 17 ran.
Oscar Delta (IRE) 7-1 (11-7) Mid-division, 9th halfway, ridden along and no extra after 4 out, 11th of 17, well behind Salsify (11-11) at Leopardstown 3m hts chs sft in Feb.
Radetsky March (IRE) 11-10fav (11-13) Patiently ridden in last pair, hit 5th and dropped to rear, smooth headway to 4th at 12th, went 2nd and going easily when left in lead 3 out, soon in command, eased after last, won at a canter, won at Fontwell 3m 2f hts chs (6) sft in Feb beating Man From Moscow (11-5) by 5l, 7 ran.
Rumbury Grey 7-4 (12-1) Tracked leaders in 3rd, chased winner before 4 out, ridden before 2 out, held in 2nd when mistake last, kept on, 2nd of 7, 10l behind Dante's Storm (12-0) at Doncaster 3m 2f hts chs (6) gd in Feb.
Salsify (IRE) 3-1fav (11-11) Held up in rear, headway into 9th 4 out and smooth progress to go 2nd entering straight, ridden approaching last where slight mistake, kept on under pressure run-in to lead closing stages, won at Leopardstown 3m hts chs sft in Feb beating Tammys Hill (11-7) by nk, 17 ran.
That's Rhythm (FR) 5-4fav (12-1) Held up in touch in rear, mistake 2nd, not fluent 3rd, mistake next, not fluent 7th, headway before 8th, went 2nd when stumbled 4 out, led after 3 out, clear 2 out, stayed on well, won at Bangor 2m 4f hts chs (6) hvy in Feb beating Marky Bob (12-8) by 29l, 7 ran.
Tricky Trickster (IRE) 4-6fav (12-0) Held up in touch, ridden to chase winner 4 out, no impression, well held 2 out, 2nd of 10, 12l behind Bobs Law (11-10) at Ffos Las 3m hts chs (4) hvy in Feb.
What A Laugh 4-9 (12-7) Held up; went 2nd 13; led last; pushed out, won at Cottesmore 3m ptp gd beating Noakarad De Verzee (12-4) by 1l, 9 ran.