Paul Nicholls may hold the key to this with Sam Winner and ZARKANDAR. The former looked a superb prospect when slamming Grandouet in the trial for this here in November and can't possibly have been right when beaten in the Grade 1 Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow. Ruby Walsh has picked him over his once-raced stablemate but Daryl Jacob could be the beneficiary as his mount landed what looked a very strong Grade 2 at Kempton last month in exceptional style. Runner-up Molotof, like the winner a recruit from France, is certain to improve though his stablemates, the much-improved Grandouet and A Media Luz, who was second to him at Newbury in December, arrive in good form with obvious claims. Smad Place, who ran well in the Finale at Chepstow, is another with a chance, especially given his trainer's record in the race, while Third Intention can reverse Haydock running with Houblon Des Obeaux if ridden with more restraint as expected. Dermot Weld has declared Unaccompanied, who looked an outstanding prospect when defeating Sailor's Warn in a Grade 1 at Leopardstown, despite his insistence that she would only run if there was plenty of give in the ground.
Aikideau (FR) 8-1 (10-12) Held up in rear, headway approaching 4 out, chased leaders 2 out, weakening when blundered last, 6th of 9, 36l behind Zarkandar (10-12) at Kempton 2m 4yo hdl Grade 2 (1) gs in Feb.
Architrave 5-1 (11-6) Chased leaders, led approaching 4th, headed before next, weakened quickly before 3 out, tailed off, 13th of 15, well behind Sam Winner (10-12) at Cheltenham 2m juv nov hdl Grd 2 (1) gs in Nov.
Brampour (IRE) 2-1 (10-7) Keen hold, always prominent, driven to challenge after 3 out, led after next, left in clear lead at last, ran on well, won at Taunton 2m 1f mdn hdl (4) gd in Feb beating Clowance House (11-3) by 13l, 14 ran.
First Fandango 5-4fav (10-12) Tracked leading pair, ridden and outpaced approaching 3 out, went 2nd before next, soon challenged, stayed on under pressure to lead narrowly towards finish, just held on, won at Ayr 2m 4yo hdl (4) gd in Jan beating Vosges (10-9) by hd, 11 ran.
Grandouet (FR) 4-9fav (11-8) Held up in mid-division, headway 5th, soon chasing leaders, led on bit approaching last, pushed clear, impressive, won at Ascot 2m 4yo hdl (3) gs in Jan beating Two Kisses (11-1) by 6l, 9 ran.
Houblon Des Obeaux (FR) 5-4fav (11-6) Tracked leader, led before 3 out, ridden next, headed soon after, rallied flat, led final 50 yards, driven out, won at Haydock 2m 4yo hdl (2) hvy in Feb beating Third Intention (11-3) by 3/4l, 5 ran.
Kuilsriver (IRE) 13-8fav (10-12) Made most until hit 6th, led 3 out, ridden and headed approaching 2 out, soon beaten, took 2nd flat, 2nd of 11, 14l behind Whitby Jack (10-12) at Fontwell 2m 2f 4yo hdl (4) gs in Feb.
Local Hero (GER) 3-1 (11-6) Took keen hold, tracked leaders and jumped right and not fluent throughout, ridden and weakened from 2 out, 4th of 5, 15l behind Houblon Des Obeaux (11-6) at Haydock 2m 4yo hdl (2) hvy in Feb.
Mister Carter (IRE) 2-1 (10-10) Chased leaders, mainly 4th, ridden in 5th 2 out, no extra and kept on one pace, 4th of 7, 11l behind Tillahow (10-10) at Punchestown 2m hdl Grd 3 hvy in Jan.
Molotof (FR) 3-1 (10-12) Held up in touch, headway after 3 out, soon chasing leaders, driven when every chance next, stayed on same pace, 2nd of 9, 2 1/4l behind Zarkandar (10-12) at Kempton 2m 4yo hdl Grade 2 (1) gs in Feb.
New Den 22-1 (10-7) Chased winner until hit 6th, soon under pressure in 4th before 3 out, weakened soon after, tailed off, last of 7, well behind Super Directa (11-1) at Folkestone 2m 1f mdn hdl (5) sft.
Sailors Warn (IRE) 9-2 (11-0) Mid-division, 6th approaching 2 out, headway early straight, 2nd and ridden last, no impression last 100 yards, kept on, 2nd of 11, 3l behind Unaccompanied (10-9) at Leopardstown 2m 4yo hdl Grade 1 (1) hvy in Feb.
Sam Winner (FR) 8-13fav (11-0) Tracked leaders, ridden and chance 2 out, no extra from last, 4th of 8, 6l behind Marsh Warbler (11-0) at Chepstow 2m 4yo hdl Grade 1 (1) sft in Jan.
Sir Pitt 22-1 (10-7) Chased leaders, went 2nd and every chance 2 out, disputing lead and every chance when pushed right and bumped before last, stayed on same pace flat, 3rd of 13, 2 3/4l behind Old Way (11-2) at Hereford 2m 1f mdn hdl (4) hvy in Feb.
Smad Place (FR) 1-4fav (11-0) With leader, led 3rd, made rest, driven and hard pressed between last 2, stayed on well flat, won at Wincanton 2m nh nov hdl (4) gs in Feb beating Jump City (10-13) by 2 1/4l, 15 ran.
Third Intention (IRE) 7-2 (11-3) Tracked leaders and keen, took closer order 4 out, challenged next, pressed winner next, soon led, headed final 50 yards, kept on, 2nd of 5, 3/4l behind Houblon Des Obeaux (11-6) at Haydock 2m 4yo hdl (2) hvy in Feb.
Tillahow (IRE) 20-1 (11-0) Mid-division on outer, 7th before 2 out, soon ridden and no impression, 7th of 11, 21l behind Unaccompanied (10-9) at Leopardstown 2m 4yo hdl Grade 1 (1) hvy in Feb.
Trop Fort (FR) 15-8fav (10-7) Led, driven and headed soon after 2 out, rallying when fell last, in a race won by Brampour (10-7) at Taunton 2m 1f mdn hdl (4) gd in Feb, 14 ran.
Walter De La Mare (IRE) 10-1 (11-7) Mid-division best, ridden and no impression before 3 out, weakened, 11th of 20, well behind Rigidity (11-7) at Gowran Park 2m 4yo mdn hdl hvy in Feb.
Zarkandar (IRE) 8-1 (10-12) Settled in mid-division, smooth headway 3 out, soon chasing leaders, quickened to lead approaching 2 out, stayed on strongly, impressive, won at Kempton 2m 4yo hdl Grade 2 (1) gs in Feb beating Molotof (10-12) by 2 1/4l, 9 ran.
A Media Luz (FR) 8-15fav (10-5) Tracked leader, challenged 3 out, soon led, clear 2 out, very easily, won at Huntingdon 2m 4yo hdl (2) gs in Feb beating Pantxoa (11-6) by 18l, 5 ran.
High Ransom 11-8fav (10-0) Held up mid-division, headway before 3 out, soon chasing leader, ridden before 2 out, challenging when slightly squeezed for room run-in, led final 100 yards, driven out, won at Carlisle 2m 1f nh nov hdl (4) hvy in Feb beating Bow Badger (11-10) by nk, 11 ran.
Unaccompanied (IRE) 5-2fav (10-9) Tracked leaders in 5th, improved into 3rd 2 out, led travelling best approaching last, ridden and ran on well, very easily, won at Leopardstown 2m 4yo hdl Grade 1 (1) hvy in Feb beating Sailors Warn (11-0) by 3l, 11 ran.