A good run from Pigeon Island in the previous race on the card will add confidence to those of us who think that SEVEN IS MY NUMBER can take this competitve handicap chase, while Exmoor Ranger, The Sawyer and Mister McGoldrick are others considered. The selection may not even make it to the track, given that his preferred option is Doncaster, but if he does turn up then has been going very much the right way over fences, winning five of his six starts over fences so far, including a noteable 18-length defeat of Pigeon Island over course and distance last time. Soft ground is ideal for him and from the same mark of 148 he looks capable of cutting it against the strongest opposition he has faced yet. With Exmoor Ranger also a Doncaster possible who could end up here and go close, we will concentrate on the others and the next best looks to be The Sawyer. Bob Buckler's charge showed great resolve when outbattling Miss Mitch at Ascot last week and has gone up 4lbs for that success, which is far from insurmountable. Soft ground and this stiff track should suit, and a course and distance success fuels confidence that he can run a very big race. Rory Boy would be a popular local winner but is better when the ground is good, and Perce Rock is a soft ground performer who has won over 2m 4f at Punchestown, though tends to be kept to around two miles. He has a bit to prove after a hurdling spin in November, but connections presumably wouldn't be here if they didn't feel he had a chance. Fit To Drive was in the process of running a big race here last time before tipping up four out and she stays this far. She had been on an upward curve until then and has little weight to carry, so could be a threat to our pick Seven Is My Number, with a note that The Sawyer gets the vote if David Pipe's runner is absent.
Pablo Du Charmil (FR) 33-1 (11-12) Held up towards rear, headway 10th, switched right after 3 out, stayed on same pace from 2 out, 4th of 17, 7l behind Russian Around (10-9) at Uttoxeter 3m hcp chs (2) gd in May.
Seven Is My Number (IRE) 4-9fav (11-7) Made all, allowed to drift right 3 out, shaken up to assert last, readily came clear flat despite drifting right, won at Cheltenham 2m 5f nov chs G2 (1) sft beating Pigeon Island (11-0) by 18l, 2 ran.
Perce Rock 7-1 (10-10) Mid-division, headway to 4th halfway, ridden and no extra 3 out (poor visibility), 8th of 11, 13l behind Thousand Stars (10-0) at Fairyhouse 2m ext hcp hdl hvy in Nov.
Mister McGoldrick 33-1 (10-11) In touch, led 14th, ridden and headed approaching last, no extra flat, 3rd of 12, 5l behind Can't Buy Time (11-0) at Cheltenham 2m 5f hcp chs G3 (1) sft.
Exmoor Ranger (IRE) 4-1fav (11-5) Held up towards rear, headway into mid-division when hit 12th, stayed on after 4 out, chased leaders approaching 2 out, challenged after last, kept on to lead final 100 yards, won going away, won at Newbury 2m 6f hcp chs 0-135 (3) gs in Nov beating Ice Bucket (10-3) by 2 1/4l, 14 ran.
Yes Sir (IRE) 16-1 (11-7) Chased leader, led 3rd to 6th, slow jump 8th, soon dropped to rear, struggling 10th, tailed off 4 out, last of 9, well behind Magic Sky (10-9) at Chepstow 2m 3f hcp chs 0-145 (2) hvy in Dec.
Oscar Bay (IRE) 25-1 (11-7) In rear, not fluent when slightly hampered 4th, went poor 6th before 4 out, never dangerous, 5th of 14, 47l behind Le Beau Bai (11-9) at Chepstow 3m hcp chs 0-145 (2) hvy in Dec.
Idole First (IRE) 33-1 (10-7) Behind, pushed along from 8th, never on terms with leaders, 7th of 17, 28l behind Poquelin (11-8) at Cheltenham 2m 5f hcp chs Grade 3 (4yo+) (1) sft in Dec.
The Sawyer (BEL) 8-1 (9-8) With leaders, led 7th, made rest, ridden 2 out, kept on flat, just held on, won at Ascot 2m 5f hcp chs (2) sft beating Miss Mitch (11-2) by nk, 13 ran.
Private Be 11-2 (10-3) Mid-division, blundered 8th, ridden approaching 3 out, stayed on from next, 2nd of 12, 2 1/4l behind Can't Buy Time (11-0) at Cheltenham 2m 5f hcp chs G3 (1) sft.
Akilak (IRE) 11-1 (11-2) Behind, some late headway but never in contention, 7th of 18, 38l behind Mount Oscar (11-0) at Newbury 2m 4f hcp chs 0-145 (2) gs in Nov.
Rory Boy (USA) 20-1 (11-3) Led until narrowly headed before 4th, led again 6th, headed 4 out, soon ridden, outpaced before next, rallied to modest 3rd approaching last, 3rd of 5, 17l behind Riverside Theatre (11-8) at Kempton 2m nov chs Grade 2 4yo+ (1) gs in Dec.
Nycteos (FR) 12-1 (10-12) Mid-division, progress before 7 out, no extra from before 2 out, 15th of 28, well behind Oscar Time (10-3) at Leopardstown 3m hcp chs 0-145 in Dec.
Fit To Drive 12-1 (10-1) In touch, 2nd and every chance when fell 4 out, in a race won by Can't Buy Time (11-0) at Cheltenham 2m 5f hcp chs G3 (1) sft, 12 ran.