MAD MAX makes his eagerly awaited debut over fences and looks worth backing to make it a winning one, with Mahonia and Fiendish Flame put forward as the most likely dangers. Nicky Henderson is having another fine season and in Mad Max he has one who could improve it further still. The lightly-raced eight-year-old arrived at Cheltenham in March unbeaten in four starts, only to find Grade One company a step too far in the Ballymore Properties Novices' Hurdle. However, his form prior to that in beating Pause And Clause and Karabak stands up to close scrutiny, with the latter a live challenger for top staying hurdle honours, and his trainer has always thought of him as a chaser in the making. This won't be easy on debut, but he should have the speed for two miles and the ground won't be a problem so he's selected to get his career back on track. There is nothing between Mahonia and Fiendish Flame on hurdles ratings, but the former is selected to fill the forecast spot for Paul Nicholls and Ruby Walsh. A faller on his only start over fences, the seven-year-old comes with risks attached, but he looked potentially smart at times over hurdles and he'll surely have been well schooled since that mishap at Plumpton. Fiendish Flame has a win and a second from two starts over the larger obstacles but has to concede weight all-round as a result. This return to two miles should suit Donald McCain's charge as he looked to be outstayed last time, and with that form in the book he'll rate a solid benchmark for the form. On hurdles ratings alone, Dee Ee Williams would probably be the one to beat here. However, Nick Gifford's gelding was beaten out of sight by the classy Punchestowns last time and in the process didn't look to be a natural over fences. He may also want a bit further than this so looks opposable here, as does Petito who is set to be outclassed against these. A fascinating contest in the making and we're hopeful Mad Max is good enough to make a winning debut over fences on his way to better things.
Fiendish Flame (IRE) 8-11fav (11-7) Made most, jumped left 4th, headed 4 out, soon ridden, upsides 2 out, kept on and every chance until one pace flat, 2nd of 5, 2 3/4l behind Minella Theatre (11-1) at Hereford 2m 5f nov chs (3) gs in Nov.
Dee Ee Williams (IRE) 6-1 (11-1) Led to 10th, led after next, headed when stumbled slightly 4 out, mistake 3 out, soon weakened, last of 4, 21l behind Punchestowns (11-1) at Newbury 2m 4f nov chs Grade 2 4yo+ (1) gs in Nov.
Mad Max (IRE) 6-1 (11-7) Held up, went handy 4th, chased leader after 7th, not much room when hit 2 out, weakened soon after, 8th of 14, 27l behind Mikael D'haguenet (11-7) at Cheltenham 2m 5f nov hdl G1 (1) gs in Mar.
Mahonia (IRE) 4-1 (10-13) Mostly chased winner, challenged 3 out, soon pushed along, close up but ridden when not much room bumped and fell 2 out, in a race won by King Edmund (10-13) at Plumpton 2m 1f nov chs (3) sft in Dec, 8 ran.
Petito (IRE) 12-1 (10-11) Held up in 4th, pitched and unseated rider 2nd, in a race won by Ginolad (11-0) at Fontwell 2m 6f beg chs (4) sft in Dec, 4 ran.