A cracking handicap featuring a number of smart performers. Zarkandar won last year's Triumph Hurdle and followed up in a Grade 1 at Aintree. Ruby Walsh has chosen him ahead of stablemates Brampour and Empire Levant, despite the absence. Darlan is also unbeaten over timber but needs to improve markedly on his form in novice events to score here. Via Galilei will appreciate the likely strong gallop while Get Me Out Of here and Final Approach are decent performers on their day and will be heading to Cheltenham after this. Third Intention came back to form at Taunton last month and Raya Star held off Rigidity in a Listed handicap at Ascot in December, though the second never got competitive here next time. OLOFI fell in that race but was travelling very strongly at the time and may well have made a race of it with eventual winner Celestial Halo. Tom George's five-year-old races off the same mark today and can make amends. Northern raiders Desert Cry and Abergavenny may be the pick of the remainder as Soldatino is likely to need the run.
Brampour (IRE) 6-1 (11-5) Mid-division, weakened 3 out, 11th of 16, 11l behind Raya Star (10-1) at Ascot 2m Listed hcp hdl (1) sft in Dec.
Zarkandar (IRE) 4-6fav (11-0) Held up in mid-division, headway to go 3rd 4th, pushed along approaching 3 out, challenging when left in narrow lead 2 out, still hard pressed last, driven and stayed on under pressure flat, won at Aintree 2m 4yo hdl Grade 1 (1) gs in Apr beating Kumbeshwar (11-0) by 1 1/4l, 9 ran.
Get Me Out Of Here (IRE) 8-1 (10-12) Held up in last pair in touch, went 3rd after 2 out, challenged last, ridden and every chance when hung left flat, kept on, no extra final 100 yards, 2nd of 5, 1 3/4l behind Oscar Whisky (11-6) at Cheltenham 2m 4f hdl G2 (1) gd in Dec.
Final Approach 3-10fav (11-12) Tracked leaders, on terms from before straight, led 3 out, in control going well after, stayed on well run-in, easily, won at Cork 2m hdl hvy in Jan beating Little Green (11-3) by 2 3/4l, 6 ran.
Soldatino (FR) 11-1 (11-7) Mid-division, effort on outside to chase leaders 2 out, ridden and one pace approaching last, weakened flat, 11th of 26, 7l behind Final Approach (10-12) at Cheltenham 2m 1f hcp hdl G3 (1) gd in Mar.
Darlan 10-11fav (11-12) Tracked leaders, challenged approaching 2 out, led on bit when not fluent last, unextended, very cheekily, won at Taunton 2m 1f nh nov hdl (3) gs in Jan beating Jump City (11-12) by 1/2l, 13 ran.
Via Galilei (IRE) 20-1 (10-7) Held up in rear, headway approaching last, never on terms, 9th of 16, 8l behind Raya Star (10-1) at Ascot 2m Listed hcp hdl (1) sft in Dec.
Sailors Warn (IRE) 9-1 (10-11) Held up towards rear, hard driven and headway after 4 out, chased leaders approaching last, soon weakened, 7th of 16, 5l behind Raya Star (10-1) at Ascot 2m Listed hcp hdl (1) sft in Dec.
Sire De Grugy (FR) 10-1 (11-12) Held up in rear, took keen hold, headway after 3rd, lost place after next, still in touch 4 out, weakened 2 out, 6th of 8, 25l behind Cotillion (10-5) at Chepstow 2m hcp hdl (2) hvy in Jan.
Desert Cry (IRE) 7-2 (11-4) Held up 4th and last in touch, went 3rd 3 out, challenged between rivals after last, ridden and every chance flat, no extra towards finish, 2nd of 4, 2 1/4l behind Celestial Halo (11-12) at Haydock 2m hdl G2 (1) hvy in Jan.
Third Intention (IRE) 7-2fav (11-12) Held up towards rear, pushed along 6th, headway on outside 3 out, challenged next, every chance last, ridden and no extra flat, 2nd of 12, 3 1/2l behind Ranjaan (10-5) at Taunton 2m 1f hcp hdl 0-145 (2) gs in Jan.
Empire Levant (USA) 2-1fav (10-0) Tracked leaders, challenged going well 3 out, soon led, edged left 2 out, ridden and headed when edged left and mistake last, stayed on same pace, no impression on winner final 200 yards, 2nd of 11, 6l behind Rock On Ruby (11-10) at Newbury 2m Listed hcap hdle (1) gs in Nov.
Alarazi (IRE) 11-2 (11-9) Mid-division, headway before 3 out, soon chasing leaders, still well there 2 out, ridden soon after, weakened approaching last, 6th of 15, 15l behind Ciceron (10-12) at Sandown 2m hcp hdl 0-145 (2) sft in Jan.
Raya Star (IRE) 12-1 (10-1) Held up towards rear, headway after 3 out, chased leaders next, led soon after last, ran on well, won at Ascot 2m Listed hcp hdl (1) sft in Dec beating Rigidity (9-9) by 1/2l, 16 ran.
Ciceron (IRE) 8-1 (11-1) Raced wide, headway and squeezed through on inside when bumped on bend after 3 out, no extra before 2 out, 5th of 10, 15l behind Smad Place (11-9) at Ascot 2m 3f Ltd hcp hdl (1) gs in Jan.
Olofi (FR) 3-1fav (10-2) Chased leaders, challenged on inside 3 out, every chance when fell next, in a race won by Celestial Halo (11-12) at Newbury 2m hcp hdl (2) sft in Dec, 11 ran.
Rigidity 9-1 (10-3) Soon towards rear, struggling before 3 out, stayed on again flat, 6th of 11, 11l behind Celestial Halo (11-12) at Newbury 2m hcp hdl (2) sft in Dec.
Ericht (IRE) 1-5fav (11-2) Held up in touch, closed after 5th, strong challenge after 3 out, ridden flat, not pace of winner towards finish, 2nd of 11, 1 1/4l behind Cousin Khee (11-2) at Huntingdon 2m NH nov hdl (4-7yo) (4) gs in Jan.
Abergavenny 7-2 (11-4) Tracked leaders, led 2f out, clear 1f out, easily, won at Southwell 2m n h flat (6) std beating Bedouin Bay (11-4) by 8l, 14 ran.
Double Ross (IRE) 7-2 (11-8) Led, driven and headed between last 2, kept on same pace, ridden and no impression with winner flat, held on for 2nd near finish, 2nd of 3, 2 1/2l behind Cinders And Ashes (11-8) at Haydock 2m nov hdl G2 (1) hvy in Jan.