WHAT A FRIEND is the clear pick on form as Harry Skelton's mount won Grade 1 contests at Leopardstown and Aintree last season and will be all the better for his fifth to Imperial Commander at Haydock, though the Gold Cup at Cheltenham next month is probably his main objective this year and he does have to give a lot of weight to today's rivals. Noland was pulled up in Grade 3 at Cheltenham last month and doesn't look the force of old while Fair Along is far better over hurdles, though should ensure this is run at a decent gallop. The others may struggle on these terms.
What A Friend 3-1 (11-7) Held up behind in touch, headway and in touch when not fluent 11th, outpaced 4 out, soon beaten, 5th of 7, 14l behind Imperial Commander (11-7) at Haydock 3m chs G1 (1) gs in Nov.
Dance Island (IRE) 10-1 (10-7) Held up in touch, chased leaders in 5th when blundered and stumbled badly 5 out, soon weakened, pulled up 3 out, in a race won by Synchronised (11-6) at Chepstow 3m 5f hcp chs (1) sft in Jan, 18 ran.
Carronhills (IRE) 5-4fav (12-0) Chased leaders, 5th halfway, headway in 3rd 7 out, 2nd next, improved to lead 3 out, ridden and challenged approaching last, headed run-in and no extra, kept on same pace, 2nd of 16, 4l behind Agus A Vic (12-0) at Leopardstown 3m hts chs sft in Feb '09.
Fair Along (GER) 16-1 (11-8) Led until headed 6th, chased leader, hit 8th, lost 2nd before 2 out, weakened soon after, 9th of 14, 44l behind Grands Crus (11-4) at Cheltenham 3m hdl G2 (1) gs in Jan.
Noland 13-2 (11-12) Not fluent and never really travelled, in touch, lost place 6th, driven and mistake 10th, soon in rear, tailed off and pulled up, in a race won by Wishfull Thinking (11-3) at Cheltenham 2m 5f hcp chs G3 (1) gs in Jan, 10 ran.