Escort'men and Opening Batsman have left Paul Nicholls to join Anthony Middleton and Harry Fry respectively but the Ditcheat maestro still has HAWKES POINT, who may well prove the one to beat. He won on his reappearance last season and though only fifth in a Grade 1 hurdle at Aintree in April, was always going to make a better chaser than hurdler. Off The Ground and Pateese could be decent prospects over fences this season but also have an absence to overcome as does Kuilsriver, who won a handicap hurdle here in May on soft ground. Ballylifen has been placed in all eight starts under Rules and has had a couple of runs between the flags but will find easier opportunities than this.
Ballylifen (IRE) 9-4fav (10-12) Tracked leaders in 3rd, outpaced 3 out, kept on from 2 out, chased winner after last, kept on, 2nd of 6, 1 3/4l behind Billy Merriott (11-5) at Plumpton 2m 5f nov hdl (4) gs in Nov.
Escort'men (FR) 33-1 (10-4) Held up in touch in rear, took keen hold, weakened approaching 2 out, 6th of 7, 27l behind Zarkandar (11-10) at Wincanton 2m Ltd hcp hdl (1) gs in Nov.
Hawkes Point 28-1 (11-4) Held up towards rear, pushed briefly after 5th, passed beaten horses latter stages, never in contention, 5th of 19, 29l behind Lovcen (11-4) at Aintree 3m nov hdl Grade 1 (1) gd in Apr.
Kuilsriver (IRE) 7-2 (10-13) Keen tracked leaders, joined leader 3 out, led before next, ridden and stayed on flat, won at Plumpton 2m 5f con hcp hdl 0-130 (3) sft in May beating El Dancer (11-1) by 1l, 7 ran.
Off The Ground (IRE) 8-1 (11-6) Held up mid-division, weakened after 3 out, 15th of 18, well behind Ambion Wood (11-12) at Sandown 2m 4f NH Novice Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3) (4-7yo) (1) gs in Mar.
Opening Batsman (IRE) 33-1 (11-1) Held up in mid-division, headway on outside 5th, hit 7th, ridden after 3 out, weakened before next, 12th of 23, 49l behind Bondage (10-13) at Cheltenham 2m 5f hcp hdl 0-140 (3) gs in Oct.
Pateese (FR) 14-1 (11-1) Towards rear, headway on inner before 3 out, challenged before 2 out, every chance before last, no extra last 75 yards, 3rd of 18, 2l behind American Spin (10-13) at Haydock 3m hcp hdl (2) sft in May.