This is an interesting little contest as you'd expect a few of these to make their mark over fences in years to come. Neltara finished ahead of fourth-placed Comeonginger when runner-up to Ericht at Kempton but the latter was having only his second run under Rules that day and could easily turn the tables over this longer trip. Return Spring won at Ludlow before finishing second over 2m7f at Hereford but has to concede weight all round while Awbeg Massini stuck on well when second over 2m5f at Uttoxeter 10 days ago and will appreciate the step back up in distance. Harry Fry has his team in fine form and his mare HIGHLAND RETREAT has improved since finishing behind Return Spring in December. She can come out on top today and land this as course and distance third Big Jer is definitely one that will improve when tackling the bigger obstacles.
Return Spring (IRE) 13-8fav (11-5) Mid-division, not fluent and lost place 1st, headway approaching 6th, challenged 2 out, no impression on winner last, stayed on, 2nd of 12, 3l behind Midnight Appeal (10-12) at Hereford 2m 6f nh nov hdl (4) sft in Dec.
Awbeg Massini (IRE) 7-2 (11-1) Led, ridden and edged right approaching last, headed towards finish, 2nd of 11, 2l behind Fourovakind (10-11) at Uttoxeter 2m 4f mdn hdl (5) hvy.
Big Jer 10-1 (10-12) Held up towards rear, steady headway approaching 3 out, chased leaders before next, went 3rd just before last, stayed on same pace flat, 3rd of 13, 3 1/2l behind Buck's Bond (10-9) at Taunton 3m nh nov hdl (4) sft in Dec.
Comeonginger (IRE) 9-2 (11-4) Raced wide, held up rear of mid-division, ridden in 7th before 2 out, stayed on under pressure to modest 4th flat, 4th of 18, 10l behind Ericht (11-11) at Kempton 2m 5f nh nov hdl (4) gs.
Neltara 14-1 (11-4) Chased leader until approaching 5th, handy, went 2nd again and mistake last, stayed on same pace flat, 2nd of 18, 2 3/4l behind Ericht (11-11) at Kempton 2m 5f nh nov hdl (4) gs.
Sharp Suit (IRE) 20-1 (10-9) Tracked leaders in 4th, ridden over 3f out, weakened over 2f out, 5th of 8, 12l behind Fountains Mary (10-6) at Plumpton 2m 2f NH flat (6) gs in Nov.
Stony Road (IRE) 80-1 (11-5) Chased leader until 4th, stayed in touch until ridden and lost place 5th, rallied approaching 3 out, stayed on to 3rd at the last, no chance with leading duo, 3rd of 15, 14l behind Heronshaw (11-5) at Ludlow 2m 5f mdn hdl (5) sft in Jan.
Highland Retreat 7-1 (10-9) Tracked leaders, not fluent 6th, challenged after 8th, led before 3 out, soon headed, no extra flat, 3rd of 9, 14l behind Prima Porta (11-0) at Ludlow 2m 5f Mares Handicap Hurdle (0-135) (4yo+) (3) sft.