Unravelling these qualifiers is never easy as many of the runners are likely to have bigger targets further down the line, if not the final itself. This race is further complicated by the fact that several are better known as chasers, though potentially well handicapped over timber. One such is THE PACKAGE, who won the Listed Badger Ales Chase at Wincanton on his reappearance and was then fourth in the Hennessy off a mark of 147, 13lb higher than today's rating. He gets a tentative vote but it would be no surprise to see the fast-improving De La Bech go close to completing his hat-trick while Storm Survivor stayed on well to score at Doncaster two weeks ago. His trainer, Jonjo O'Neill, also runs former Festival winner Sunnyhillboy and the consistent Holywell while Ely Brown, The Jugopolist and Alpha Victor also enter the equation but Hollow Tree gets little respite from the handicapper.
Hollow Tree 5-1 (11-12) Tracked leader, outpaced after 2 out, stayed on closing stages, never able to challenge, 4th of 10, 7l behind Bakbenscher (10-13) at Haydock 2m 4f hcp hdl (2) hvy in Dec.
Sunnyhillboy (IRE) 33-1 (11-5) Held up mid-division, ridden and outpaced after 4 out, kept on and no impression, 5th of 16, 23l behind Trustan Times (11-12) at Haydock 3m hcp hdl Grade 3 (1) sft in Nov.
Knock A Hand (IRE) 7-2 (11-1) Led, headed 3rd, briefly lost place, led again 6th, joined from 10th, ridden and headed approaching 4 out, weakened next, 4th of 6, 45l behind Poungach (11-1) at Haydock 2m 6f nov chs (2) sft in Nov.
Battle Group 9-2 (10-10) Behind when fell 4th, in a race won by Easter Meteor (11-6) at Doncaster 2m 3f hcp chs 0-140 (3) gs in Dec, 8 ran.
Alpha Victor (IRE) 11-1 (11-8) Chased leaders, every chance approaching last, led flat, all out, won at Haydock 3m hcp hdl 0-140 (3) hvy in Dec beating South Leinster (10-12) by 1/2l, 8 ran.
Holywell (IRE) 10-1 (11-0) Chased leaders, went 3rd before 3 out, every chance 2 out until after last, kept on, 2nd of 16, 2 3/4l behind Trustan Times (11-12) at Haydock 3m hcp hdl Grade 3 (1) sft in Nov.
West End Rocker (IRE) 4-1fav (10-12) Mid-division on outside, reminder after 5th, soon lost place, mistake 9th, pulled up before 17th, in a race won by Hello Bud (10-0) at Aintree 3m 2f Listed hcp chs (1) hvy in Dec, 16 ran.
The Package 8-1 (10-7) Mid-division, chased leaders under pressure 4 out, soon ridden, kept on same pace, no impression, 4th of 19, 14l behind Bobs Worth (11-6) at Newbury 3m 2f Grade 3 hcp chs (4yo+) (1) gs in Dec.
Simarian (IRE) 40-1 (11-2) Held up in last pair, outpaced after 3 out, weakened next, 11th of 12, 45l behind At Fishers Cross (10-12) at Cheltenham 3m hcp hdl (2) hvy in Dec.
Ely Brown (IRE) 3-1 (11-9) In touch, headay approaching last, kept on under pressure to go 3rd closing stages, never able to challenge, 3rd of 8, 4 1/2l behind Alpha Victor (11-8) at Haydock 3m hcp hdl 0-140 (3) hvy in Dec.
Storm Survivor (IRE) 22-1 (9-10) Held up in 5th, closed 7th, outpaced when mistake 3 out, rallied approaching last, driven to lead 110 yards out, eased after, won at Doncaster 3m hcp hdl 0-145 (2) sft in Dec beating Barafundle (11-6) by 1/2l, 8 ran.
What An Oscar (IRE) 33-1 (10-13) In touch, badly hampered and lost place 2nd, outpaced before 3 out, never back on terms, plugged on, 7th of 17, 19l behind Fair Along (11-12) at Newbury 3m hcp hdl 0-140 (3) sft in Nov.
Hada Men (USA) 10-1 (11-0) Towards rear, headway into mid-division and reminder 4th, lost place 4 out, soon ridden, no danger after, 11th of 18, 37l behind Double Ross (11-2) at Cheltenham 2m 5f hcp hdl 0-140 (3) sft in Nov.
De La Bech 3-1fav (11-12) Made all, strongly pressed from 2 out, stayed on gamely run-in, won at Ascot 3m nov hcp hdl 0-120 (4) hvy in Dec beating Okafranca (11-4) by 1 1/4l, 13 ran.
The Jugopolist (IRE) 2-1 (10-5) Mid-division, headway 3rd, soon prominent, led 3 out, hard pressed from next, headed after last, no extra, 2nd of 8, 6l behind Whisper (10-12) at Ffos Las 2m 4f nh nov hdl (4) hvy in Dec.
Duke Of Monmouth (IRE) 11-4fav (10-8) Prominent, ridden to challenge after 2 out, faded flat, 4th of 8, 6l behind Alpha Victor (11-8) at Haydock 3m hcp hdl 0-140 (3) hvy in Dec.
Okafranca (IRE) 5-1 (11-4) Headway to mid-division 4th, chased leaders before 2 out, soon ridden, stayed on to 2nd and kept on run-in, 2nd of 13, 1 1/4l behind De La Bech (11-12) at Ascot 3m nov hcp hdl 0-120 (4) hvy in Dec.
Boomtown Kat 40-1 (11-9) Raced wide, chased leaders, went 2nd after 8th until after 3 out, stayed in 3rd until before 2 out, soon outpaced in 4th, 4th of 16, 30l behind Okafranca (11-4) at Taunton 3m hcp hdl 0-110 (4) sft in Dec.