Proven class has always been an advantage in this ultra-competitive contest that is a key Grand National trial as well as an important handicap in its own right. The last four winners have carried more than 11st and the brilliant Denman won it twice under top weight in the Noughties. This year's renewal is as competitive as ever but Colin Tizzard has always thought the world of NATIVE RIVER and he held his own in the top novice races last season, beating Henri Parry Morgan and Un Temps Pour Tout in a Grade 1 at Aintree in April after finishing second in the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham when ahead of Vicente and Local Show. The six-year-old can stamp his authority on these. Smad Place beat the selection's stable companion Theatre Guide 12 lengths in this last year and is a smart stayer. But he has 11lb more to carry this time while Saphir Du Rheu was only fifth last year, though has been dropped 10lb since. Vyta Du Roc looks the pick of the Henderson trio but has something to find on the form book with Un Temps Pour Tout and Vicente. Blaklion usually runs his race and Upswing could go well at a price if the going deteriorates but Regal Encore's jumping will be tested in a race like this.
Smad Place (FR) 13-2 (11-10) Led until before 3rd, tracked leader, led after 8th, headed before 10th, outpaced after 3 out, rallied and went 4th last, stayed on, closing on 3rd close home, 4th of 7, 4 1/2l behind Third Intention (10-7) at Aintree 2m 4f hcp (1) gd in Oct.
Un Temps Pour Tout (IRE) 13-8fav (10-12) Made all, ridden after 2 out, edged left flat, stayed on well, won at Aintree 2m 4f (2) gs in Nov beating Mister Miyagi (11-2) by 2l, 4 ran.
Holywell (IRE) 16-1 (11-12) Tracked leaders, slow and reminder 2nd, reminder after 6th, lost place before 8th, soon weakened, 7th of 9, dist behind Caid Du Berlais (11-1) at Aintree 3m 1f hcp (2) gs in Nov.
Native River (IRE) 5-2 (11-1) Led, driven after 4 out, headed approaching next, ridden before 2 out, kept on and every chance last, no extra towards finish, 2nd of 6, 2 3/4l behind Silsol (11-1) at Wetherby 3m (1) gd in Oct.
Blaklion 7-2 (11-5) In touch, went 2nd after 5 out, challenged next, soon ridden, lost place 2 out, no impression betwen last 2, 4th of 7, 8 1/4l behind Irish Cavalier (11-6) at Wetherby 3m (1) gd in Oct.
Saphir Du Rheu (FR) 9-4fav (11-11) Tracked leader, slow 3rd, ridden to challenge 2 out, stayed on well closing stages, 3rd of 12, 4 1/2l behind Antony (10-1) at Ascot 3m hcp (1) gd in Oct.
Vicente (FR) 14-1 (11-3) Held up mid-division, headway to chase leaders 19th, led last, kept on well, driven out, won at Ayr 4m hcp (1) gs in Apr beating Alvarado (10-6) by 2 3/4l, 28 ran.
Henri Parry Morgan 5-1fav (11-2) Chased leaders, unseated rider 19th, at Sandown 3m 5f hcp (1) gd in Apr.
Triolo D'Alene (FR) 50-1 (11-0) Never better than mid-division, weakened 3 out, 14th of 39, dist behind Rule The World (10-7) at Aintree 4m 2f hcp (1) sft in Apr.
Aubusson (FR) (10-10) 4th of 13, 16l behind Alex De Larredya (10-10) at Auteuil 3m gd in Nov.
Double Ross (IRE) 4-1jfav (11-12) Led until 3rd, led 10th, headed 14th, outpaced approaching 3 out, brief rally 3 out, weakened next, 5th of 10, 23 1/4l behind Shuil Royale (11-5) at Aintree 3m 1f hcp (2) gd in Oct.
Theatre Guide (IRE) 4-1 (11-12) Tracked leaders, headway to lead 8th, ridden before 4 out where went right, hard pressed next, headed when hit last, kept on same pace, 2nd of 7, 2 1/2l behind Indian Stream (11-6) at Wetherby 2m 3f hcp lst (1) gd in Oct.
Coologue (IRE) 8-1 (11-9) Mid-division, headway 5th, blundered 15th, led next, hit 3 out, joined flat, pulled out more towards finish, won at Cheltenham 3m 1f hcp (2) gd in Oct beating Keltus (11-5) by 1l, 12 ran.
Carole's Destrier 12-1 (11-4) Mid-division, some headway under pressure approaching 3 out, weakened soon after, 11th of 20, 22 1/4l behind The Young Master (11-1) at Sandown 3m 5f hcp (1) gd in Apr.
Regal Encore (IRE) 12-1 (11-1) Mid-division, closer 4 out, ridden in 8th entering straight, stayed on into 3rd 2 out, under pressure in 2nd last, kept on run-in without reaching winner, 2nd of 15, 3/4l behind Pleasant Company (11-1) at Punchestown 3m 1f hcp Good - Yielding in Apr.
Local Show (IRE) 14-1 (11-6) Chased leaders, hampered and lost place 20th, rallied approaching 3 out, weakened before next, 7th of 20, 27l behind Minella Rocco (11-6) at Cheltenham 4m lst (1) gs in Mar.
Vyta Du Roc (FR) 7-2 (10-12) Chased leaders, not fluent 4 out, ridden when not fluent 2 out, soon beaten, left 3rd when weakening last, 3rd of 4, 18l behind Un Temps Pour Tout (10-12) at Aintree 2m 4f (2) gs in Nov.
Hadrian's Approach (IRE) 16-1 (11-0) Held up, towards rear, mistake 14th, weakened 4 out, 9th of 12, 15 1/2l behind Antony (10-1) at Ascot 3m hcp (1) gd in Oct.
Upswing (IRE) 11-1 (10-5) Slowly away, in rear, headway into mid-division 8th, tracked leaders 15th, ridden and effort on inside after 2 out, one pace flat, 5th of 17, 7 1/4l behind Viconte Du Noyer (11-2) at Cheltenham 3m 3f hcp (1) sft in Nov.
Houblon Des Obeaux (FR) 33-1 (11-7) In rear and mistakes early, pushed along after 9th, soon struggling, pulled up before 12th, at Aintree 3m 1f (1) gs in Apr.