Bristol De Mai on the way to victory at Sandown last month
Nick Robson finds a magnificent seven horses that might play a part in holding up the British defence against Willie Mullins and company at Cheltenham:
1. YANWORTH (Alan King)
PADDY POWER ODDS: 5/4
Considered the ‘home’ banker by many, this chestnut looked in a different league to some smart rivals at Cheltenham on Trials Day. He had the class to go close in the Bumper last year and even Willie Mullins may struggle to beat this one in the Neptune on Wedmnesday.
2. THISTLECRACK (Colin Tizzard)
PADDY POWER ODDS: 6/5
He has been an absolute revelation this season, remaining unbeaten. Having shown only flashes of decent form before heading to Aintree last term, that win was seen by many as a fluke. But he was unlucky not to follow up at Punchestown and quite simply looks in a different league to many in the World Hurdle on Thursday.
3. BRISTOL DE MAI (Nigel Twiston-Davies)
PADDY POWER ODDS: 7/2
Still only five, this grey jumps like an old hand. He has been doing his winning in deep mid-winter ground but he showed at Aintree last season that racing on a faster surface holds no fears to him. The JLT looks tailor-made for him on Thursday.
4. ALTIOR (Nicky Henderson)
PADDY POWER ODDS: 9/2
He might be coming up against the talking horse Min in the opening Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, but there is far more substance to his form. In beating Open Eagle as comfortably as he did at Christmas, he showed that Min will have to be every bit as good as his connections say he is.
5. BARTERS HILL (Ben Pauling)
PADDY POWER ODDS: 11/4
If he were trained by a Mullins or Henderson he would surely be odds on. Unbeaten in seven racecourse appearances, he is already a Grade One winner at Newbury in the Challow Hurdle and stepped up to three miles at Doncaster last time out. A great chance in the Albert Bartlett on Friday.
6. MINELLA ROCCO (Jonjo O’Neill)
PADDY POWER ODDS: 4/1
There was a time when Jonjo O’Neill dominated the four-mile National Hunt Chase and this JP McManus novice looks to fit the bill on Tuesday. At one stage he looked set to be good enough for the RSA, but his early efforts were uninspiring. A fast-finishing second in the Reynoldstown got the wheels back in motion, though.
7. NEXT SENSATION (Michael Scudamore)
PADDY POWER ODDS: 10/1
He should arguably be going for a hat-trick in the Grand Annual on Friday, having set off like a scalded cat two years ago but clinging on for fourth and winning last year. Some lenient handicapping and canny placement means he will return off just 1lb higher than when successful 12 months ago.