Actival has scope to improve
Fry's grey can build on Ascot return under in-form Fehily
Wicklow Brave is charged with plundering Newbury's £155,000 Betfair Hurdle for Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh today.
A three-time bumper winner, the Beat Hollow six-year-old impressed on his first two hurdle starts in deep ground this time last year. He was then beaten less than 10 lengths by Vautour in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, but four runs since then suggest that he hasn't progressed as expected.
On Wicklow Brave's most recent start here in November, he was thrashed by this year's Supreme fancy L'Ami Serge, finishing last of eight off a mark of 144. While he is hardly as bad as his two outings this term suggest, he might need more than a four-pound drop to have a chance in a race as competitive as this 24-runner cavalry charge.
Jolly's Cracked It finished second to L'Ami Serge in the Tolworth a month ago. He has an each-way squeak for Harry Fry now that he reverts to handicap company, as he has a touch of quality, he stays well and he will handle the soft ground.
A less likely sort to consider for the place market is the Nick Williams-trained 25/1 shot Amore Alato. A smart novice last season, Amore Alato pushed Snake Eyes hard at Sandown in December in a decent race from which the third, fourth and fifth - War Singer, Ruacana and Sleepy Haven - have all come out and franked the form.
Amore Alato didn't run his race when a change of tactics were adopted back at Sandown next time, but he will probably be ridden handier again now. With the in-form Lizzie Kelly booked to take seven pounds off his back, he is likely to outrun his odds.
However, Fry's Activial is the one that appeals most at around 7/1. He has a little to find with Paul Nicholls' market leader Calipto on their juvenile form last term, but he was never a conventional three-year-old hurdler. Indeed, he started life winning a French bumper rather than on the Flat, and Fry didn't overrace him last season.
After finishing second to Calipto at Newbury on his hurdle debut, Activial won the Grade Two Adonis Hurdle at Kempton. He then skipped Cheltenham, and things simply happened far too quickly for him at Aintree, when he finished eighth behind Guitar Pete.
The son of Lord Du Sud needs plenty cut in the ground, and he was in the process of running a fine race on his reappearance in the Ladbroke at Ascot when he genuflected badly at the second-last flight.
That cost Activial valuable momentum, but he kept on gamely again to be third behind Bayan. Off a mark of 137, that was a cracking handicap debut, so he should be progressive enough to justify a six-pound hike here under the excellent Noel Fehily.
Crucially, conditions are in his favour and he has a fair racing weight of 11st 6lb, while his Ascot outing should have left him cherry ripe for this. If so, Activial has the scope to improve past Calipto.
Valseur Lido gets the chance to prove that his polished Drinmore Chase success was no fluke at Leopardstown tomorrow.
To these eyes, he is the most exciting long-term staying chase prospect among our novices, so it will be great to see him strut his stuff again under Bryan Cooper. With odds of 6/1 available about him for the JLT Novices' Chase compared to odds of 10/1 for the RSA, the market suggests that he will be aimed at the middle-distance race in Cheltenham.
Gigginstown Stud have won an RSA with Weapon's Amnesty and a JLT with Sir Des Champs, and it would be no surprise if they opt for the JLT with Valseur Lido, as it can be a less gruelling option. Moreover, with Clarcam for the Arkle and Don Poli a natural alternative for the RSA, it would surely fit their overall strategy.
If you fancy Valseur Lido for either event, though, it might be a good idea to back him before he scoots up tomorrow.
Kings Palace has been declared for the graduation chase at Exeter tomorrow, though he won't run as long as Newbury goes ahead today.
In his absence, Fingal Bay would likely start a short-priced favourite, but it would be no surprise to see Paul Nicholls' JUST A PAR run better than might be expected. The eight-year-old lost his way after winning a Grade Two at Newbury in 2013, but he wasn't disgraced in first-time blinkers when fourth in a handicap at Cheltenham in January.
Granted, he has plenty on conceding three pounds to Fingal Bay, but he looks on better terms with himself.
Lay of the Day
Houblon Des Obeaux is a general 3/1 favourite for the Denman Chase at Newbury, and he is entitled to be so on official ratings.
Of the six runners, he boasts the highest mark of 162, yet he receives weight from Unioniste and last year's winner Harry Topper. Still, he hasn't won since November 2013, and gallant defeats are often the norm with him. It would be no surprise were he to come up short again.
A little each-way
David Pipe's Shotavodka has hardly raised a gallop in five starts since winning a handicap chase off a mark of 141 at Haydock in May.
His latest outing in the Lanzarote Hurdle at Kempton was dismal, but Kempton is not his track. Now dropped to 135 over flights, he looks favourably treated again. In two previous starts in deep ground at Newbury, he has won and been second, latterly off 140, so he can run well at odds of up to 33/1 today.