Walsh can seal riding honours with St Patrick's Day treble
Another bumper harvest looks in store this afternoon for indomitable Irish champion Ruby Walsh, when he could put the leading rider accolade to bed early by doubling up in the twin Grade 1 features for the Paul Nicholls stable.
Invariably the tempo drops somewhat for this six-race card, but the durable Kildare pilot won't be complaining if Big Buck's completes a rare hat-trick in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle and last year's runner-up Poquelin takes the preceding Ryanair Chase.
Both of these French imports -- which are Cheltenham regulars at this stage for the Stewart family -- have been prepared specifically by Nicholls for the occasion and they looked as good as ever when winning with something to spare in their most recent outings.
Throw in the Willie Mullins-trained Sivota off a reasonable mark in the equally competitive final of the Pertemps Handicap Hurdle and you have a trio of Walsh's mounts which will prove immensely popular with punters and give the bookmakers anxious moments.
Despite his impeccable record over timber, Big Buck's seems to be one the layers are keen to field against as he's been a shade of odds against for a while now.
That situation no doubt has materialised on foot of David Pipe's Grands Crus turning successive three-mile contests staged on a soft surface into processions at Haydock and around this track.
Only time will tell whether this strong-galloping grey can translate that swashbuckling style to a rather better surface, while graduating to a further step-up in class today.
The Willie Mullins pair of Mourad and Fiveforthree come into the reckoning also.
Back in good heart after a lengthy lay-off through injury, Fiveforthree has a novice success at the festival on his admirable cv, while Mourad has stamped himself as one of our leading stayers over the winter and the pair could reach the frame behind the market principals.
With all due respect to Grands Crus and his burgeoning talent, it will take a seriously improved display by Pipe's younger charge on the drying ground to end the victory march of Big Buck's, with which Ruby has struck up such a wonderful partnership.
The Walsh-Nicholls alliance will be more hopeful than confident, perhaps, where Poquelin's bid to land the Ryanair Chase is concerned as there's no shortage of opposition -- betting-wise at least -- with last year's winner and third Albertas Run and J'y Vole taking them on again.
There's been sustained support for Kalahari King, whose record includes a series of placed efforts at the last three festivals.
Connections believe the step-up to two and a half miles this time, is just what is required to change their luck.
But Poquelin's very good record at this demanding circuit sways me towards him.
With the weather giving a helping hand, Sivota, which romped to success on lively terrain at Punchestown last April, can follow up in the Pertemps final today.
The opening Jewson Novices Chase is a new addition to the schedule and Noble Prince -- which has been very consistent and is well equipped for this intermediate trip -- would appear to be the pick of the Irish quartet even if he might have to settle for place money once more.
The vote goes instead to Philip Hobbs' Wishfull Thinking whose claims were highlighted by an efficient dismissal of Calgary Bay over the course at the end of January.
1.30: Wishfull Thinking
2.40: Poquelin (nap)
3.20: Big Buck's
4.00: Beautiful Sound (e/w)