CAUSE OF CAUSES and Princeton Plains are the Irish-trained representatives in a brilliantly competitive edition of the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury this afternoon.
As an authoritative winner of a similar two-mile cavalry charge in the Ladbroke at Ascot off just a three-pound lower mark, Cause Of Causes must have a chance, as he looked value for more than three pounds there in the sort of testing going that he will encounter again now.
On the flip side, with 11st 5lb, he has plenty weight, bearing in mind that, since 2003, only Essex – the last raider to win the race – carried more to victory when lumping 11st 6lb in 2005.
However, Gordon Elliott has nominated the Supreme Novices' Hurdle as the next target for Davy Condon's mount, which tells you how highly he regards the five-year-old.
At odds of up to 14/1, Causes Of Causes is solid each-way value.
The other runner with Grade One aspirations is JP McManus' My Tent Or Yours, a classy six-year-old that toppled Taquin De Seuil, a Grade One winner since, on its hurdling bow at Ascot in November.
Subsequently beaten at this venue by its Nicky Henderson-trained stablemate Chatterbox (which runs in the opener), My Tent Or Yours hosed up in an weak Huntingdon heat last time.
All told, though, he looked 'novicey', so 4/1 about such a raw prospect coping with this demanding task isn't enticing.
Four of the last six winners of this had just turned five, including Nicholls' Zarkandar in 2012, and Pearl Swan might well have nearly emulated that one's Triumph Hurdle victory last March had he not crashed out at the final flight while closing under Ruby Walsh.
On his only outing since then, Pearl Swan had a pipe-opener on the all-weather two weeks ago, and 10/1 certainly isn't a bad price about him.
Nonetheless, the horse fancied to bag the winner's purse is Cotton Mill, which has been cut from 12/1 to as low as 8/1 in recent days.
Trained by the in-form John Ferguson for Sheikh Mohammed's select National Hunt arm, Cotton Mill was flawless in its first three hurdle runs over two-and-a-half miles last term, beating a raft of good horses when completing his hat-trick in a Warwick Grade Two.
At Cheltenham next time, he had still to be asked a serious question when he attempted to duck out at the second-last flight alongside Simonsig, dumping Denis O'Regan into the turf.
The pair had drawn clear by then, and while a subsequent effort over three miles at Aintree exposed Cotton Mill's stamina limitations, he possesses a huge amount of ability.
As a result, a first-time mark of 145 for 10st 12lb looks very fair, and the presence of the polished three-pound-claiming Jack Quinlan – who is three from three on him – in the saddle is no deterrent.
O'Regan has opted for Leopardstown instead, but Ferguson has two Grade One runners there, both of which are race-fit.
While Cotton Mill doesn't have that luxury, he looked in mean shape when defying a 14-month lay-off on his jumping bow in November 2011. If he turns up in similar condition on his first try at this trip now, he will take plenty stopping.
Silviniaco Conti is long odds-on in the Denman Chase. He is doubtless the horse to beat, but Menorah is massively overpriced at 8/1 to better him. Philip Hobbs' 2010 Supreme Novices' hero is a top-class operator at best, winning four of his seven completed starts over fences.
In his three defeats, he was no match for Sprinter Sacre in the Arkle last year, didn't handle the slop at Punchestown in April and wasn't nearly ready when third to Cue Card over two-and-a-quarter miles at Exeter on his November reappearance.
In the Peterborough Chase over two miles and five at Kempton next time, he recorded a commanding win over Hunt Ball, so it's worth speculating that this step up to three miles on a Flat track could suit him well.
Hobbs and Richard Johnson have Wishfull Thinking in the Game Spirit over two miles, but AP McCoy gets the nod here on Nicholls' Edgardo Sol.
While Walsh has opted for the hat-trick seeking Shooting Wood, the still unexposed Edgardo Sol, third to Sizing Europe at Leopardstown at Christmas, is the pick on ratings if he finds even the slightest improvement.
Best Bet: Menorah