Inside Track: Cole ready to score at Liverpool
Cheltenham winner has the scope to assert authority again
Zarkandar has been installed the clear favourite to atone for his World Hurdle defeat in today's Silver Cross Stayers Hurdle.
The rationale behind that is clear. Paul Nicholls' charge is a dual Liverpool Grade One winner, conquering The New One in an epic climax to the 2013 Aintree Hurdle.
In this three-miler a year ago, they got the tactics wrong by mixing with At Fishers Cross up front from the start, but Zarkandar has been in pretty good form throughout this season.
At Cheltenham, a blunder two-out scuppered his chance, yet he kept at it to be third behind Cole Harden. While Zarkandar might set the record straight now, he isn't the most dependable.
Remarkably, his French Grade One success in November is the only time that he has passed the post in front in 11 starts since his narrow 2013 win here, so he isn't one to trust.
Lost amidst the talk of what might have been for Zarkandar at Cheltenham is the authority with which Cole Harden won for Gavin Sheehan. Warren Greatrex's stable star was a decent novice, finding only Beat That too good in Grade One company here 12 months ago.
He made an excellent start to this season by slamming Medinas and At Fishers Cross at Wetherby in November, but he couldn't reassert that superiority on more testing ground at Newbury.
At Cheltenham on January 1, Cole Harden was third to Rock On Ruby over an inadequate two-and-a-half miles, before again struggling on deep ground back there over three miles later in the month.
After that, Greatrex opted to send him for corrective surgery on his wind. The operation had a spectacular effect, with Cole Harden galloping his rivals into submission at Prestbury Park, aided by a nuanced steer from Sheehan.
A six-year-old in his first season as a senior, he had that scope for improvement anyway, and the manner in which he saw off Saphir Du Rheu, Zarkandar and At Fishers Cross suggested that he might be able to stamp his authority on what is an open division.
With conditions in his favour again this afternoon, then, he appeals as being generously priced at up to 11/4.
God's Own is another that will relish the drying ground and the flat track. Tom George's seven-year-old tackles five others in the two-mile Grade One novices' chase that is a far lesser event for Un De Sceaux's absence. A novice in name only, God's Own won a Grade One at Punchestown most of a year ago, and he emerged with real credit when gamely chasing Un De Sceaux home in the Arkle.
He actually gave the superlative winner something to think about in the straight, so he will take a bit of stopping under Paddy Brennan now if he can run to a similar level.
Henry De Bromhead's Sizing Granite is an unexposed rival of real note, but he has to step up considerably in this grade.
Don Cossack made amends for his frustrating Ryanair Chase defeat with a comprehensive win at Aintree yesterday.
After Cheltenham, we put him forward here as a likely type for the Punchestown three-miler, but opposed him with Champagne Fever in the Melling Chase, fearing it might be too sharp for him. The race fell apart, but Don Cossack impressed in scoring for a fifth time in six starts, thrashing Cue Card by 26 lengths.
It was a display that confirmed Gordon Elliott has a chaser which deserves to compete at the highest level next term. While it's impossible to know if he will be able to mix it with the likes of Vautour and Coneygree, if he were to retain his John Durkan Chase crown, you could picture him heading for the King George with a real life.
He was as low as 7/1 for the Christmas Grade One last night, yet one firm offered a stand-out 16/1. Both prices can't be right.
Sizing Granite might have won each of his three completed starts over fences, but he is stepping into unknown territory at Aintree today.
Henry de Bromhead's Milan seven-year-old faces some really smart opposition in the Grade One novices' chase.
While it might lack a star name like Un De Sceaux, it is still a step up from anything that he has encountered before, with a sole foray into graded company ending unceremoniously three-out at Punchestown in November.
It might be asking a lot for Jonathan Burke's mount to win, but he is a likeable sort that could run well.
Lay of the Day
He is the horse with the potential to break the bookies, but the Grand National favourite Shutthefrontdoor appeals as incredibly bad value.
We saw last week with Cantlow how the AP McCoy factor can distort a market. This correspondent would be as happy as everyone else to see McCoy secure a fairytale win, but, at 7/1 with many question marks hanging over him and 30 fences in front of him, his mount is a lay.
A little each-way
The Game Changer had been something of a talking horse ahead of its first start for Gordon Elliott in the County Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Having switched from Charlie Swan's care, he hadn't run since finishing third to Rebel Fitz at Tipperary in October. In the event, on rain-softened ground that wouldn't have suited, he ran well, only tiring up the hill to be ninth. He will strip fitter now, so is value for a place at odds of 12/1 in today's handicap hurdle.