Sound reasons for Planet to prevail
On the back of what was ultimately an encouraging return from a two-year absence in the Hennessy Gold Cup, Michel Le Bon will be popular in today's Racing Plus Chase.
Trained by Paul Nicholls and due to be ridden in the prestigious Kempton handicap by Ruby Walsh, the nine-year-old showed up well at Newbury in November. Once they turned in, he was always struggling, but a near 20-length defeat behind Carruthers in such a competitive race wasn't a bad effort after such a long lay-off.
Dropped 2lb now, Michel Le Bon has an ideal racing weight of 10st 12lb. However, he still has a bit to find and that his only other current entry is in the Kim Muir at Cheltenham suggests that he isn't as highly regarded as he might have been.
The 2009 winner Nacarat is also down a few pounds, but can't be fancied on recent form in a three-miler that doesn't lack other similarly inclined front-runners.
Richard Lee's consistent Hector's Choice is one of the more appealing each-way options at up to 8/1 in the 10-runner field. Still, having gone up 16lb since scoring at Aintree in October, the handicapper isn't taking any chances with that one.
Planet Of Sound may be the horse to keep on side. Representing Philip Hobbs and Richard Johnson, who have exemplary records in this, the 10-year-old has to give weight away all round off 11st 12lb. Normally that would be a negative, but this is a weak renewal, and Planet Of Sound is a classy performer.
A Grade One winner when accounting for War Of Attrition in the Guinness Gold Cup at Punchestown two years ago, he has run only three times since then. On his next start, he was third in the 2010 Betfair Chase behind Imperial Commander, before then running a lifeless race in the King George at Kempton.
The son of Kayf Tara, a top-priced 4/1 last night, subsequently underwent a wind operation and the benefit of that procedure was there for all to see when he finished a fine second to Carruthers on his reappearance in the Hennessy.
With the Grand National Planet Of Sound's only other target, Hobbs has kept him fresh since, and the handicapper has given him a real chance now by leaving him unchanged off 158.
In the Pendil Novices' Chase, Nicholls and Walsh are represented by the facile Chepstow scorer Cristal Bonus. Lightly raced, the talented six-year-old has obviously had training problems, with that fencing bow being his first start in 12 months.
Nonetheless, having beaten nothing of note at the Welsh track, he is hard to assess, so Minella Class is preferred. Nicky Henderson's Oscar gelding, second to Al Ferof in an Athlacca point-to-point three years ago, was a decent novice hurdler, landing the Tolworth at Sandown before finishing sixth to First Lieutenant at Cheltenham.
On his first start over fences, he found only Peddlers Cross too strong at Bangor, before unshipping his rider at Newbury when still in contention at the end of December. With Barry Geraghty now up for a first time over the bigger obstacles, he ought to make amends.
The Co Meath native also gets the nod on Keys in the Dovecote Novices' Hurdle. Grumeti has the pick of the hurdling form here but Keys, unbeaten in three bumpers and twice a winner on the Flat, can get off the mark over flights at the third time of asking after running into two good horses when second on his previous tries.
Up at Newcastle, Athy handler Maurice Phelan has a serious chance of taking the Betfred Eider Chase with Portrait King. Since stepping up to extreme distances and into handicap company, Phelan's grey novice has finished second to Smoking Aces at Fairyhouse and hacked up in the Grand National Trial at Punchestown.
Granted, Portrait King is 11lb worse off than he would be at home but he will relish the four-mile test, and has the assistance of the excellent Denis O'Regan in the saddle.
Best Bet: Planet Of Sound