PAUL NICHOLLS and Noel Fehily again look the team to beat in another valuable Saturday contest as their recent Ascot winner Bury Parade bids to shoulder top-weight in Kempton's Betbright Chase.
Fehily won the three-mile handicap aboard the lightly weighted Opening Batsman for Harry Fry 12 months ago, but this will be a far more arduous assignment for Bury Parade under 11st 12lb.
The eight-year-old beat Hadrian's Approach and Theatre Guide in a graduation chase here over two miles and five furlongs in November, form that was duly franked by the second winning subsequently and the third being placed in both the Hennessy Gold Cup and at Cheltenham.
Having then blotted his copybook by refusing to race at Exeter, Bury Parade returned to form in style at Ascot a month ago, slamming his stablemate Grandioso by five lengths.
He certainly remains open to further improvement on just his eighth start over fences, but life will be tougher in this competitive affair off a 9lb higher mark and there isn't much juice in top odds of 4/1.
While Grandioso should again be thereabouts off the same rating under Daryl Jacob, others have slightly appeal more. The 2010 Punchestown Gold Cup hero Planet Of Sound bounced back to life with a determined course and distance win here in January and is 4lb higher now.
That still sees him get in off a mark that is 10lb lower than when he was third to Nacarat in this two years ago, so the 12-year-old could defy his advancing years to make the frame once more in a renewal that lacks real depth.
If there is a touch of quality on offer, it may be Standing Ovation. David Pipe's progressive Presenting seven-year-old won four on the spin in the autumn, culminating in an emphatic success in the Badger Ales Trophy at Wincanton.
That came off a 26lb higher mark than when he initiated his winning spree, so some felt that he had reached the limit of his ability when he was beaten in a Cheltenham amateur riders' race under a 7lb penalty.
However, that was his sixth start in two months and a fifth in just over a month.
He showed up well for a long way before tiring, and the suspicion is that it was simply one run too many at the time.
Similarly, each of Standing Ovation's four wins had come at a right-handed track, so today's circuit should suit, and he is also now reunited with Conor O'Farrell, who did the steering for each of the quartet.
On the flip side, O'Farrell's mount is 6lb higher now than he was at Cheltenham in November and he is still unproven on the sort of soft ground that he will encounter here.
Nonetheless, Standing Ovation has the scope to prove that Cheltenham run all wrong, and we don't know that he won't handle soft ground.
Bottom line is that he is a novice with a touch of class that is open to improvement off a lovely racing weight of 10st 7lb, so odds of 9/1 are too big to ignore.
Fehily teams up with Fry for Activial in the Adonis Hurdle, a solid-looking edition of a Grade Two that rarely fails to prove a relevant Triumph Hurdle trial.
A variety of the seven horses that have already run have legitimate claims, while Agreement is interesting on its debut under Barry Geraghty for Rebecca Curtis after winning a Galway maiden for Aidan O'Brien last year.
Still, the form of Activial, a handsome French bumper winner, is the best on offer. First time up at Newbury, the grey was a game second to Paul Nicholls' highly regarded Calipto – a winner again since – and left the winners of four subsequent races behind. That is quite a recommendation.
Up at Newcastle, Henry Daly's Safran De Cotte strikes as being overpriced at 14/1 for the Eider Chase. Henry Daly's mudlark hit form at this time last year, and his reasonable sixth in the Classic Chase at Warwick has seen him drop 4lb to a rating of 122 that he is capable of exploiting.
Best Bet: Standing Ovation