Tribulation can light up Festival trials
Chances are that Cheltenham's trials fixture will beat the weather this afternoon, though much of the gloss has already been taken off the featured Argento Chase following the defection of the Nicky Henderson-trained Betfred Gold Cup favourite Bobs Worth.
Should the Lexus Chase hero Tidal Bay, described by Paul Nicholls as 50-50 to run following a minor setback, also be scratched, the race's waning status as a genuine trial for the March showpiece will hardly be improved any.
And even if the 12-year-old does take part today, he'll hardly figure in a Gold Cup, with the World Hurdle a more realistic Festival target.
In the event that Tidal Bay stands his ground, his preference for soft going and recent good form should ensure he is the one to beat.
Nonetheless, he still needs lots to fall right for him, so he isn't hard to oppose despite the presence of the inimitable Ruby Walsh up top.
Grands Crus is the most obvious alternative following an improved effort to be third in the King George. After his no-show in the RSA last March and another dismal turn on his reappearance at Cheltenham in November, the grey underwent surgery to correct his wind.
His Kempton performance, when he kept on well for pressure, suggested that the procedure had a positive effect. That said, David Pipe's charge, like a lot of horses that make the transition from classy staying hurdler, remains largely unconvincing over fences.
With the 2010 Gold Cup winner Imperial Commander unlikely to figure on his first start for two years, odds of 9/2 about Grands Crus may yet prove huge, but there could still be better value to be had. Course specialist Midnight Chase and Hunt Ball don't appeal on the ground.
Cape Tribulation, though, has ticks in plenty of boxes. Another Gold Cup and World Hurdle entry, Malcolm Jefferson's nine-year-old is a progressive enough sort despite his age.
He has had just eight chasing starts, latterly turning in a polished display to rout the Rowland Meyrick field by 11 lengths under top-weight in heavy ground at Wetherby.
Granted, Cape Tribulation was entitled to do what he did there off a favourable mark, but it was still an effort that suggested he may yet be at least as good over fences as he has been over flights.
Crucially, with pace guaranteed here, Denis O'Regan will be able to employ the waiting tactics that suit the horse best. Lest we forget, the Youghal man's poised turn when delivering Cape Tribulation late on to claim the Pertemps at last year's Festival was a thing of beauty.
This will be a more dour assignment and a revised rating of 151 still leaves him with plenty improvement to find, but the evidence of his Wetherby triumph is encouraging on both those fronts. At up to 14/1, then, Cape Tribulation certainly appeals as more than a bit overpriced.
In the day's other senior Grade Two, the Cleeve Hurdle, Oscar Whisky could harden at the head of the ante-post market for the World Hurdle if he shows his best over the three-mile trip.
However, he simply didn't get home in last year's staying hurdle championship event.
With the ground as it is, Oscar Whisky has no appeal at short odds, not least with an alternative as worthy as Reve De Sivola.
Since reverting to hurdles this term, Nick Williams' charge has picked up where he left off as a decent novice in 2010, finishing second to Big Buck's at Newbury before galloping 14 lengths clear in deep ground in Ascot's Long Walk.
Given Reve De Sivola's lazy style, he and the all-action Richard Johnson are made for each other, and the suspicion is that he would not be as big as 9/4 if he were more flamboyant.
The only other horse of interest on a day that Sprinter Sacre can be expected to readily finalise his Champion Chase preparations in the rearranged Victor Chandler Chase is At Fishers Cross.
AP McCoy's JP McManus-owned mount, a Cork bumper winner for Charlie Swan, drops in trip in the Grade Two novice hurdle following a three-mile victory here last month. That, though, won't be a problem for a straightforward horse that travels well and loves the mud.
Best Bet: Reve De Sivola