ON the back of a hectic week and a memorable 12 months in the world of jump racing, 2011 closes out with a less-than-spectacular programme of events.
The pick of the cross-channel action is at Newbury, where the Challow Hurdle promises to be little more than a morning stroll for Fingal Bay.
Walkon and Cue Card are among five that contest what should be an informative novice chase at the Berkshire venue, but the most interesting betting heat is the final hurdle of the year.
A dozen runners will stake a claim on the Totesportscoop6 Handicap, including three from the in-form Nicky Henderson yard. First In The Queue and Secret World both have chances off 10st, but Lifestyle looks the Lambourn handler's chief contender.
The five-year-old mare hacked up in her first handicap under Barry Geraghty at Kempton on Tuesday, and carries just a 6lb penalty here.
While that on its own might not be nearly enough to quell Lifestyle's progress, she is also keeping much better company today, so there may be a more reliable option available.
Olofi is the one taken to upset the favourite. The Tom George-trained grey has been largely consistent over flights, though it is all of two years since he last won.
Nonetheless, he was a good third on his only start over course and distance in November 2010, and turned in a really encouraging effort when keeping on dourly to be second to Brampour in the Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham six weeks ago. Granted, that form is mixed, but Olofi came out of the race with plenty of credit.
The handicapper upped him 6lb which -- thanks to the presence of Celestial Halo at the top of the page -- still only leaves him with 10st 2lb today. That presents the selection with an excellent opportunity, particularly given the soft ground.
Ignoring his seasonal bow in France, the last time Olofi ran on going that didn't have the word good in the description was when he scored impressively in similar conditions at Cheltenham in 2009.
It could well be that the bit of extra give underfoot will prove key to Paddy Brennan's mount, so he is worth an investment at around 6/1.
The novices' chase that Walkon and Cue Card contest is a cracking bout, and it also happens to be the race that Kauto Star made his maiden British voyage in seven years ago. This time, Paul Nicholls introduces Criqtonic -- a French winner on its second chasing start in September -- while Minella Class and For Non Stop also feature.
A Grade One winner over hurdles last term, Minella Class is another smart Henderson representative, having chased Peddlers Cross home on its fencing debut at Bangor in November. Preferred, however, is For Non Stop for Nick Williams and Noel Fehily.
Not as prolific as some of these over flights, For Non Stop was running a big race when he tipped up two-out on his first start over fences at Cheltenham in October. He then reverted to hurdles to chase home Overturn at Ascot, before giving the classy Al Ferof a scare back over the bigger obstacles in a Grade One two-miler at Sandown.
If he can replicate that level of performance over a quarter of a mile further here, For Non Stop could be hard to beat.
Fehily's only other ride on the card is also fancied. He steers Charming Lad for Charlie Mann in the opening novices' handicap chase. In five hurdling starts, this six-year-old failed to win, but it is surely significant that Mann has opted to begin the point-to-point winner's chasing career in a handicap.
All The Aces is another that appeals in the introductory hurdle. Group-placed on the Flat, the six-year-old did lots right when finding only the useful Prospect Wells too strong on its debut for Nicky Henderson here in November.
Best Bet: Charming Lad