Ouzbeck favoured by ground and trip
With Paul Nicholls' team back in more reliable form following some mixed performances at Cheltenham, Mon Parrain will no doubt be popular in the featured handicap chase at Newbury today.
An emphatic winner at Sandown on his debut for the champion trainers a year ago, the strikingly handsome six-year-old has since proved immensely frustrating. He looked home for all money in the Topham in April before folding tamely up the long Aintree run-in and has been a beaten favourite on both starts this term.
Mon Parrain never rose a gallop for Ruby Walsh at Cheltenham in November, before turning in another curious effort over a trip similar to this afternoon's three and a quarter miles back at Prestbury Park in December.
Eventually third on that occasion, he had come with a well-timed run to challenge Shakalakaboomboom between the last two fences, only to cave in again, up the run-in.
On Newbury's more level track, conditions might well prove ideal now that he has been given a 2lb respite by the handicapper, but you couldn't trust him.
Of Mon Parrain's nine rivals, Ikorodu Road is probably the form selection, having edged out Junior, a leading Grand National fancy, at Doncaster three weeks ago.
However, Matt Sheppard's nine-year-old is 3lbs higher here, and is a horse that, for all his consistency, ultimately appears limited. A maiden hurdle winner at Southwell in 2009, his Doncaster success was his first since then.
Ouzbeck could be the one to keep on side for Emma Lavelle and Noel Fehily.
A good-ground specialist that has twice obliged over this trip and further in the past, the 10-year-old is lightly raced this term, finishing fourth at Chepstow in October and third over course and distance three weeks ago.
While well held that day, Ouzbeck will improve for the run and he actually turned in an encouraging effort behind Marufo and Niche Market.
Dropped a couple of pounds now with conditions likely to suit, he is expected to go much closer this time.
At his local course, Lambourn-based Fehily has an outstanding seven-strong book of rides, so it would be no surprise if he were to come away with a brace. How's Business and Claret Cloak are two more of his that have serious appeal.
The Charlie Mann-trained How's Business has never come off the bridle in three chasing starts under the west Cork native, having finished last season with a pair of hurdling wins. She steps up in grade for the mares' final, and looks a solid option.
Claret Cloak represents Lavelle in the novice hurdle. Nicky Henderson's Malt Master is probably the one to beat in this, but Lavelle's Vinnie Roe-gelding improved to post a facile success at Sandown in February and could be quite decent.
In the Blue Square Winter Derby at Lingfield, Cai Shen gets the nod under Jamie Spencer. Premio Loco heads the market to go one better than when denied by Scintillo here in 2009, while the Ryan Moore-ridden Sooraah is another to consider.
Cai Shen, though, finished last year with an utterly impressive triumph in a Doncaster conditions race, and he remains unexposed. On ratings, he has a few pounds to find with Premio Loco and Sooraah and he is drawn slightly wider than ideal in stall 13. Nonetheless, his September win suggested that he is going in the right direction, and he has bundles of early pace. At around 5/1, Richard Hannon's charge is overpriced.
Best Bet: How's Business