The selection, a lightly raced eight-year-old, was formerly in the care of Donald McCain but has been rapidly progressive in three runs for his new stable, and there’s no reason to believe he has reached the peak of his powers.
On his first start for Bailey, he finished third in a handicap at Newcastle, but improved considerably upon that when winning a three-mile chase at Kempton in late December.
Stepped up to three and a half miles for his most recent outing, in the Grimthorpe Chase at Doncaster, his form took another significant leap forward as he trounced The Druids Nephew by 10 lengths courtesy of a neat round of jumping and stout display of stamina.
Everything about that effort suggests today’s extreme trip will prove within compass and whether or not the forecast rain transpires is of little concern to the versatile gelding.
While this is clearly his toughest task to date, he is officially 12lbs well in, has a very handy weight to carry, and looks the one to be on.
Many Clouds gave everything when winning this race in 2015, and the Oliver Sherwood-trained gelding has the class to run well once more. However, he is 5lbs higher in the handicap, and history tells us how difficult it is to defend the crown.
Of the longer-priced horses, Goonyella should go well for Jim Dreaper and Johnny Burke. A sound jumper, who will appreciate rain, he should relish this stamina test, and will be hard to keep out of the frame.
O’Faolains Boy is a classy performer, and there were signs of a return to top form when he contested the Gold Cup. With a good round of jumping, he should get competitive, as should The Druids Nephew.
The latter was in front when falling late on in this race last year. Another good run is on the cards, but reversing recent Doncaster form with the progressive The Last Samuri looks a tough task.
Another worthy of some consideration is Ucello Conti, who is quite lightly raced since joining Gordon Elliott. His jumping is of some concern, but if he should take to the fences, he could run a big race.
He finished third in the Thyestes despite steering a wide path throughout, but that gave rise to the notion he could have a sporting chance of getting today’s trip.
On the undercard, there will be three long-odds-on favourites – Thistlecrack, Douvan and Yorkhill – and, barring accidents, all three should win.
Each was deeply impressive in their Cheltenham Festival assignments, and, if anything, their tasks here looks easier.
World Hurdle winner Thistlecrack has proved himself the standout performer amongst the staying hurdlers, and can take this before embarking on a chasing career which connections already believe can lead to the Gold Cup in 2017.
Douvan is an immense performer and his raw pace should prove far too much for his rivals in the Maghull Novices’ Chase.
Odds of 1-6 won’t entice too many backers, but he is a joy to watch, and anything less than a Saturday stroll will be disappointing.
Yorkhill was, arguably, the most impressive novice hurdler at the Cheltenham Festival. He is a tremendously exciting sort, and will take beating in the novice hurdle.
Mydor looks quite nicely handicapped in the opening race, while the consistent Coologue should appreciate the return to three miles in the listed handicap chase.