To come to Paul Nicholls' chaser first. Ottowa has run just once this term, when he put up perhaps the most intelligent display of his career. That came behind Earth Summit in the Becher Chase at Aintree, where the nine-year-old ran well for a long way until he realised it would be a lot safer just to stop. He considered Becher's Brook a fence too far.
Lord Gyllene has no such problems with that obstacle. He cleared it cleanly and gloriously 22 months ago when collecting the Monday Grand National. The gelding has had plenty of time to savour that success as injury has limited him to just a single subsequent run, in Haydock's Tommy Whittle Chase in December.
Lord Gyllene jumped well that day until he got down to the rust and, by the end, he finished ahead of only Quixall Crossett, one of the very worst horses in the land. Lord Gyllene must come on for that.
Also at Haydock, General Wolfe won the Peter Marsh Chase last month from some good horses and will be close today despite his 8lb penalty. However, the sole favour ultimately falls on Fiddling The Facts (next best 1.45), who has been allowed to recuperate following her second in the Welsh National, for which she is penalised just 1lb.
The Tote Sandown Hurdle is as tricky as you might expect a bookmakers' Saturday sponsorship. The big team that comes rumbling over the horizon here will be leaving tracks from the West country. Martin Pipe has three entries, including Moondigua, the favourite.
The seven-year-old won absurdly easily at Warwick on his seasonal debut, but the ground was heavy. The search for value is best left with THREE FARTHINGS (nap 4.10). On one form line he has the beating of Moondigua, while his tendency to win by small margins could mean he is a hard horse for the handicapper to assess correctly.
Kurakka (3.05) has won over course and distance already, which is of great significance at Sandown and its railway fences, while Fine Thyne (3.35) is coming down in the weighs without showing his ability has evaporated. Finally, Master Beveled (4.40) can win the Agfa Hurdle.
The most fertile territory for Cheltenham clues this weekend will be Leopardstown tomorrow, where Alexander Banquet, Nick Dundee and Knife Edge will be putting the finishing touches to their Festival preparation. The most compelling figure, though, will be the Gold Cup aspirant Florida Pearl.
Willie Mullins' gelding has to dismiss Escartefigue, whom he beat by a length and a half in the Royal & SunAlliance (Novice) Chase at Cheltenham last season. He also has to dismiss the memory of a dreadful mistake and fall on his seasonal debut at these acres.
Florida Pearl has since schooled over the fence that unhinged him without mishap. Mullins said. "Every time he's schooled over the track he's been particularly good at that fence. He's met it on really long strides before and got lengths. He's a very good natural jumper like Dawn Run, who won her Gold Cup after four runs and a fall."
Florida Pearl now goes into the Hennessy Gold Cup on the back of a splendid piece of work on Thursday. "He's in good form and going well," Mullins added. "He's been getting the headlines in the papers this week and I hope that's the same on Monday." Whatever the result, the trainer need not worry about that.Reuse content