Already disparaged as inferior to a crop that has barely begun its own journey to the same race, last season's novice chasers today vest their wounded pride in one who was himself damned with faint praise even when winning the RSA Chase. The success of Bostons Angel at Cheltenham last March was immediately dismissed as gutsy opportunism, the eventual protagonists having staggered up the hill as though abashed by their inferiority to rivals who had variously run below form, or failed to get round.
That view, though, paid scant regard to the jumping and courage that had already secured him two Grade One prizes back in Ireland, and it would be gratifying to see Bostons Angel lend renewed validity to the billing of the Sportingbet Future Stars Chase at Sandown this afternoon.
Having ejected Robbie Power just as his comeback race was beginning to take shape, Bostons Angel is reckoned by his trainer to need this run to put him straight for the Lexus Chase at the Leopardstown Christmas meeting. "He was still going well at Down Royal when he made the mistake," Jessica Harrington said. "I do think he'll appreciate the nicer ground he'll get tomorrow. Some people might have had him down as a mudlark last season, but he showed he wasn't when he won at Cheltenham."
While he has a tough task at the weights, at least Bostons Angel promised more on his return than did Quinz, who had burst a blood vessel when fancied for the National and was never going at Ascot. His trainer, Philip Hobbs, is hoping that a smaller field will restore his confidence.
Hobbs will already have saddled one of his very best young prospects in Fingal Bay, impressive in an Exeter bumper last season and fast-tracked to Graded company for his first two hurdle starts. He did well to preserve his unbeaten record after a blunder two out at Cheltenham last time, but today meets a series of equally unexposed types in the Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle. "This is definitely his biggest trial so far," Hobbs said. "He's a gorgeous horse, just so straightforward. He does everything so well, but he's not flashy at home."
While Hobbs suspects that Fingal Bay would appreciate rain, Henry De Bromhead feels good ground is vital to Sizing Symphony, also a winner at Cheltenham this autumn. The Co Waterford trainer's established star, Sizing Europe, was among nine declarations for the Sportingbet Tingle Creek Chase on tomorrow's card.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Incentivise (1.30 Exeter) Progressed well last season, his first with this in-form stable, and shaped nicely when never nearer over an inadequate distance on his return. Should now be primed for this ideal test.
Appleaday (3.05 Sandown) Only a very distant third on his return, but actually shaped well for a long way and this looks an ideal chance to roll back the years over a course he enjoys.
One to watch
Ngong Hills (Chris Grant) Hacked through the race when starting favourite at Catterick on Wednesday before suddenly fading into third, this chaser will surely prove himself ahead of his mark sooner rather than later.
Where The Money's Going
Another Palm (6-1 from 10-1) and Nicto De Beauchene (7-1 from 14-1) are the big movers with the sponsors in the Betfred Becher Chase at Aintree tomorrow.