Having shaped really well when runner-up on seasonal reappearance, West Approach looks worth siding with at 4/1 with William Hill to go one better and land the spoils in the 3m 3f Grade 3 BetVictor Smartcards Handicap Chase at Cheltenham on Saturday (13:50).
This Colin Tizzard trained nine-year-old had some top class form to his name in staying hurdles and has won two of his 12 starts over fences.
He ran a blinder in the Grade 1 Long Walk at Ascot back in December when a two-length second of 11 to Paisley Park, and backed that up by chasing home the same rival in the Grade 2 Cleeve Hurdle here off an official rating of 154.
West Approach was also not totally disgraced when ninth of 18 in the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, or when sixth in another Grade 1 at Aintree.
The son of Westerner is able to race off a much lower chase rating of 142, having been rated as high as 157 over hurdles in the past.
It makes West Approach look weighted to run a huge race. There was a lot to like about his return to action at The Showcase Meeting here last month.
After being held-up in mid-division, West Approach made stealthy headway four from home to take up the running at the second last.
He then got headed approaching the final fence by the eventual winner The Conditional, but stuck to the task gamely to go down by just 1 3/4 lengths to David Bridgwater’s charge.
West Approach travelled like the best horse for most of the race, so with that spin under his belt and proven soft ground form in the book looks to hold leading claims of landing this valuable prize.
Big River feared most in BetVictor Smartcards Handicap Chase
The mud-loving Big River has some strong form to his name and is now back below his last winning mark, so rates the main danger to West Approach.
This nine-year-old, who hails from the Kinross yard of Lucinda Russell, has won two of his eight starts over fences.
The last of those successes came on heavy ground at Kelso back in February 2018 where he stayed on strongly to beat Shantou Flyer by 4 1/2 lengths off a rating of 140.
Big River backed that up with a solid second at Uttoxeter off 143 and ran a cracker at the Cheltenham Festival here in March when fourth of 24 to Beware The Bear in the Grade 3 Ultima Handicap Chase off 140.
Despite making a bad mistake at the first, and then being far from fluent at several obstacles, the son of Milan responded generously for pressure to be gaining all the way to the line after the last and beaten just 6 1/2 lengths.
It was a terrific effort after so many costly errors and Big River went on to round off the campaign with similar style performance when a 17 1/4 lengths fifth of 23 to Takingrisks in the Scottish Grand National at Ayr off the same rating.
This looks less taxing than both those contests and Big River is able to race in it off 1lb lower (139).
It makes him a key player at the weights and he has also undergone wind surgery since last being seen in action.
Big River also goes well for jockey Derek Fox and has a strike rate of 30 per cent on soft ground or worse, so everything looks in place for a bug run and he is 6/1 with the sponsors.
Tough task for top weight Ramses De Teillee
The BetVictor Smartcards Handicap Chase market is headed by Ramses De Teillee, a best-price 100/30 with Coral, who has to shoulder top weight of 11st 12lb and give 11lb and upwards to his six rivals.
This David Pipe trained seven-year-old won in good stye second time up last season on heavy ground at Chepstow and then ran a screamer at the welsh venue when a 1 1/4 lengths second of 20 to Elegant Escape in the Welsh Grand National off a mark of 144.
Ramses De Teillee also ran very well when finding Robinsfirth only three-quarters of a length too good in the Grand National Trial at Haydock off 149 before being pulled-up before the second last in the big one itself at Aintree.
The son of Martaline comes into this having looked as good as ever on seasonal reappearance here last month at The Showcase meeting when making all to readily land a 3m novice hurdle contest by 4 1/2 lengths.
Ramses De Teillee was entitled to win that in the manner that he did, but now switches to chasing off a career-high mark of 153.
That is 13lb higher than when last successful and means that he faces no easy task despite having his optimum conditions.
Therefore, at the odds on offer, Ramses De Teillee looks plenty short enough and worth taking on in what is going to be a real war of attrition.