Plenty with the potential for better still, but Faugheen has looked out of the very top drawer so far and is a confident pick to remain unbeaten and provide the Mullins/Walsh combination with a third winner of this race in the last 7 years. Red Sherlock and Rathvinden were 1-2 in a Grade 2 here in January and can battle it out for minor honours along with Tolworth winner Royal Boy.
Ballycasey looks in pole position to give Willie Mullins another success in a race he’s won three times already and is the selection. Le Bec is also worth backing each-way at likely double-figure odds, while Carlingford Lough has the ability and experience to put up a bold show.
This can go to Vendor, who is still relatively unexposed over this sort of trip and shaped better than the result suggests in the Betfair Hurdle last month. Far West can challenge provided he's recovered from a nasty fall suffered late on in that race, though there's a chance this will be another 1-2 for the Alan King yard as last year's runner-up Meister Eckhart seems sure to go well again.
Sire de Grugy sets a good standard in Sprinter Sacre's absence, and though plenty has been made of his 2 defeats at this venue, he has run perfectly well on both occasions, which suggests the track holds no fears for him. C&D winner Captain Conan has been kept fresh for this and may offer the most resistance, with Festival regular Somersby another to consider.
The Irish challenge, as always, is strong, with Big Shu given the nod to gain back-to-back victories having shaped encouragingly on his recent comeback. Enda Bolger's quartet all need respecting, with market springer Star Neuville looking particularly interesting at the foot of the handicap, while 2012 winner Balthazar King may fare best of the home team.
Goodwood Mirage posted some good efforts in competitive handicaps on the Flat and could be the type to leave his previous form over hurdles behind now faced with quicker conditions than previously. There are stacks of potential dangers, headed by Dawalan, Arzembouy Premier, who represents last year's winning stable, and the Paul Nicholls pair Katgary and Solar Impulse.
Willie Mullins has won eight of the twenty-one renewals of this and his representatives look the ones to concentrate on, with the vibes suggesting that Black Hercules may be the best of the bunch, though the yard's last 2 winners of the race have returned at 25/1 and 16/1. Vigil completes a traditionally strong Irish challenge, while Modus could be the pick of the home team.