Age and history looks to be against Hurricane Fly and the 2011 winner may struggle to regain his crown. He's only won three weak Grade 1s in Ireland this season and his overall performances certainly aren't reflected in his short odds given his market rivals have shown form that is at least on a par with Willie Mullins' nine-year-old. Cinders And Ashes, last season's Supreme Novices' Hurdle winner, would have been interesting had the ground been good or better but he's twice finished behind last year's Triumph Hurdle winner Countrywide Flame on heavy ground this season and the latter was well beaten by Rock On Ruby at Doncaster last month. The defending champion has been lightly raced this term and will have needed the run when third behind ZARKANDAR and Grandouet in a Grade 2 here in December. He was giving 4lb to the winner but so was the runner-up, who has obviously been aimed at this all season and should confirm the form. But we are going to stick with the Nicholls gelding, who underlined his potential when easily beating Khyber Kim and Balder Succes in the Elite Hurdle at Wincanton. He's bettered Grandouet on the three previous occasions they've met and is much stronger now than when only fifth last year. Former champion Binocular may not be quite good enough at this level nowadays.
Balder Succes (FR) 20-1 (11-10) Held up in touch in 4th, not fluent 4th, ridden before 2 out, outpaced by leaders when mistake last, went 3rd towards finish, no impression, 3rd of 6, 9l behind Zarkandar (11-10) at Wincanton 2m hdl G2 (1) hvy in Feb.
Binocular (FR) 11-2 (11-10) Settled 4th, 3rd before 2 out, niggled along and no impression entering straight, ridden before last, kept on to press 2nd run-in, just held for 2nd, 3rd of 5, 5l behind Hurricane Fly (11-10) at Leopardstown 2m hdl G1 (1) in Jan.
Cinders And Ashes 11-2 (11-7) Tracked leader, ridden to challenge approaching 2 out, kept on same pace, no impression approaching last, 5th of 7, 12l behind Darlan (11-7) at Kempton 2m hdl G1 (1) hvy in Dec.
Countrywide Flame 5-1 (11-9) Led, headed 3 out, in 3rd and one pace when left 2nd at last, kept on, 2nd of 4, 3l behind Rock On Ruby (11-9) at Doncaster 2m Listed hdl (1) gd in Feb.
Grandouet (FR) 5-2 (11-8) Held up in 4th, tracked leading pair 3rd, effort approaching last, ridden and stayed on to press winner flat, held towards finish, 2nd of 7, 2l behind Zarkandar (11-4) at Cheltenham 2m 1f hdl G2 (1) hvy in Dec.
Hurricane Fly (IRE) 1-6fav (11-10) Tracked leaders in 3rd, 2nd after 3 out, cruised into lead entering straight, soon stretched clear, eased closing stages run-in, won at Leopardstown 2m hdl G1 (1) in Jan beating Thousand Stars (11-10) by 5l, 5 ran.
Khyber Kim 14-1 (11-2) Held up in touch in last pair, headway after 3 out, not fluent 2 out, went 2nd soon after, hit last, stayed on, no impression on winner, 2nd of 6, 4 1/2l behind Zarkandar (11-10) at Wincanton 2m hdl G2 (1) hvy in Feb.
Rock On Ruby (IRE) 13-8 (11-9) Tracked leader, challenged before 3 out, led 3 out, pressed when left clear last, kept on, won at Doncaster 2m Listed hdl (1) gd in Feb beating Countrywide Flame (11-9) by 3l, 4 ran.
Zarkandar (IRE) 1-3fav (11-10) Tracked leaders, went 2nd after 3 out, led next, ridden clear and edged right after last, ran on, won at Wincanton 2m hdl G2 (1) hvy in Feb beating Khyber Kim (11-2) by 4 1/2l, 6 ran.