It took White Star Line two years to record a first victory over fences and it will be a surprise if he's good enough to concede weight to some potentially smart novices here. Le Bec was impressive when beating Bear's Affair at Uttoxeter but the runner-up has been beaten again since. Shutthefrontdoor must go on the short-list having made a winning start over the larger obstacles at Aintree, while Bob Ford was second to the useful Taquin Du Seuil at Ffos Las. AFRICAN GOLD went from strength-to-strength over hurdles last season, finishing second in the Albert Bartlett here at The Festival. He could be even better over fences and the fact that the five-year-old makes his debut at an elevated level suggests he's held in high regard and he can take this. Sam Winner was also useful over hurdles and should win races this term.
White Star Line (IRE) 4-5fav (11-12) Chased leader in 3rd, closer before halfway, pushed along and headway to lead early straight, asserted after 2 out, ridden out and kept on run-in, won at Clonmel 2m 4f chs in Oct beating Make A Track (11-12) by 2l, 4 ran.
Le Bec (FR) 7-4 (11-4) Tracked leading pair, went 2nd at 5th, led briefly 5 out, led 3 out, ridden clear from last, stayed on well, won at Uttoxeter 2m 4f beg chs (4) gs in Oct beating Bear's Affair (11-4) by 7l, 6 ran.
Shutthefrontdoor (IRE) 4-5fav (11-3) Tracked leaders, not fluent 12th, went 2nd after 3 out, challenged last, led towards finish, ridden out, won at Aintree 2m 4f nov chs (3) gd in Oct beating Beeves (11-8) by 1/2l, 4 ran.
African Gold (IRE) 15-2 (11-7) Held up mid-division, headway before 9th, ridden and every chance 2 out, weakened after last, 5th of 13, 13l behind Solwhit (11-7) at Aintree 3m hdl G1 (1) gs in Apr.
Bob Ford (IRE) 4-1 (11-2) Jumped left, chased clear leader, closed 9th, led before 4 out, slight lead but pressed when went left and stumbled 3 out, driven and headed between last 2, hit last, flattered by proximity to unextended winner, 2nd of 4, 2l behind Taquin Du Seuil (11-2) at Ffos Las 2m nov chs (4) hvy in Oct.
Sam Winner (FR) 6-1 (11-9) Mid-division, not fluent 1st, headway after 3 out, lost place before next, rallied approaching last, went 2nd briefly and edged right flat, no extra close home, 3rd of 17, 1 3/4l behind Big Easy (10-13) at Cheltenham 3m hcp hdl 0-145 (2) sft in Apr.