A wonderful handicap to round off the week and it is FRENCH OPERA who can win the race named in honour of trainer Nicky Henderson's father, chiefly at the main expense of Oiseau De Nuit and Tataniano. Despite top-weight, the selection has a solid chance here after a series of wins before Christmas. He is a horse who seems to have progressed well for a solid surface and with ground conditions ideal and a good young jockey easing his burden by 7lbs, the feeling is he should run well. Free World doesn't have much to find with him on his run here in December but is becoming furstarting for win backers, Cornas will appreicate the drop in grade, whilst Tartak has a bit to prove after his last two starts. Oiseau De Nuit ran a blinder behind Kalahari King at Doncaster last time nad evidently gets on well with his new jockey Giles Hawkins, Congiliere tends to bash the odd fence, whilst Tataniano is a proven course runner and looks the pick of the Paul Nicholls runners despite Ruby jumping ship. Green Belt Elite is on the upgrade but his mark of 143 looks high enough, a comment that could also apply to Nomecheki, whilst You're The Top is progressive and looks a more likely lad than his stablemate Pepsyrock. Beggars Cap may have been aimed at this race for quite a while and needs a market check, as does Russian Flag who should appreciate hte better ground this afternoon. Fighting Chance has gone from strength to strength this season having previously had his problems, however a 16lb higher mark makes life tough. Sunnyhillboy would be interesting if quickly turned out after a fine run yesterday, however preference in this curtain closer is for top-weight French Opera.
French Opera 7-2 (11-10) In touch, chased leaders from 5th, led 12th (old 3 out) ridden and in command before last, ridden and kept on well flat, won at Cheltenham 2m hcp chs 0-130 (2) sft in Dec beating Free World (11-12) by 1 1/4l, 12 ran.
Free World (FR) 4-1fav (11-7) Held up in rear, headway 4 out, not fluent 2 out, pressed for 2nd flat until stayed on same pace towards finish, 3rd of 15, 5l behind Kalahari King (11-12) at Doncaster 2m hcp chs (2) gs in Feb.
Cornas (NZ) 7-1 (11-7) Chased leaders, outpaced 3 out, weakened next, 5th of 7, 26l behind Twist Magic (11-7) at Ascot 2m 1f Grade 1 chs (1) sft in Jan.
Tartak (FR) 8-1 (11-5) Mid-division, towards rear 6th, not fluent next, stayed on under pressure from 3 out, never near leaders, 5th of 15, 15l behind Kalahari King (11-12) at Doncaster 2m hcp chs (2) gs in Feb.
Oiseau de Nuit (FR) 13-2 (10-4) Mid-division, headway 6th, driven after 3 out, slightly impeded last, kept on well to take 2nd flat, no chance with winner, 2nd of 15, 3 1/2l behind Kalahari King (11-12) at Doncaster 2m hcp chs (2) gs in Feb.
Lord Henry (IRE) 8-1 (11-7) Held up in rear, headway 8th, never on terms, 4th of 9, 11l behind Fix The Rib (11-7) at Ascot 2m 1f hcp chs 0-130 (2) gd in Nov.
Consigliere (FR) 10-1 (10-9) Mid-division on inside, headway 2 out, ridden to chase winner last, lost 2nd and no extra flat, 3rd of 16, 3 1/2l behind Beshabar (11-2) at Ascot 2m 3f hcp hdl (2) gs in Feb.
Tataniano (FR) 2-11fav (11-8) Tended to jump right, led, hit 2nd, went right 6th, hit 4 out, ridden and joined last, headed and no extra final 100 yards, 2nd of 3, 1/2l behind Suntini (11-4) at Newbury 2m 2f nov stks (3) sft in Jan.
Green Belt Elite (FR) Evensfav (11-5) Made all, clear from 3 out, easily, won at Wincanton 2m nov chs (2) hvy in Feb beating Franchoek (10-10) by 16l, 3 ran.
Lennon (IRE) 20-1 (10-13) Pressed leader, led 8th, driven after 2 out, headed approaching last, weakened flat, 6th of 15, 15l behind Kalahari King (11-12) at Doncaster 2m hcp chs (2) gs in Feb.
Nomecheki (FR) 4-1 (11-8) Held up well in rear, steady headway before 4 out, chased leading trio after 4 out, effort and switched right approaching last, driven and one pace flat, 3rd of 5, 7l behind Bakbenscher (11-4) at Lingfield 2m 4f nov chs (3) hvy in Feb.
Moon Over Miami (GER) 12-1 (10-11) Held up in rear, outpaced 11th, soon weakened, tailed off, 4th of 6, 45l behind Saphir Des Bois (9-12) at Fontwell 2m 4f hcp chs 0-125 (2) hvy in Feb.
You're The Top (FR) 4-5fav (11-4) Tracked leader, challenged 2 out, driven to lead flat, ran on, won at Huntingdon 2m nov stks (3) sft in Feb beating Tanks For That (11-4) by 2 1/4l, 4 ran.
Pepsyrock (FR) 14-1 (10-9) Held up in rear, headway approaching 7th, weakened 3 out, 9th of 15, 28l behind Kalahari King (11-12) at Doncaster 2m hcp chs (2) gs in Feb.
Tramantano 25-1 (11-0) Behind, making some headway when hit 12th (old 3 out) no impression soon after, 6th of 12, 12l behind French Opera (11-10) at Cheltenham 2m hcp chs 0-130 (2) sft in Dec.
Beggars Cap (IRE) 33-1 (10-4) Held up in rear, headway when hit 4th, not fluent next, weakened 4 out, 12th of 15, well behind Kalahari King (11-12) at Doncaster 2m hcp chs (2) gs in Feb.
Leo's Lucky Star (USA) 4-1fav (10-4) Mid-division, headway approaching 4 out, went 3rd 3 out, 6th and looking held when blundered and unseated rider 2 out, in a race won by Kalahari King (11-12) at Doncaster 2m hcp chs (2) gs in Feb, 15 ran.
Sunnyhillboy (IRE) 4-1 (11-9) Held up in rear, not fluent 11th, headway 12th, challenged after 2 out, shaken up to lead flat, readily, won at Ludlow 2m 4f hcp chs 0-130 (3) gd in Feb beating Mont Present (10-13) by 3/4l, 11 ran.
Nikola (FR) 10-1 (10-4) Mid-division but in touch, closed 7th, chased winner after 4 out, ridden 2 out, no impression, stayed on flat, 2nd of 7, 4l behind French Opera (11-6) at Cheltenham 2m hcp chs 0-145 (2) gs in Nov.
Safari Journey (USA) 16-1 (10-6) Held up in mid-divisioin, ridden and headway to close on leading pair after 12th (old 3 out) ridden and stayed on same pace from last, 3rd of 12, 4l behind French Opera (11-10) at Cheltenham 2m hcp chs 0-130 (2) sft in Dec.
Russian Flag (FR) 3-1fav (11-7) Held up in mid-division, ridden to go 4th after 4 out, went 3rd next, stayed on same pace, unable to trouble front pair, 3rd of 8, 7l behind Pret A Thou (11-10) at Uttoxeter 2m hcp chs 0-135 (3) hvy in Feb.
Calatagan (IRE) 11-1 (10-11) Mid-division, outpaced 4 out, never on terms, 6th of 10, 15l behind Sa Suffit (11-7) at Wetherby 2m 4f hcp chs 0-150 (2) sft in Feb.
Fighting Chance (IRE) 10-3 (10-12) Tracked leader, led 3rd, drew clear from 3 out, eased final 100 yards, won at Leicester 2m nov chs 0-115 (4) gd in Feb beating Wheels Up (10-12) by 17l, 8 ran.
Pigeon Island 12-1 (11-0) Not fluent, chased leaders, jumped right and bumped 1st, ridden after 7th, weakened approaching 4 out, last of 5, 30l behind Long Run (11-5) at Warwick 2m nov chs G2 (1) gs in Feb.