MESBAH is a speculative fancy to repeat last month's course success despite being set to carry top weight. Moonwalking is an obvious threat but needs to prove he can handle the ground; so it may be down to the improving Natural Action to throw down the most serious challenge. Having won two of his six previous starts over hurdles Moonwalking has taken to the winter game with a relish. The Jedd O'Keeffe-trained gelding has stamina in abundance but is yet to really impress when there is plenty of give underfoot. A careful monitoring of the betting is advised where he is concerned. Natural Action warmed to the task nicely to get off the mark over hurdles in good style at Aintree last month. His trainer, Peter Bowen, then found a weak spot in the calendar when he sent the five-year-old to Folkestone seven days ago; and it has to be of interest that he is keen to keep the gelding on the go. However, Natural Action didn't really have to extend himself to win last time out and his 7lb penalty leaves him with a stiffer test today. Another to note is First Stream, who is open to any amount of improvement. A Graham Wylie-owned contender with a lofty reputation; expectations will be high for a return on the owner's investment. However, an absence of 262 days is a tad off-putting, though. Therefore, it can pay to take a chance on Mesbah brushing aside his burden at the weights. Richard Fahey's gelding is likely to be available at fair odds for a race heavy on numbers but light on serious challenges. In summary: Mesbah is taken as the value alternative to Natural Action.
Mesbaah (IRE) 5-1 (10-8) Mid-division, driven and headway after 4 out, ridden and stayed on to lead soon after last, drew clear flat, won at Musselburgh 2m hcp hdl 0-130 (3) gs in Nov beating Haka Dancer (10-0) by 3 1/2l, 13 ran.
Natural Action 85-40fav (12-0) Held up mid-division, not fluent 5th, headway 10th, led before last, soon clear, eased, won at Folkestone 2m 6f hcp hdl 0-105 (4) hvy in Nov beating Eastwell Smiles (11-4) by 13l, 7 ran.
First Stream (GER) 6-1 (11-0) Tracked leaders, ridden flat, driven and led near finish, won at Kelso 2m 2f mdn hdl (5) gd in Mar beating Best Lover (11-0) by nk, 14 ran.
Portavadie 10-1 (11-11) Held up, not fluent 10th, mistake 12th, soon struggling, tailed off when pulled up before 3 out, in a race won by Lorum Leader (11-5) at Market Rasen 3m 1f hcp chs 0-120 (3) hvy in Nov, 8 ran.
Moonwalking 8-1 (10-7) Prominent, ridden and not much room after 7th, weakend 2 out, 13th of 14, 32l behind Right Option (10-4) at Cheltenham 2m 5f hcp hdl 0-140 (2) gf in Oct.
Soubriquet (IRE) 14-1 (11-2) Led, headed approaching 3 out, weakened last, 5th of 8, 14l behind Percussionist (11-12) at Kelso 2m 2f hcp hdl 0-125 (3) hvy in Nov.
December Sun (IRE) 25-1 (11-12) Mid-division, outpaced 3 out, soon weakened, 9th of 13, 43l behind Still At Lunch (11-5) at Kelso 2m 2f hcp hdl 0-110 (4) gs in Nov.
Larnalee (IRE) 5-2fav (10-13) Always prominent, led 2 out, clear from before straight, stayed on well under pressure, comfortably, won at Wexford 2m 2f mrs mdn hdl gd in Jul '08 beating Vicars Bay (10-13) by 6l, 16 ran.
Almanyan (IRE) 14-1 (11-0) Prominent, 2nd 3 out, dropped to 5th and no impression from 2 out, 6th of 16, 12l behind The Paddy Premium (10-13) at Wexford 2m 2f hcp hdl 8Evens09 sft in Oct.
Regent's Secret (USA) 33-1 (10-11) Held up, outpaced 5 out, never dangerous, 8th of 10, 38l behind My Arch (10-13) at Musselburgh 2m 4f hcp chs 0-125 (3) gs in Nov.
Simple Jim (FR) 7-1 (11-7) Towards rear, fell 2nd, in a race won by Ballabrook (10-5) at Catterick 2m 3f con hcp hdl 0-110 3yo+ (4) gs, 13 ran.
Planetarium 12-1 (10-3) Held up in touch, ridden after 3 out, weakening when fell heavily 2 out, in a race won by Percussionist (11-12) at Kelso 2m 2f hcp hdl 0-125 (3) hvy in Nov, 8 ran.
Locked Inthepocket (IRE) 2-1fav (10-6) Tracked leaders on outside, led last, headed over 1 out, soon beaten, 2nd of 8, 16l behind King of Confusion (11-12) at Kelso 2m 6f hcp hdl 0-115 (4) hvy in Nov.