The pick of these novices looks to be HENRY KING, though Gifted Leader will take a bit of beating in an intriguing contest. The latter has been given a mark of 124 after running on in determined fashion to score at Southwell last month. Cut in the ground suits, as does this minimum trip, though a penalty will clearly ask further questions of him. Black Coffee has joined Nicky Henderson from Jessica Harrington since his latest start at Naas in December. He won a Punchestown maiden hurdle on heavy ground last spring and has some ability, though he has to give weight away all around today and it could be just a reconnaissance mission. Southerness won a good ground Catterick bumper last year and after a disappointing hurdling debut in the autumn he showed up well at Taunton when brought back after a break. We know he handles cut and there looks to be more to come. Johnny Mullen won a bumper here last time and is an interesting debutant who deserves a market check. Even so, our pick remains Henry King. Victor Dartnall has his string in good form and his six-year-old made a pleasing debut over hurdles when runner-up to Pepe Simo here in October. He handles cut in the ground, and was in the process of producing the best piece of form of this lot when falling two out upsides the very useful Bellvano at Newbury's Hennessy meeting. He returns to the racecourse today and with a clear round he looks the one to be on.
Black Coffee 12-1 (11-4) Held up in 6th, ridden and no impression before 2 out, kept on one pace, 6th of 7, 35l behind Torphichen (11-7) at Naas 2m 4yo lst hdl hvy in Dec.
Gifted Leader (USA) 7-2 (11-4) Tracked leaders, headway to lead between last 2, ridden and rallied when headed briefly flat, stayed on towards finish, won at Southwell 2m nh nov hdl (4) gs in Jan beating Moonstreaker (11-1) by 3/4l, 14 ran.
Henry King (IRE) 15-8 (11-0) Pulled hard, held up in rear, headway on outside approaching 5th, challenged 3 out, close 3rd when fell 2 out, in a race won by Bellvano (11-0) at Newbury 2m NH mdn hdl (3) gs in Nov, 13 ran.
Johnny Mullen (IRE) 33-1 (10-9) Prominent, led inside final 3f, ridden over 1f out, kept on well, won at Wincanton 2m NH flat (6) sft in Dec beating Megastar (11-2) by 2 1/4l, 11 ran.
Pennellis (FR) 33-1 (11-5) Held up in rear, some headway after 3 out, soon ridden and weakened before next, 8th of 13, 44l behind Wishfull Thinking (11-11) at Taunton 2m 3f nov hdl (3) sft in Jan.
Sherminator (IRE) 150-1 (11-4) Held up in mid-division, weakened after 4 out, 9th of 13, well behind Dream Esteem (10-11) at Ffos Las 2m mdn hdl (4) gs in Jan.
Southerness 18-1 (11-1) Held up towards rear, hit 2nd, headway after 3 out, ridden and still pressing leaders last, stayed on same pace flat, 4th of 12, 4l behind Bothy (10-13) at Taunton 2m 1f nh nov hdl (4) sft in Jan.
Wray Castle (IRE) 100-1 (10-7) Close up on outside, headway into 2nd before 7th, weakened after next, tailed off when pulled up approaching 2 out, in a race won by Triggerman (10-12) at Wincanton 2m 6f nh nov hdl (4) gs in Nov, 10 ran.
Windpfeil (IRE) 33-1 (10-9) Hit 1st, held up, headway to moderate 5th 3 out, struggling after, 6th of 11, well behind Orzare (10-12) at Newbury 2m 3yo nov hdl (3) hvy in Dec.