The Aintree Hurdle on Thursday will bring together a number of different form lines, but it is the form of the Champion Hurdle that looks likely to come to the fore. On that occasion, Epatante got the better of Zanahiyr by a length, but there is a fair bit more colour to the picture than the black and white result suggests.
The pair were given contrasting rides on the day, with the free-going Epatante given a ground-saving energy-conserving ride hard down the inside in an effort to smuggle her into the race late.
In contrast, Zanahiyr was given a far more forward ride in an effort to best use his ample stamina. As well as that, Jack Kennedy very much rode him to inconvenience Honeysuckle as best he could, taking up a three-wide-no-cover position in an effort to keep her wide in the early stages and not allow her to get up on his outside.
The ground and energy that Epatante saved proved to be pivotal in the finish and in fairness to her, she would have finished even more than a length in front of Zanahiyr had she jumped the last with more fluency. However, this promises to be a very different race.
Crucially, it is run over two-and-a-half miles. Epatante has always looked a proper two miler and Aidan Coleman will face a challenge in getting her relaxed over this longer trip.
In contrast, Zanahiyr has been shaping all season as though this longer trip will suit and Jack Kennedy will be able to ride him a bit less forcefully over it. It is a fascinating rematch and the bookmakers are struggling to separate them at the time of writing, but I would very much be with Zanahiyr.
Back in the days before the creation of the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, the Melling Chase (now known as the Marsh Chase) was often the main objective for specialist two-and-a-half mile chasers. Skipping Cheltenham to come straight to Aintree for it has become less fashionable in recent times, but that is what the Joseph O'Brien-trained Fakir D'Oudairies has done and he looks to have a great chance of making it pay on Friday.
The seven-year-old ran out the impressive winner of what was admittedly a below-standard renewal of this race last year, but it could readily be argued that this year's renewal isn't much better. Quite a few of his rivals have thus far shown their best form at around two miles and with a bunch of front runners in the field, there is unlikely to be too many hiding places for suspect stayers.
Fakir D'Oudiaires is a strong stayer at this trip and any rain will be a help to him. He didn't seem to be at his very best in the Ascot Chase last time, taking time to find his jumping rhythm, yet he still ran out the authoritative winner at the line.
Freshened up since then, it wouldn't surprise if he is in even better form for this and if he is, that will make him very tough to beat.
The Sefton Novices' Hurdle on Friday promises to bring together an interesting bunch of staying novice hurdlers representing a wide range of form lines.
Given he was my long-range fancy for the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival prior to being ruled out due to a minor setback, I am going to stick with the Gordon Elliott-trained Minella Crooner to gain compensation for that disappointment in this contest.
The son of Shantou has come quite a long way in a relatively short space of time, winning a point-to-point last April and two bumpers earlier this season prior to being sent hurdling.
While his jumping lacked fluency on his hurdling debut at Leopardstown's Christmas meeting, he still ran a big race to split the smart Journey With Me and Kilcruit. His jumping was notably better on his next start when he won a maiden hurdle over three miles at Punchestown in very smooth fashion.
Having been dropped back in trip to contest the Nathaniel Lacy & Partners Solicitors "€50,000 Cheltenham Bonus For Stable Staff" Novice Hurdle, Minella Crooner's jumping was solid and he was working his way into the race in eye-catching style only to make a mistake at the second-last hurdle that cost him two lengths at a vital stage.
That left him with a lot of ground to make up, but he came home to good effect to finish 2¾ lengths second. That form looked strong at the time and it has been working out well since then. With the return to three miles being sure to suit him, he looks to be a leading contender.