Joe Rendall, Online Writer
Although plumping for an unexposed, talented J P McManus owned-youngster in a valuable handicap might not win any prizes for originality, it does not take away from the fact that Regal Encore looks absurdly well-handicapped off a mark of 130.
It looked for all intents and purposes that this year's Imperial Cup was to be the big target, but Anthony Honeyball's string were enduring a very lean spell at the time. In that light the manner in which he shaped was all the more creditable to eventually take fourth, and crucially for our purposes his handicap mark remains intact to be obliterated another day - hopefully that day will be Thursday.
He was a high-class bumper performer, eventually finishing second to Briar Hill in the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham, and for all that his first season over hurdles has suggested he may struggle to reach those heights over hurdles, it does not stop him from having more than enough on his side to make a sizeable impact in top-class handicaps.
With just seven career starts to date he seems bound to be open to significant improvement, and the Punchestown Festival looks the ideal opportunity to show the racing world what he is really capable of. All aboard!
Tony McFadden, Online Writer
Beat That has seemingly always been held in high regard - the fact he was sent off as an odds-on favourite on his racecourse debut suggests as much - and, having failed to win on either start in bumpers last term, he has made giant strides in a relatively short space of time this season, only Faugheen and Vautour taking higher rank among the novice hurdlers. Beat That's lofty rating of 153p comes from his emphatic success in the Grade 1 Sefton Novices' Hurdle, a race in which he could be called the winner from some way out such was the powerful manner in which he travelled, and, as the 'p' would suggest, there is every chance that he will continue to progress.
Beat That got off the mark with a wide-margin win in a strong maiden hurdle at Ascot, and he furthered that excellent impression when a good second to another promising type in Killala Quay at Sandown, the holding ground perhaps playing against his strengths. Given an extended break by Nicky Henderson, which included bypassing the Cheltenham Festival, Beat That returned at Aintree and took a big leap forward, relishing the end-to-end gallop and step up to three miles as he picked off his rivals without having to come off the bridle, keeping on strongly when ridden after the last.
The Sefton was just Beat That's third run of the campaign, and, having endured a less taxing campaign than some of his rivals, he ought to give an extremely good account, while his physique and running style would suggest that he may develop into a high-class chaser down the line.
Keith Melrose, Online Editor
It's to the current two-mile division's detriment as much as the novices' credit, but the Ryanair Novice Chase on Thursday looks bound to be a better quality of contest than the Champion Chase on Tuesday. We're not just looking at a superior race among the novices, either: they promise to deliver an excellent spectacle.
As the market suggests, the race looks to be chiefly between Arkle runner-up Champagne Fever and Maghull winner Balder Succes. Such are their respective styles these two are likely to go at each other, weapons drawn. Champagne Fever's display of jumping in the Arkle almost warranted success in itself and it's likely he'll lead again here, though Balder Succes won't allow him a moment's peace. It's perhaps been understated, if not totally overlooked, just how well Balder Succes has jumped in 2014, his last three wins characterised by how fluently he's taken his fences, never more so than when he winged the last to seal the Maghull.
You feel that Champagne Fever is ultimately the better prospect, which explains the deficit in the betting but doesn't justify it. Over a bare two miles, at a track that puts emphasis more on stamina than Aintree but less than at Cheltenham, you feel that the Balder Succes of 2014 could well prove Champagne Fever's equal. He's a good price do so.