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Garde La Victoire: Will he go off favourite?
Clearly a convincing case can me made for De Faoithesdreamhere but I'm siding with Garde Le Victoire as he has his sights lowered. He has sandwiched a Welsh Champion Hurdle win and runner-up spot in the Coral Hurdle at Ascot with a fine second in the Haldon Gold Cup, going down all guns blazing against Sir Valentino. He is exactly what it says on the tin and while he hasn't always been the most fluent over his fences, a clear round here would make him very difficult to beat.
Ulck Du Lin may not be the doughtiest battler this game has ever seen but he still has a more than respectable strike rate of around 20%. He's a few pounds higher than for the last of those victories in the spring of 2015 but he is on the same mark as when beaten a nose over this course and distance last February. His latest run at Newbury was an improvement on his reappearance at Ascot and this race could set up nicely for this strong traveller as both Garde La Victoire and Hollywoodien like to get on with things.
Would De Faoithesdream have won at Cheltenham last time had he not slipped on landing three out? It's impossible to know for sure, but I do think the handicapper has taken a chance in leaving him on the same mark of 134 here. His bold front-running style and aggressive jumping should lend itself well to this track – even if he did disappoint on his only previous start here – and off his low weight he could well take the scalps of some better-known rivals in this.
Having been all over De Faoithesdream last time out, the temptation is to go in again here, but despite having to give weight away all round, I can't overlook the claims of Garde La Victoire lowered in grade. His jumping let him down a couple of times on the big stage last season, but fences didn't seem to be a problem when he pushed Sir Valentino all the way in the Haldon Gold Cup earlier in this campaign. He has a series of good efforts to his name under big burdens such as this and his overall wins-to-runs strike-rate simply puts him in a different league to these rivals.