WITH the Cheltenham Festival imminent, Paul Carberry's decision to bypass Gowran Park today so that he can partner Kauto Stone for Paul Nicholls at Ascot is certainly interesting.
Carberry was due to ride his Welsh Grand National-winning partner Monbeg Dude at Haydock until connections opted not to go there.
Gowran would have seemed the obvious alternative but the gifted 40-year-old is instead reunited with Kauto Stone, on which he plundered a Down Royal Grade Two in November 2011 when fog prevented Noel Fehily from flying in for the mount.
The Grade One Betfair Chase that they tackle is certainly winnable.
Captain Chris, second to Cue Card last year, is a short-priced favourite having won in style at Kempton last time.
That triumph came over today's two-mile-five-furlong trip, but the deep ground slog that he will encounter here has never been his forte.
Richard Johnson's 10-year-old mount was made to look better than he is by opposition that simply proved far inferior at Kempton, so he is opposable.
Ulster actor Jimmy Nesbitt's Riverside Theatre, twice successful in this, is another of the same vintage not to be trusted in gruelling conditions.
If the Kauto Stone that thwarted First Lieutenant to land the prestigious JNwine.com Champion Chase over three miles at the 2012 Down Royal Festival turns up, he will surely outrun odds of up to 20/1 for Carberry, who had a double at the Ulster track just last week.
He is a live each-way prospect, but the pick of the lot is his stable-mate Rolling Aces.
This season Rolling Aces claimed Down Royal's November Grade Two, form that has an extremely solid look.
Up at Haydock, Merry King, with the added benefit of Tony McCoy taking over up top, appeals as value at 8/1.
The prolific Ulsterman, closing in on a 19th successive title, can also win aboard Alan King's Sego Success in the three-mile Grade Two novices hurdle.
* ARMAGH trainer Jim Lambe's Regal Warrior – a 20-1 outsider – won at Dundalk last night.