Bobs Worth is one of the 2015 Hennessey Gold Cup’s elder statesmen, but few of his rivals have such scope to improve off their current mark as the 2012 winner.
At first such an observation may seem counterintuitive given two thirds of renewals since the turn of the century have been won by second-season chasers.
Yet closer inspection reveals very few runners of whom the kind of hand-over-fist improvement likely required to win the race might be anticipated.
Second-season chasers have scooped the famous contest in each of the last three runnings, improving by 10lbs, 11lbs and 11lbs.
Saphir Du Rheu, the 7/2 favourite, has a mark of 163 and top weight to contend with, but could only beat 150-rated The Young Master (8/1) by seven lengths at Carlisle on their seasonal return despite being 8lb better off at the weights.
The latter’s stablemate The Druids Nephew (6/1) was a 25-length seventh in the Hennessy last year off a 15lb lower official rating.
Splash Of Ginge (40/1) runs off 6lb higher than his highest winning chase mark, despite Jamie Bargary’s 5lb claim.
If In Doubt (8/1) may have finished under nine lengths behind the 163-rated Don Poli at Cheltenham, but he was closing on beaten horses, while running past other beaten horses that day.
Towards the bottom of the weights Ned Stark looks unexposed, having raced just twice (winning once) at 3m or further, yet he won that contest by a neck from a now 135-rated foe.
Of the lightly-raced chasing squad, arguably only 12/1-horse Fingal Bay has the potential to improve drastically.
Philip Hobbs’ gelding has run only six times over fences and was sent off favourite for the Hennessy last year only to pull up with a burst blood vessel.
Bobs Worth has fallen so far down the handicap after a bad season last term that he looks at least as likely to find 10lbs than any other runner mentioned.
Rated 180 after winning the 2013 Cheltenham Gold Cup, Nicky Henderson’s 10-year-old will attempt to emulate Denman in landing Newbury’s prestigious handicap for a second time off a mark of just 153.
The 6/1 shot proved the flame still burns with victory over Simonsig and Purple Bay in what was a pipe opener for all three at Aintree at the beginning of the month.
Afterwards Nicky Henderson admitted the 2m4f hurdle had been a tune-up for the Hennessy, but that didn’t stop a wary handicapper putting him up 7lbs for winning.
That could look farcically generous come ten past three on Saturday.