One of the classiest chasers of his generation and a Grade 1 winner in 2016, Punch Nantais returns to the track after two years on the sidelines in what looks a cracking finale to Pau's ten-race card.
Guillaume Macaire has a deserved reputation for being able to coax a second wind out of classy horses returning from longterm injury layoffs, as illustrated in recent seasons by his handling of former Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris heroes Bel La Vie and Storm Of Saintly.
Punch Nantais makes his first public appearance since falling in the May 2018 edition of France's version of the Gold Cup and, though Macaire is far from confident, Punch Nantais's lengthy absence means he receives weight here from rivals that are yet to run within 20lb of his career peak.
"Compared to some of the others you could say that his future is already behind him," said Macaire. "He had leg problems and it is perhaps because the race is at Pau and there aren't too many in opposition that we're running.
"It is really very hard to plan for these horses with so many changes to where the races will be run and this is as difficult a spring as I can remember."
Grands Crus colours to be carried by Fontannes
In February Fontannes became a first Auteuil winner for longtime David Pipe supporter Roger Stanley – owner of Madison Du Berlais and Grands Crus among others – and is one of two runners for Emmanuel Clayeux.
A typically patient Clayeux project, Fontannes was undone by inexperience when coming down at the Bullfinch fence here on Christmas Day but made no mistake on his second try at the Pau chase course in January.
Stablemate Grisy Apple's showed a reasonable level of form over hurdles but left that well behind last November when finding only Bebe D'Or too strong in the Grade 2 Prix Morgex on only his fourth chase start, and has had the benefit of a pipeopener over hurdles this spring.
"Fontannes has experience of Pau and that should help, whereas Grisy Apple's has never run there," said Clayeux. "I didn't really have much choice of engagement for them so we'll see."
Clayeux added: "I think Fontannes is a horse that will improve with maturity. Grisy Apple's is not a huge horse and he handled Compiegne so I'm hopeful he can adapt to Pau. It was a good run in the Morgex and I think he will be a horse for the autumn."
Nicolle unsure if Foreland will take to Pau
The Francois Nicollle-trained Foreland was fourth in the Morgex after making a mistake at a crucial stage.
Potentially as exciting as any of these for the future, it remains to be seen whether he has the tactical speed for Pau.
"I think that he would have a leading chance were this still being run at Auteuil, but I'm really not sure how he will adapt to Pau," said Nicolle. "He is a good horse and he has an engine but I see him as much more an Auteuil horse.
"They will go fast round there and you need to be on your game early. It will be different running some of my good horses at the track now as opposed to the winter meeting, when the best of mine would be resting. I just worry that some of mine might be a bit tapped for toe, and because of the late switch they have all been prepared with Auteuil in mind."
Ten-year-old Argentier is another with good Auteuil back form and, though the career of Eric Leray's charge has suffered its fair share of interruptions in the last couple of years, the handicapper still believes he is worthy of his place in the line-up.