We begin with a very open 0-150 Handicap Chase over 2m2f175y at 13:50 where I’m keen to side with one of two Paul Nicholls runners.

The trends for this race suggest it’s worth siding with a horse rated around 145 who has had one or two starts already this season. Ideally that horse has had one month since their last run and is likely to be ridden prominently.

These factors have landed me on two, Diego Du Charmil and Sully D’Oc. However, I can’t bring myself to side with Sully D’Oc again as I felt he had everything in his favour on his penultimate start yet still couldn’t quite get the job done and is only running off a 1lb lower mark here.

Therefore, the sole representative for me is going to be Diego Du Charmil who despite being a nine-year-old, looks to have more to come over fences still.

He’s won three of his 13 chase outings with his last three runs over the larger obstacles all at Ascot. He fared well on each of those occasions including last time out when fifth behind Before Midnight in a Class 2 Handicap Chase over 2m167y. He’s been given 3lb back for that run which still sees him off a 2lb higher mark than his hurdle rating.

This looks to be the perfect time to be stepping Diego Du Charmil up in trip with this 2m2f175y being the furthest distance he’s tried.

He’s the second highest rated in this race with only his stablemate, Dolos earning a higher mark. However, I’m far more confident about the form Diego Du Charmil brings into this race.

I hope Harry Cobden doesn’t ride him too far back however, as it’s difficult to know exactly what tactics are likely to be implemented. The trends suggest those ridden prominently are favoured so I hope he won’t be too far off the pace.

Concern that Buzz may be too buzzy

The sole Grade 1 on Saturday is the Long Walk Hurdle at 14:25 where it’s the turn of the stayers in what remains a very open division. I keep hoping that the more graded staying hurdle contests we see, the closer we’ll get to establishing a hierarchy. However, with each of these races, the more confused the division is left. At least there’s no denying it’s entertaining!

The seemingly, safest bet in this year’s Long Walk Hurdle is Buzz as he’s a very likeable horse with an awful lot of ability. He surprised me somewhat last time out despite winning like an even-money favourite should have done.

I had plenty of doubts about the small runner field which he put to rest in no uncertain terms. However, he still has enough questions to have to answer again here which he may well bat back once more. I’m concerned about this step up in trip for all he’s a Cesarewitch winner, but he’s a keen and buzzy type– well he has to be with his name really doesn’t he.

So, for all he’s gutsy and he’ll battle away in a finish regardless of the trip, I am slightly concerned now he’s up against the best of the British staying hurdle division here.

Yes this group isn’t a vintage crop nor does it have much depth, but Thyme Hill may still prove to be a cut above. For those reasons, I’m siding with Philip Hobbs’s runner.

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Thyme Hill’s reappearance admittedly, wasn’t fantastic in an Auteuil Grade 1 Hurdle over three miles.

He simply didn’t take to the French hurdles and after being keen early, his lack of fluency resulted in Tom O’Brien having to nudge him into the bridle throughout.

He ballooned most of his obstacles losing lengths at each hurdle which saw him beaten a long way out. I can forgive him for that reappearance at this stage especially with a return to these shores and to conventional hurdles.

He’s simply, the highest rated horse in this line-up with plenty of potential yet to be realised and will hopefully, come out on top as best of the British staying hurdlers.

Caribean Boy to rediscover his bottle

This year’s Listed Silver Cup Handicap Chase over 2m7f180y at 15:00 is a cracker and as wide-open as anyone could have wished for.

There are plenty of characters here we know an awful lot about including a dual winner of this race, Regal Encore going for a third win as a 13-year-old rising 14. We also have the 2018 winner, Valtor trying to win it as a 12-year-old rising 13 so it’s great to see these old boys back.

Regal Encore looks a solid each-way play in the race but can I see him winning? In truth, I can’t this year but he’s sure to give his running nonetheless.

When looking at the recent trends, there were a few positives worth siding with. The first is a horse rated around 145, who has ideally had two starts already this season and is a prominent racer. There isn’t the suggestion that a horse had to run well on their recent outing but a three-week break is certainly a plus.

Four runners fit most of the trends, the first being Grand Sancy however, I’m concerned he may be ridden too far back if connections wish to focus on settling him once more.

Regal Encore ticked a lot of boxes but his age does now beg a different question of him back at his favourite course and distance.

I’ll certainly be having a saver on Cloth Cap on the back of gallant sixth in the Ladbrokes Trophy after trying to make all to win the race for a second year running. He’s been given 4lb back by the handicapper after weakening out of contention but his running style should be seen to a good effect in this race. The concern about his chances is the weight he’s having to give away to his rivals but he’s race fit and again, should give his running.

However, my main bet is Caribean Boy who fits nearly all trends for this race but he is still a risky proposition, so his price is fair. The biggest concern about his chances is whether his confidence has gone for fences.

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He signed off last season when disappointingly pulling up as the favourite for the Topham Chase at Aintree. He never looked at home over the National fences which was fair as it was a big ask for a relatively inexperienced chaser to win that race.

However, he seemed to show memories of that run despite the summer break on his return in the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham last time out. Daryl Jacob tried to ride him prominently and lined him up wide in the front ranks but he soon lost his position after jumping slowly over the first couple.

The height he got over his first few fences displayed a cautious, almost nervous technique which may well have been a memory of Aintree. However, the further he went the better he got and the more he grew in confidence.

He wasn’t beaten far into 10th and was staying on well to the line. This step up in trip looks a good ploy and hopefully, the fitting of first-time cheekpieces will help him attack his fences more.

West Cork to prove he remains well treated

Ascot’s final race is the Betfair Exchange Trophy at 15:35 which is a Grade 3 Handicap Hurdle over just shy of two miles.

It’s been fascinating to see the early market strength behind No Ordinary Joe in the hope that Nicky Henderson’s runner can reverse the form with West Cork. That latest start for both reopposing rivals coming in the Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham.

I thought No Ordinary Joe should have won the race on ability grounds and he ran very well considering how fiercely keen he was. Hardly ever would you see a JP McManus runner being ridden so prominently with no cover when they are a free goer.

I don’t believe that positioning was by design and the same concerns remain here. If Nico De Boinville struggles to settle him again then he’ll likely do too much if ridden forwards. Or if he’s taken back to find cover, that won’t favour the prominent running style that’s been a feature of this contest.

So for all I thought, on ability he should have won the Greatwood, I have my concerns here which means I’m siding with West Cork to uphold the form.

Dan Skelton’s runner ticks the most boxes for me in this race on the back of his win in the Greatwood which was a phenomenal training performance by Dan Skelton. To get this horse to peak in one of the most competitive handicaps of the entire season on the back of a 21-month absence was quite a feat.

He had certainly looked a graded hurdler as a novice and that he should have been better than his mark of 134 suggested which proved to be the case.

Added to that, Harry Skelton gave him an optimal ride at Cheltenham.

He took him wide throughout and off the churned up inside rail, which wasn’t the place to be by the third day of the November meeting.

West Cork certainly didn’t look ring-rusty on that return, he was sharp, travelled well and jumped beautifully before keeping on bravely. On the back of that success, I thought he could work his way up into being a graded two-mile hurdler. However, he remains very well handicapped, even with a 7lb rise for his Greatwood win. I’m pleased to see him taking in this race as it looked a likely target and he can double up.

The other two runners to keep an eye on in this race at bigger prices are Garry Clermont and Llandinabo Lad who both hit a lot of the trends.

Garry Clermont because he’s about the right age being a six-year-old with a perfect rating of 142. He should be ridden prominently but it’s difficult to know for definite exactly what tactics will be deployed. He finished second over this course and distance last time out off a 5lb lower mark and has had four weeks to freshen up.

Llandinabo Lad has a similar profile to Garry Clermont in the sense that he too is a six-year-old with a handy mark of 140. He also finished second last time out but at Bangor behind the super likeable Hunters Call. That horse ran a solid race to finish third in the Grade 2 International Hurdle on his next start giving the Bangor form a strong look.

I’d imagine the plan will be to send Llandinabo Lad on to try and make all which is a running style that’s been seen to winning effect in recent renewals of this race. He too has had a good freshen up since his last run and cannot be ignored at a bigger price

Remastered should have all conditions to suit once again

My final contest to assess comes at Haydock in the form of the 0-145 Tommy Whittle Handicap Chase over 3m1f125y at 14:40 where I’m hoping for vindication for Remastered following his sickening fall in the Ladbrokes Trophy.

Sickening as it was a heavy fall which I’m delighted to see him clearly none the worse for being turned out again just three weeks later.

It was very much secondly sickening as I had tipped up Remastered on this column to win the Ladbrokes Trophy.

Admittedly, the fall came plenty far enough out at the fourth last fence when the race was really getting into top gear. The fence at the top of the home straight at Newbury is notoriously tricky as it comes off the bend when the pace lifts to its crescendo as horses are sent for home.

Remastered had done everything right throughout the race up until that point. He laid up with the typical frenetic pace on quicker ground than he’d ideally have liked. He jumped well and travelled much better than I had even anticipated. The fear was a potential exposure of lack of pace on the good to soft ground but his stamina was never in doubt. The main frustration therefore, was that he would likely have only extended away as soon as he was popped any sort of question.

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Unfortunately for him and Fergus Gillard, they were met with no stride at the fourth last fence where Remastered completely guessed and took a crashing fall. He had too much speed into the fence to reassess a short stride, such was the ease he was going that it actually paid to his demise.

The one saving grace of falling at the fourth from home is that the handicapper can’t touch the horse’s mark, no matter how well they were going. Therefore, Remastered can run off the same mark in this race on 146 where he’s clearly a better horse than that.

We also know that this trip is well within his compass, and he will actually have his preferred underfoot conditions. His prominent running style should also play to the pace bias on the chase track at Haydock perfectly.

He fits the six- to eight-year-old trend for this race and has a favourable mark judged on recent renewals. He’s race fit from his two starts already this season and has had a freshen up to hopefully, help him forget about his Newbury tumble.

Remastered looks to have all variable in his favour provided his confidence hasn’t been dented by that hefty fall from his latest start.

There’s another runner to keep an eye on though at a much bigger price, that being Shanty Alley who also ticks a lot of boxes. This seven-year-old remains unexposed as a staying chaser and looks on a very feasible mark of 130 with the in-form Jack Andrews taking a further 5lb off his back. Ben Case has also been in flying form this season and this trainer and jockey combination may well have another winner in waiting here.

Shanty Alley made his reappearance start last time out at Uttoxeter where he unseated three out. Fortunately, he’d had enough of a race by then to hope he’ll strip fitted for the return but has also been given 2lb back by the handicapper. He too looks more than likely to be ridden forwards which again, is something I want to keep onside and he’s worth chancing each-way.





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