Ascot hosts a bumper nine-race card on Saturday following the additions of the Betfair Hurdle and Denman Chase races from Newbury.
Super Saturday may have been scratched from the fixture list, but horse racing is back up and running in the UK following that equine flu scare.
The rearranged Grade 2 Denman Chase (14:45) over 3m attracts just four entries, but Paul Nicholls saddles his leading Cheltenham Gold Cup contender Clan Des Obeaux despite the change of venue.
This seven-year-old improved dramatically for his first run of the season in the Betfair Chase at Haydock to land Kempton’s festive feature, the King George, last time out.
Despite having to give two or three pounds to the field, Clan Des Obeaux comfortably comes out on top on official figures.
The only horse anywhere near the same parish is Terrefort for Nicky Henderson and owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede.
Although in receipt of the most weight from Clan Des Obeaux, even taking that into account the six-year-old has a further 11lb to find on BHA ratings.
Terrefort, who won two Grade 1s as a novice last season, was out of sorts on reappearance in a Listed contest at Sandown where he was well-behind Elegant Escape and Thomas Patrick, and a held third in the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham last month.
Tom Lacey’s charge, meanwhile, has since been pulled up on two of three subsequent starts, so is on the comeback trail himself.
Ballyhill completes the field for Nigel Twiston-Davies, but has never tried the trip before and has the most to find. Barring accidents, Clan Des Obeaux looks nailed on for another win in this at 2/5 with BetBright.
Waiting Patiently seeks successive Ascot Chase crowns
If it’s a more competitive betting heat you’re after, then the feature Grade 1, the Ascot Chase over 2m 5f (15:55) fits the bill.
Waiting Patiently won this 12 months ago, but lost his unbeaten record when unseating Brian Hughes because of a faller in front in the King George.
Yorkshire trainer Ruth Jefferson has taken great care to race this eight-year-old lightly. Waiting Patiently has also seen the form of last year’s Ascot Chase advertised nicely by the likes of Frodon and Top Notch, who were third and fourth respectively.
Whether he goes on to Cheltenham having missed the last two Festivals remains to be seen, but this race and trip definitely suit.
Waiting Patiently is top rated and a general 7/4 betting favourite as a result, but cases can also be made for others who are course and distance winners.
Cyrname from Nicholls’ yard could hardly have been more impressive when bolting up in a handicap at this venue and trip when last in action.
The seven-year-old is the youngest in this line-up and the handicapper didn’t take his 21-length victory literally as he’s raised his rating 15lb.
That meant that elite company like this had to be next for Cyrname. He landed a couple of Grade 2 contests at Kempton over similar distances while a novice and bookmakers are certainly wary of him.
William Hill are a standout 7/2 about Cyrname going in at Ascot again here. The other obvious danger is Politologue, who has Grade 1 victories over two miles and two-and-a-half.
Also trained by Nicholls, he landed the 1965 Chase here on reappearance, but found his stamina stretched by the King George. Politologue is also 7/2 with Ladbrokes and closest to Waiting Patiently on figures.
Fox Norton could come on for Clarence House run
A field of six means each-way betting on the Ascot Chase is confined to two places. While one or more of the market principals would have to disappoint in order to not make the frame, Fox Norton has been a very consistent horse since joining Colin Tizzard.
Now aged nine, he chased home the awesome Altior after a long layoff in the Clarence House Chase here last month. Fox Norton was previously seen when pulled up in the 2017 King George – another who lacked the stamina of that three-mile test.
He has proved a very solid horse at Grade 1 level, however, and should certainly strip fitter for his return to action.
Fox Norton, like Politologue, has scored in elite company over two-and-a-half miles before. William Hill again go the best price at 7/1 about him in this.
The Ascot Chase field is completed by Charbel and Aso. Although the former was beaten half-a-length by Politologue in the 1965 Chase here, Kim Bailey’s charge did have his day in the sun when landing the Grade 2 Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon.
Charbel has since been a disappointing third to Top Notch in a Listed contest at Kempton. This obviously demands more and off level weights he has the most to find.
Aso has won both of his starts this season in handicap company, meanwhile, including a Grade 3 at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day.
Venetia Williams’ horse now has a career high mark to live-up to in this. Provided he’s no worse for the tumble, Waiting Patiently holds leading claims but there is no hiding place for him in what is a strong test where four horses are separated by 5lb on ratings.
Now McGinty may be Reynoldstown value
An even more open-looking race is the 3m Grade 2 Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase (13:35). Top Ville Ben heads official figures off the back of two wide-margin victories, but this is a massive step up in class for Philip Kirby’s northern raider.
Had the Towton Novices’ Chase at Wetherby not been lost, then this seven-year-old wouldn’t have been redirected to this.
In the absence of Santini, who hasn’t been vaccinated in the last six months, Top Ville Ben is the 5/2 market leader with Paddy Power.
Yalltari is the closest to him on ratings, but was a faller last time out. Aso’s stable companion did win a novices’ handicap chase on Welsh Grand National day at Chepstow prior to that and runs off 10lb higher in this.
Tizzard sends Mister Malarky in search of another victory following a taking Newbury handicap success. This six-year-old is the youngest of the five engaged and thus open to most progress, and challenging Top Ville Ben for favouritism with some bookmakers.
The eye is caught by the jockey booking of Richard Johnson on Now McGinty for Stuart Edmunds. Although only one from four over fences, he’s made real progress in cheekpieces and jumped really well when scoring at Chepstow last time out.
At 4/1 with Unibet, Now McGinty has the upward curve many punters look for in a value bet.
Giving weight all-round, meanwhile, is Coup De Pinceau for Nicholls because of a previous class 2 win. He was well-beaten by Rocky’s Treasure in a Doncaster Grade 2 when we last saw him and this looks a tough challenge.