Having finished runner-up on both outings this season, Kalashnikov looks worth siding with at 4/1 with Betway to gain a deserved big race success in the 2m 4f Grade 3 Paddy Power Handicap Chase at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day (14:00).
This Amy Murphy trained seven-year-old has won six of his 13 starts.
He was a very smart hurdler – landing the valuable Betfair Hurdle of 2018, before finishing a fine neck runner-up to Summerville Boy in the Supreme at the Cheltenham Festival here.
Kalashnikov then scored on his first two outings over fences last season in the style of a leading Arkle contender.
He was tracking the leaders going well when getting badly hampered at the sixth and unseating his rider in the big one.
This Kalanisi gelding rounded off the campaign with success in the Grade 1 Manifesto Novices’ Chase at the Grand National Festival in April where he defeated top mare La Bague Au Roi by just over a length.
The runner-up had previously scored back-to-back Grade 1 successes and won all four previous starts over fences, so it was a very smart performance indeed.
Kalashnikov has had just two starts this season, finishing a solid second to Forest Bihan in the Grade 2 Old Roan Chase back at Aintree on reappearance.
He then went down all guns blazing when chinned on the line and beaten a nose by Oldgrangewood in a competitive class 2 affair over this trip at Newbury under the welter burden of 11st 12lb.
Judged on those runs, there are some more decent prizes to be won with Kalashnikov over fences. With youth on his side, he appeals as the type to go on progressing.
OK Corral weighted to go well in Paddy Power Handicap Chase
OK Corral failed to live up to expectations on seasonal reappearance but, having been dropped a couple of pounds, looks weighted to run a big race on the pick of his form.
This Nicky Henderson 10-year-old was a top class hurdler who finished a fine runner-up in the 2018 Albert Bartlett at the Cheltenham Festival.
Whatever the strapping son of Mahler achieved over the smaller obstacles was always going to be a bonus.
OK Corral quickly took to fences like a duck to water in winning his first two starts last season.
In the first of those at Plumpton, he jumped well apart from a blunder at the 12th to very easily beat Impulsive Star by 2 1/4 lengths.
The runner-up went on to land the valuable Grade 3 Classic Handicap Chase at Warwick to give the form a solid look.
OK Corral then landed a Listed contest in ultra-impressive fashion on the same card by six lengths from Secret Investor off an official rating of 147. It was a performance which oozed class.
That saw OK Corral, who got put up to 153, sent off a well-backed 4/1 second-favourite for the National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham festival here in March.
However, he was never travelling at any stage and pulled-up before two out.
OK Corral was then fancied by many to make a winning return to action the the valuable Grade 3 Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury, but weakened badly four from home to finish a well-beaten 15th of 24 to De Rasher Counter.
He is able to race in the Paddy Power Handicap Chase off 2lb lower, and a revised rating of 149 looks exploitable on his aforementioned successes.
At 10/1 with Ladbrokes, OK Corral looks a big each-way player in this.
Cepage a key contender for in-form Venetia
Trainer Venetia Williams has her team in fine form and saddles a leading contender in the shape of Cepage.
This seven-year-old went down by just 1 1/2 lengths to subsequent Grade 1 Ryanair Chase hero Frodon in last year’s Caspian Caviar Gold Cup over course and distance, where his cause was not helped by a bad mistake two from home.
Cepage did not race for the remainder of last season, but looked as good as ever on return to action in a valuable handicap chase at Aintree when a 1 3/4 lengths runner-up to the Nigel Twiston-Davies trained Riders Onthe Storm.
He was attempting to give the winner 7lb that day, who has since come out and bolted up at Ascot to be rated 162.
In hindsight it was an impossible task, and Cepage posted a cracking effort in defeat.
The pair pulled 12 lengths clear of subsequent winner Oldgrangewood (who re-opposes), so the form looks rock solid.
Cepage has since finished a fine 2 3/4 lengths fourth of 13 to Warthog off a rating of 155 in this year’s renewal of the Caspian Caviar, where he arguably would have finished closer but for being carried right after the last.
The son of Saddler Maker is able to race in this off an unchanged rating, so that gives him a big shout from a handicapping perspective.
His proven course form is another plus and Williams is operating at a strike rate of 25 per cent in the last 14 days at the time of writing.
So, taking everything into account, Cepage looks primed to run a big race and can be backed at 8/1 with the sponsors to bag the Paddy Power Handicap Chase.