Sky Bet Supreme Trial Rossington Main Novices' Hurdle
Nicky Henderson aims to reign Supreme with Mister Fisher
Being Nicky Henderson's supposed second string need not mean you have anything other than a first-rate chance of coming out on top.
The champion trainer had planned to run Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle favourite Angels Breath here only to have a midweek reshuffle and send Mister Fisher.
His 'deputy' is still one of the leading British hopes for the opening race at the Cheltenham Festival having been an authoritative winner of the traditionally informative novice hurdle at Kempton on Boxing Day.
Henderson, who won this race three times between 2000 and 2007, said: "We've redirected him here and switched programmes with Angels Breath, who had initially been coming here but isn't quite right.
"This looks a good race to run him in and we're happy with how he is at home, so hopefully he'll put in a good performance."
Bright Forecast is unbeaten in two runs over hurdles and has "untapped potential" according to his trainer Ben Pauling.
"He hasn't had all that much experience but he could have done no more than he's done so far," said Pauling.
"He was very green at Newbury but he still won and then he won under a penalty at Leicester. We don't know how good he is, but I hope he'll be very competitive here."
Esprit Du Large steps up in class after a successful hurdling debut at Uttoxeter last month and Evan Williams said: "I thought it would be a good opportunity to test him in a race of this nature where there's a smaller field and what should be lovely ground for him.
"It's very difficult when you win a maiden hurdle like he did because he was impressive so it makes you think about stepping up. I'd have loved to have given him another run in a little race with a penalty but the ground has been so squiffy, so we'll take him to Haydock and have a proper look at him."
Apart from rank outsider Tricks And Trails, Idee De Garde is the only runner without a hurdles win to his name after finishing second at Newcastle on his only run.
"He's a maiden taking on some fancy horses but he ran a really nice race on debut and we're taking the view that if we run him in good races and he's still a novice for next season it wouldn't be the end of the world," said trainer Dan Skelton.
Muratello won in France before running in the race that had to be voided at this track last month on his debut for Nigel Twiston-Davies, who said: "He was going really well at the time. We still don't really know how good he might be but he's a promising horse and we'd be hopeful of a good run from him."
Matchbook Holloway's Handicap Hurdle
Best days ahead for Thosedaysaregone?
There looked to be good days ahead with Thosedaysaregone when he charged to victory at Wetherby last weekend as the well-backed 11-10 favourite.
That performance earned him a 9lb rise in the weights and a leap in class, yet the fact his canny connections have opted to take on the challenge at Ascot means he is likely to start favourite again.
Trainer Charles Byrnes has trusted Robbie Power with the ride on Thosedaysaregone and feels there are plenty of positives for his six-year-old gelding.
"He seems in good form," Byrnes said. "He's got a nice weight even with a 9lb rise since his Wetherby win last weekend and we've a top jockey booked.
"They are the positives and I suppose the only negative is the quick turnaround as he's done a lot of travelling in a week."
Super six out to strike again:
Six-year-olds have an excellent record in this race in the last eight years with half of the winners being that age.
As well Thosedaysaregone, handicap debutant Seddon and the progressive Ballymoy are also the same age and look to have good chances of challenging the likely market leader.
Ballymoy carries top weight for owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede after taking his record to five wins from his last six races with a smart victory at Haydock last time.
Trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies said: "He's been an extremely progressive horse over the last year or so and I'd like to think he could step up again on what he's done. He's got top weight but I don't have too many concerns about that."
What they say
Harry Derham, assistant to Paul Nicholls, trainer of Djingle
"He's been bitterly disappointing in England so far. He didn't look to like the fences last time, so we're coming back hurdling with him for the rest of the season. On the balance of his form he doesn't look the best handicapped horse in the world, but what we'd like to see is him run a nice, positive race."
Warren Greatrex, trainer of Boite
"He's always been very consistent and he's come out of his last run absolutely bouncing. He's back in a handicap, he handles the conditions and the trip is fine. He's in tip-top order and he has a chance."
Nicky Richards, trainer of Better Getalong:
"He ran a grand race on his comeback at Haydock and I've been really pleased with him since. I think he's come on a good bit for the run and I'd be pretty hopeful he could run another good race. Put it this way, I wouldn't be going all the way down there if we didn't think he had a good chance."
Dan Skelton, trainer of New Quay:
"I'd give him a chance. He won over course and distance in November, then I ran him too quickly under a penalty at Newbury later that week. He's benefited from being freshened up and he has a little each-way chance in a very competitive race."
Lucinda Russell, trainer of Kelpies Myth:
"He's a very efficient hurdler. Two miles on quick ground doesn't seem to suit him, so these conditions should be better. There's a little question mark over whether he will stay the trip, but if he does I think he'll surprise a good few people and run a really good race."
bet365 Handicap Chase
Mister Whitaker puts festival claims on the line
Big things could be in order for Mister Whitaker at the Cheltenham Festival but first he must back up the bold thoughts of his connections at Ascot.
Owned by Tim Radford, last year's festival winner could be aimed at the Cheltenham Gold Cup, a race Radford formerly sponsored through his company Timico, or the Ryanair Chase granted a performance in line with expectations here.
Jack Channon, son and assistant to trainer Mick Channon, said: "If he's going to be the type of horse we want him to be, and to run in the race we want and think he can run in, then he needs to be putting in a good performance in a race of this nature.
"We've got to carry top weight but most of the market leaders are covered by around 8lb, so it's not like he's giving away lumps of weight to a fancied rival. He's in great shape and we can't wait to run him."
Mister Whitaker is a best-priced 33-1 shot for the Ryanair Chase and 66-1 for the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Bold ploy to help Benatar get home
Gary and Jamie Moore are likely to employ different tactics on Benatar on Saturday after feeling the seven-year-old did not finish off his race over three miles last time.
Jamie Moore had picked his way through from the back to look threatening on Ashley Head's runner until the turn for home when the petrol tank appeared to empty quickly.
"We'll have to ride him a lot handier than we did last time and hopefully that will pay off," said Gary Moore. "I don't think he stayed the three miles there last time. He came there looking threatening at the top of the home straight and didn't finish his race off. This should be better."
What they say
Harry Derham, assistant to Paul Nicholls, trainer of San Benedeto and Cyrname:
"San Benedeto is not easily placed and is not really the best handicapped of horses. Lorcan Williams takes off a useful 5lb and he's in good order. Cyrname is really well in himself. Last time at Ascot, Sean [Bowen] came in and said two miles was not his thing at all. This should be much more to his liking and I'd like to think he can be very competitive."
Venetia Williams, trainer of Belami Des Pictons:
"He's had 12 months off after picking up an injury when he chased home Waiting Patiently at Carlisle. He's in good order and it's turned into a more competitive race than we might have hoped for on his return. He's a horse we've been looking forward to getting back and hopefully he can run a nice race."
Nigel Twiston-Davies, trainer of Flying Angel:
"He's been a bit in and out this season so we're just trying to find the right circumstances to get him back to his best. Hopefully this will suit him."
Robert Walford, trainer of Mr Medic:
"He's in really good form but he's gone up a lot in the handicap for his two wins at the course. He loves Ascot and has always run well there so that gives us hope, but it's a lot tougher for him."
Nicky Henderson, trainer of Divine Spear:
"I hope the ground's not too quick for him as it was at Cheltenham and that did for him. He's had a few niggles and going up and down those hills on that ground wasn't ideal. Ascot has a nice uphill finish, so if he goes down the hill well I'm sure he'll come up even better."
Dan Skelton, trainer of Get On The Yager:
"He seems to be coming back to a bit of form at home. He had a little problem in the autumn and was lifeless when he ran at Wetherby but he seems a little better now. However, he's never won off this high a mark, so I'm realistic in my expectations for him."
Colin Tizzard, trainer of Quite By Chance:
"He's had his wind done because he was making a noise. He seems to be working really well but he might need a run because it was a big wind operation, so we'll see."
Peter Marsh Handicap Chase
There has been much talk about Plan Bs in recent days, and after Plan A went askew at Aintree last month connections of One For Arthur will be hoping things go a little more orderly this time.
The 2017 Grand National winner unseated at the third fence on his comeback after more than a year off with a tendon injury, but has since pleased trainer Lucinda Russell in his schooling.
She said: "It clearly didn't go to plan last time but it's proven to be not the worst thing in the world as we've had more time to get him ready for this.
"He had a nice school around Ayr the other day and we're really quite pleased with how he was that day and how he's been at home since."
She added: "We're looking for a good round of jumping and a positive performance from him as he's been off the course for a long time - you can't really count what happened at Aintree."
One For Arthur, owned by Belinda McClung and Deborah Thomson, is a general 25-1 chance to recapture the Randox Health Grand National in April.
Can Captain maintain track record?
Aintree could be on the agenda again for Captain Redbeard, who unseated in last year's Grand National, although Haydock has always been his home away from home.
Trained, like One For Arthur in Scotland, Captain Redbeard has never finished outside the first three in six visits to Haydock and was runner-up in this race 12 months ago off the same mark.
Trainer Stuart Coltherd said: "I'm really pleased with him and looking forward to taking him back to Haydock. It's a big, galloping track there and it suits him very well.
"He had a wee break after his run at Aintree in the Grand Sefton, but he seems well in himself and without a doubt he's at his best at this course."
What they say
Venetia Williams, trainer of Otago Trail:
"Conditions are a bit too dry for him to show his very best I think, but there are not that many opportunities for him. We'll give it a go and see what he can do."
Ryan Clavin, assistant to Sue Smith, trainer of Wakanda:
"He seems in very good form at home. We were pleased with his run at Wetherby and he's won round Haydock, so we're going there positive."
Colin Tizzard, trainer of Robinsfirth:
"He had a touch of a leg after his last run. He's been ready for a month but we've been waiting for the soft ground. He's fit and he does run well first time out."
David Pipe, trainer of Daklondike:
"We've done a lot at home with him as well as putting the visor on last time and he seems in a particularly good place. When he's at his best he's more than capable of putting in a very good performance. I suspect a little bit further than last time will suit him too and he's been progressive on soft ground."
Dan Skelton, trainer of Three Musketeers:
"He's obviously struggling for a bit of form but he's got little weight, he jumped well on Friday morning and we're giving him the best chance he can have really."
Nigel Twiston-Davies, trainer of Ballyarthur:
"If they get some rain overnight that would definitely help his chances as the softer the ground, the better with him."
Charlie Longsdon, trainer of Ballydine:
"He ran very well last time at Newbury and I felt he hit a bit of a flat spot before keeping on, so the cheekpieces should help with that. He's out of the handicap, but I'm not too worried about that, and I'm looking forward to running him as I think conditions will suit."
Matchbook Clarence House Chase
Mighty Altior bids for 17th straight success
It's the smallest field since the race's status was upped to Grade 1 in 2008, but that won't bother the legions of Altior fans who will flock to Ascot to watch him attempt an incredible 17th straight success.
Altior has been a joy to watch during that unbeaten sequence over hurdles and fences, which began with a 34-length romp at Chepstow in October 2015.
He went on to land the Supreme Novices' Hurdle that season before developing into a totally dominant two-mile chaser.
The Queen Mother Champion Chase hero reappeared with a comfortable victory at Sandown in the Tingle Creek Chase, and didn't need to come off the bridle to pulverise Diego Du Charmil in the Grade 2 Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.
His trainer Nicky Henderson said: "It's not Altior's fault that he keeps scaring the other horses away. When Sprinter Sacre was around they made the effort to come and see him in action and people love horses like him and Altior racing.
"Having been through this before with Sprinter Sacre and other very good horses, the races sort of stop being about 'this is exciting, he could win a big race', to thinking that everything has to go right and he has to put in a proper performance otherwise he's going to be criticised. "You cannot guarantee anything in this game, as these horses aren't machines, and there are things like fences in the way to make life difficult for you."
The other runners
As Henderson says, horses aren't machines and it's a well-known saying in racing that "you should never be frightened of just one horse" - even if the horse is as majestic and all-conquering as Altior.
Colin Tizzard is pleased to get Fox Norton back on track for his first run since he pulled up behind Might Bite in the 2017 King George at Kempton.
"He's coming back from injury and we're glad to have the three-horse race as there won't be the hurly-burly," Tizzard said.
"For the last month he's been out twice a day as we want him fit to do himself justice. He's up against it with Altior, but if we come a good second we won't mind.
"Although we went to Cheltenham with Native River with one run last season, I think two runs would probably be better as you've got to have match practice to stand an equal chance as the rest, that's why he's starting now. "He's a very powerful horse at home and we think he's fit. Altior has been wonderfully consistent, but one day he's going to have a blip."
The Paul Nicholls-trained Diego Du Charmil completes the small, but select, field.
"We'd be very hopeful of him finishing in the first three!" assistant Harry Derham quipped. "Look, someone has got to take Altior on, but we're under no illusions about what faces us.
"We're rated 156 and that makes him not the easiest horse to place in the world. This race has really good prize-money, so we'll take our chance and see what he does, but we're realistic about it all."
All quotes, stats and insight from Racing Post. Visit Racing Post's guide to racing for more.
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