There is a typically busy Saturday afternoon of jumps racing to warm us up in the middle of a cold snap and nowhere more so than at Ascot where the Grade One Clarence House Chase takes centre stage.
The Willie Mullins-trained Un De Sceaux is favourite to win the two-miler for an unprecedented third time and faces an intriguing young upstart in Nicky Henderson’s novice Brain Power.
It is a bold move from the Seven Barrows handler to run here, but sets up a fascinating contest. The loveable frontrunner Un De Sceaux is fancied to prove his metal ahead of Cheltenham by winning although he makes little appeal at odds of 8/15 for betting purposes.
Instead, it might prove worthwhile to wait around 20 minutes longer as Kauto Riko makes solid appeal in the closing contest at Taunton at 15:55.
Tom Gretton’s charge made a strong impression when winning on his first outing over fences at Newcastle last month and can justify odds of 2/1 in this follow-up attempt.
Brian Hughes rode him confidently last time out the back of the field and they made smooth progress to take things up at three out. Kauto Riko was in all probability going to win with a bit to spare when his closest pursuer crashed out at the final obstacle.
He’s got scope to improve again on his second outing in this sphere and is fancied to overcome the 8lb hike handed out to him for that win and make it two-from-two in doing so.
Haydock stages a Supreme Novices’ Trial (14:05) and the improving Waterlord is fancied to oblige at odds of 9/4.
He’s readily won his two most recent outings over hurdles, the latest of them coming over C&D at the Merseyside venue three weeks ago.
A smart bumper performer when trained by John Ferguson, Waterlord clearly retains all of his ability despite having spent close to two years on the sidelines.
He was in need of the run on his Haydock reappearance in November, but those two wins since suggest Donald McCain has an exciting horse on his hands.
That he has already won around Haydock on heavy ground is a big plus, given how testing it can be, and that is enough to swing the vote in his favour here over the equally promising Kim Bailey-trained First Flow.
On the undercard to the Clarence House at Ascot, Chef D’Equipe is fancied to continue his recent progress for trainer Philip Hobbs.
He was already a winner over fences in his native France before arriving on these shores. He ran a very pleasing race over three miles at Sandown in December on his first chase start for Hobbs, a contest won by the admirable Peat The Feat.
Dropped to two miles and four furlongs at the same track a fortnight ago, he duly scored with something in hand. He’s been raised 6lb on the strength of that success but can prove himself to be ahead of the handicapper by taking this.
David Maxwell appeared to have more up his sleeve last time and he’s on board again for the Amateur Riders’ Handicap Chase (13:15) at Ascot, with Chef D’Equipe making plenty appeal at odds of 7/2.
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