It's a relatively quiet weekend for Betfair Ambassador Paul Nicholls as the Ditcheat handler saddles just four runners on Saturday...
12:20 Kempton - Vibrato Valtat
Won one of his two good-ground National Hunt Flat races in the Provinces in France and delighted me when second at Exeter on his debut for us in a bumper last month. He looked like winning for a long way over 1m5f in heavy ground there, before just being denied in the closing stages by a newcomer of Nick Williams. That was decent enough bumper form - he carried a 7lb penalty there - and it will be good to see what he can do over hurdles.
He has been working and schooling well in preparation for this. But this could be a very hot race. L'Unique sets a high form standard on his Aintree win, even if the runner-up got beaten at odds-on at Catterick on Thursday, and Nicky's French import looks very interesting, too. And newcomer Deia Sunrise was a near 100-rated 1m2f winner on the Flat. This will take some winning.
13:30 Kempton - Buck's Bond
Always showed a lot of potential in the point field but, to be honest, I wasn't expecting him to win on his hurdling debut at Taunton last time as he is still relatively raw and inexperienced. But he proved me wrong there, travelling well throughout and holding on well close home having been in front a shade too soon.
This is a clear step up in class but the runner-up followed up at Chepstow on Tuesday and I would like to hope that the 7yo, whose dam is a half-sister to a certain Big Buck's, can build on that victory here.
13:50 Warwick - Rocky Creek
We left a bit to work on before his reappearance, so I was more than happy with his second to Harry Topper. And, anyway, the winner went to win a Grade 2 at Newbury next time, so the form was clearly very smart. So he probably didn't have to improve to win at Doncaster last time, even though he was pretty impressive in beating Molotof by an easy four lengths.
Although he won his point on soft ground, this is probably the most testing ground he has experienced under Rules - his Grade 2 hurdle win at Doncaster last season came on good to soft - and this looks a pretty competitive novice chase. So they are concerns. But we think a fair bit of him, and we hope he can underline his potential with a win here. Highland Lodge looks the one to beat.
14:40 Kempton - Black Thunder
Clearly showed a lot of promise when coming from off the pace to finish second at Haydock in November, and I think Ruby will probably admit he probably should have won there. Unfortunately, the handicapper thought so too and saw fit to raise him 6lb, even though the form of that race hasn't worked out that well. But that run clearly showed we have a horse on the upgrade, and conditions should suit here. I think he will go well, even if the handicapper hasn't made life easy. But Harry takes a very handy 5lb off.