Timeform bring you their runner-by-runner guide to the Grade 1 Betfair Ascot Chase on Saturday.
"He's fully expected to get back on track and set himself up nicely for another tilt at the Cheltenham Gold Cup..."
Saturday 18th February, 15:35
1. Cue Card (Colin Tizzard)
Top-class chaser whose four wins last season included three Grade 1s (also still going strongly when falling three out in Cheltenham Gold Cup). Looked as good as ever when winning Betfair Chase at Haydock (for a third time) by 15 lengths from Coneygree in November but not at best when three and a quarter lengths second to Thistlecrack in King George VI Chase at Kempton last time. No match for winner after trying to put pressure on him in back straight but nothing near that class in this field.
2. Irish Cavalier (Rebecca Curtis)
Won Guinness Handicap Chase (off top weight) at Punchestown last April and Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby (by three quarters of a length from Menorah) in October. Possibly found race coming too soon when well-beaten third to Many Clouds in listed event at Aintree last time (though that form franked since), however slightly worrying that jumping frailties have crept back in on his last two starts. Acts on testing going but best form has come on a quicker surface.
3. Royal Regatta (Philip Hobbs)
Course specialist who would have been closer but for a late mistake on his reappearance at Aintree and then won 1965 Chase at Ascot (by head from Kylemore Lough, on same terms) in November. Stiffer task when pulled up in rearranged Clarence House Chase at Cheltenham last time but return to this course and distance will suit and capable of bouncing back.
4. Shantou Flyer (Rebecca Curtis)
Four-time winner for Colin Bowe last season and made winning start for new yard when landing Grade 3 handicap at Cheltenham (by three lengths from Village Vic) last month. Respectable 10 and a half lengths fourth to Foxtail Hill in Trophy Chase (Grade 3 Handicap) at Cheltenham last time, though never involved under 7 lb rise, and likely to struggle on these terms.
5. Taquin du Seuil (Jonjo O'Neill)
Won JLT in 2014 and, after pipe-opening reappearance over hurdles at Chepstow in October, further enhanced Cheltenham record when winning BetVictor Gold Cup (handicap, by a neck from Village Vic) in November. Creditable 11 lengths fifth to Outlander in Grade 1 Lexus Chase at Leopardstown last time and, for all he stays that 3m trip, should appreciate the return to shorter here.
6. Traffic Fluide (Gary Moore)
Won two novice handicaps in early-2015 but hard to train since, off for 10 months before third to Un de Sceaux in Clarence House Chase here on sole outing in 2015/16. Off 13 months but shaped as if retaining all of his ability when 32 lengths last of four to Altior in the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury last weekend. Not fully exposed as a chaser but faces a quick turnaround following his reappearance.
Timeform Betfair Hurdle 1-2-3
1. Cue Card
2. Taquin du Seuil
3. Royal Regatta
Timeform Analyst's Verdict:
CUE CARD wasn't at his best behind Thistlecrack in the King George last time, though the ground was probably firm enough for him, so he's fully expected to get back on track and set himself up nicely for another tilt at the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Taquin du Seuil is a classy performer on his day, and with likely conditions to suit, is chosen for the forecast spot.