Timeform's Ben Fearnley previews Ascot's bet365 Handicap Chase on Saturday, and has found a bet at a double-figure price.
"Although Cold March was agonisingly collared over this trip last season at Kempton, his strength in the finish on both of his starts over two miles at this track this season mean he is well worth another chance at two-and-a-half miles"
With Saturday's big Grade 1 race, the Clarence House at Ascot, likely to boil down to a fascinating duel between Un De Sceaux and Sire De Grugy - unsurprisingly the first two in the market at this stage - it is probably a good idea to look elsewhere for a betting angle on the day. There are a few deep handicaps on Saturday currently priced up, including the Peter Marsh at Haydock, but it is Ascot's bet365 Handicap Chase, set to be run after the Clarence House, that could hold the best ante-post betting opportunity.
Multiple Grade 1-winning hurdler Reve de Sivola is prominent in the market for this race, as well as the Peter Marsh, but it is the Haydock Grade 2 that his connections are prioritising, and it seems unlikely that he will show up at Ascot at the time of writing.
Current joint-favourite with Reve de Sivola for the bet365 Handicap Chase is Regal Encore, who got off the mark over fences in good style at Plumpton in December, and will be many people's idea of the winner here as he makes his handicap debut in this sphere. Regal Encore naturally remains open to improvement over the larger obstacles, but on the face of it, the handicapper has taken no chances by allotting him a handicap mark of 144, and he will seemingly need to step up on both his novice win, and his best efforts over hurdles, in order to defy this sort of mark.
With Reve de Sivola an unlikely runner, and Regal Encore an unattractive price from his current mark based on what we know of him, there seems to be a good opportunity to find some ante-post value.
Venetia Williams currently has three entries at this stage, and besides Bennys Mist - who makes limited appeal from a career-high mark after winning the Grand Sefton last time - two are of interest for different reasons. The 12-year-old Dare Me has rightfully dropped in the weights after failing to complete on his last three starts, but he is on a fair mark if re-finding his form, and it is worth forgiving him his last start at Bangor, where he appeared to simply not stay the three-mile trip at his first attempt. Back at a more favourable distance, he could go well at a big price, but his overall profile is a patchy one, and stable mate Cold March is preferred for betting purposes here.
Cold March has yet to defy the 10 lb rise in the weights that he received for his impressive 7-length win at this track on his reappearance, but he has shaped well on both starts since, doing well to grab third here again on his second start in adverse circumstances, and then being outpaced in a good-quality Cheltenham handicap last time. Although Cold March was agonisingly collared over this trip last season at Kempton, his strength in the finish on both of his starts over two miles at this track this season mean he is well worth another chance at two-and-a-half miles, and he looks worth a bet at his current double-figure price.
Elsewhere, Paul Nicholls - who is bidding to win this race for the third consecutive year - could saddle Salubrious, who suggested that he may well be up to matching his very smart hurdling form in this sphere when winning a graduation chase at Carlisle in November. He found less than looked likely in a listed race over three miles here in December, however, and he doesn't seem overly well treated from his current mark. His host of other entries, as well as his price, mean that we can leave him alone for now.
Salubrious, along with the unreliable Royal Regatta, and Living Next Door, who is seemingly more effective over further than this, completes a trio of other horses who are also currently shorter in the betting than Cold March, and act to reinforce the value factor. With the early booking of Aidan Coleman increasing the chances of getting a run for our money, Cold March looks a smart bet at this stage.
Back Cold March for the bet365 Handicap Chase at 11.010/1