Paul Nicholls sends four runners to Ascot on Saturday afternoon. Here, he provides a comprehensive assessment of their prospects...
Showed some smart form on occasions last season - notably when beating Bellvano over 2m1f at Newbury - but we found him to have a breathing problem when he disappointed afterwards, so he had an operation in the summer. He reappeared on what I thought was a fair mark over 2m6f 110yd at the same course last month, and ran a fair race to finish fourth, despite running far too free. Hopefully, that run will have brought him on a bit and the slightly shorter trip may be a positive as well, too, here. But obviously the biggest plus here is that this race has cut up to just four runners. Looks to have Solix to beat on official ratings.
These staying hurdles suddenly appear to have become a lot more competitive without a certain Big Buck's! And in his absence Smad Place, third in the World Hurdle back in March, looks the one to beat here. But I am looking forward to seeing what Prospect Wells is capable of over this trip. We know he is a very smart two miler - his fifth in the Supreme and his reappearance second to Zarkandar showed that - but don't forget that he was a very useful 1m4f-1m6f horse on the Flat, so, who knows, this trip may bring about some improvement. Clearly, 3m1f on heavy ground around here will test his unproven stamina to the full. But if you don't ask questions in this game, you will never know the answer. His slick, economical, jumping will be an asset in getting the trip.
I know this is a very competitive race and Ranjaan may not have had the ideal preparation for this, having suffered a very minor setback before his intended reappearance in the Gerry Fielden a few weeks ago. But he is in really good form at home now - and he had a racecourse gallop with Dildar a fortnight ago - and I would like to think that he will prove himself better than a 141-rated horse this season. In fact, he hasn't had the best of luck as far as niggling little injuries go, as we were starting to really fancy him for the Triumph after he bolted up at Taunton last January, only for a setback to rule him out of Cheltenham. In an ideal world, I would prefer better ground for him but he has soft ground form on the Flat in France and we are stuck with this going for the foreseeable future it seems, so we have to get on with it. If he copes with the ground, then I think he will go well.
Stepped back down in trip, conditions looked right for him at Newbury last time and he ran out an impressive winner. And clearly as a relatively unexposed and improving 4yo, I have to be hopeful here. I don't think that was the strongest of handicaps - a few have come out of that race and done little - and we are 10lb higher here. But he has continued to please me at home since Newbury, is in real good form, and is probably my best chance of the day.