Betfair Ambassador Paul Nicholls has eight runners in action on Saturday - six at Ascot and two at Wetherby - so read on for his assessment of their form and chances...
"He's a pleasure to have in the yard and I’ve been dying for a while to run him over three miles on decent ground and I’ve finally got the chance here. This is his first serious target of the campaign and given the conditions I’d say he has a lot in his favour."
Darling Maltaix has benefited from summer operation
He was down to run over fences at Wincanton last Sunday in a race I felt he could have won but I pulled him out on the day because of the firm ground. He tended to race with the choke out last season and is still a maiden over hurdles despite a much improved effort on his final outing at Wincanton when he wasn't beaten far in third place.
He had a soft palate and hobday operation over the summer to sort out his breathing. It seems to have worked and we are letting him take his chance here back over hurdles off a mark of 117 which seems fair enough. I'm hoping he will go well here and I'll see how he gets on before deciding if he goes chasing next.
Amour De Nuit will love decent ground
Made a winning start to his chasing career with a win in May at Kempton where his jumping was ordinary at best. But he warmed to his task, travelled nicely into the race and sealed the victory with a bold leap at the final fence. He then suffered a minor injury which put paid to our plans to keep him going over the summer. He enjoyed a nice holiday out to grass and, given that he came back into training a little later than the rest of our team, I was thrilled to see him return with another success in a match at Ludlow late last month.
He jumped fluently the whole way and was poised to challenge when his sole opponent came down two fences from the finish. The handicapper raised him 3lbs which was a bit of a surprise given that he finished alone but he is now on a mark of 140 which just allows him into this novice handicap with top weight. Amour de Nuit is a strong travelling horse with a high cruising speed and is at his best on decent ground which he gets here. I can see him going very well in this.
This run will teach us a lot about Divin Bere
I was thrilled to see him return from a break with a comfortable success on the flat at Bath last month where we felt he was quite well handicapped on his old form. We did consider running him on the flat once more at Newbury under a penalty before deciding to wait for this opportunity. Divin Bere was struggling with his breathing last season but is much happier now that he has had surgery to sort that out.
He will enjoy the ground at Ascot but as he tends to race a bit lazily we are putting a pair of blinkers on him to try to sharpen him up. They seemed to work fine when we worked him in them on Friday morning. Although Divin Bere is not the biggest, we are thinking about sending him over fences at some point this winter. That rather depends on how he gets on here. Off his mark he is capable of putting up a good show at Ascot.
Adrien can be a player if he finds his rhythm
He is very well at the moment after a good summer holiday and is another of mine who should be suited by the drier ground conditions at Ascot. He ran some solid races in defeat last season after gaining a facile success at Fontwell. Adrien tends to be very keen in his races which makes me feel that small field novice chases did not really play to his strengths.
Hopefully they will go a sound gallop in this handicap which will allow Harry Cobden to drop him in, get him some cover in behind horses and then creep into contention and deliver a telling late challenge. While I'm conscious that Adrien has never stayed this trip of three miles yet, I'd like to think he can be a player in this if he does settle and gets into a nice rhythm. I'm hopeful of a good run from him.
Art Mauresque could bounce back on better ground
He has been struggling for a while now on an unrealistic handicap mark which makes him so hard to place. He is one of those consistent horses that is in no man's land because he is too high to win a handicap and not good enough to win condition races. Yet when I asked the handicapper recently to cut Art Mauresque some slack he dropped him by 1lb to 148. What sort of a message is that? To drop him only 1lb was a complete waste of time, quite ludicrous and it is not fair on the horse or his owner.
I was disappointed with Art Mauresque on his return to action at Chepstow where the ground went against him.
I am hoping he might bounce back here with Lorcan Williams taking off a handy 5lbs, as he enjoys going right handed and will appreciate the better ground. Although Art Mauresque has never won over three miles he has a fair chance of getting the trip on good ground.
Promising four-year-old is ready for next step
I made the mistake of running him in deep ground at Wincanton towards the end of the season when he was still a bit of a baby and would have been better off staying in his box. While you can put a line through that performance the experience will not have been lost on Zyon who is one of a batch of our four-year-olds who were rather backward in the spring.
He has done well over the summer and I am expecting a much better display now on decent ground which I'm sure he will enjoy. It is encouraging for his chances that three more four-year-olds from his group have been winning bumpers for us in recent weeks. He is working nicely at home, seems to have improved no end and, though he needs to take a big step forward at Ascot, I am sure he will.
A star returns
I was running out of superlatives for this absolute star of a horse towards the end of last season after he won a total of eight races over fences. How many novices achieve that? Black Corton is a brilliantly tough little horse with the heart of a lion. He started off in fairly shallow waters winning a three runner race at Fontwell in June and progressed relentlessly through the winter way beyond my expectations, landing the Grade 1 Kauto Star Chase at Kempton before adding the Grade 2 Reynoldstown Chase at Ascot.
Bryony Frost got a great tune out of him all season, though things didn't go Black Corton's way in the RSA at Cheltenham and it was a case of one run too many at Aintree. He enjoyed a nice long break over the summer and is bouncing again at home, full of life as usual. I entered him in this race as I had an idea it might cut up with the ground quicker than usual at this time of year so I cracked on with him and got him ready for it.
Black Corton will love the conditions, is suited by a flat track, and Bryony said he felt very fit and well when she rode him in a good bit of work on Thursday morning. He has done every bit as much at home as Frodon and Modus who have both won recently, he goes well fresh and must have a great chance.
Old Guard will give the favourite plenty to worry about
He faced a stiff task giving so much weight to Verdana Blue at Kempton recently but he stayed on strongly to finish a respectable second and that outing has set him up nicely for the season. Old Guard is a pleasure to have in the yard and I've been dying for a while to run him over three miles on decent ground and I've finally got the chance here. This is his first serious target of the campaign and given the conditions I'd say he has a lot in his favour.
It's true the favourite in this race Wholestone beat Old Guard decisively at Cheltenham in January but our horse cannot handle the horribly heavy ground he encountered that day. Track and ground will suit him much better here and I've always felt he will stay what I call an easy three miles when things are in his favour though a 6lb penalty makes life a bit tighter.
He came on a lot for his first run last year and I expect him to do so again and give Wholestone a race this time.