Betfair Ambassador Paul Nicholls has runners in action at Ascot, Haydock and Wincanton on Saturday afternoon. Here he provides detailed insights into their form and prospects...
"Tough and genuine, Black Corton has done a lot of work recently in the build up for this, looks great and has been on fire all week."
My three at Ascot
13:15 - Captain Cattistock
Is progressing nicely and has won two of his three starts for us including a handicap cosily by half-a-length at Wincanton just over two weeks ago with his ears pricked. An eight pound penalty doesn't make life easy for Captain Cattistock but the stiff nature of the track at Ascot should suit and I expect him to run tidily again.
13:50 - Black Corton
Has achieved so much already over fences since beating two others at Fontwell in a modest race in June. He has now won seven times over fences this season and runs here after a short break following his success in the Kauto Star at Kempton on Boxing Day.
Tough and genuine, Black Corton has done a lot of work recently in the build up for this, looks great and has been on fire all week. As he has surprised me a bit by winning on soft going at Cheltenham and Kempton maybe I shouldn't worry about ground conditions at Ascot.
But it's important to say that Black Corton does usually improve for a run and my head lad Clifford Baker and I both feel he will just need this race which should put him spot on for the RSA at Cheltenham.
15:35 - Frodon
Continues to astonish me, has improved all season and is up to a lofty mark of 164 after demolishing a smart field of handicappers at Cheltenham three weeks ago. Maybe he was a bit flattered by the winning margin of 17 lengths but if the handicapper is right then he has a chance against some smart chasers here.
Frodon is mad fresh and really well ahead of his first crack at a Grade 1 race, the ground is right for him and we are keen to find out what he can do in this company.
A trio at Haydock...
14:05 - Zarkandar
Has been a wonderful flagship for the yard down the years but at the age of 11 he has a bit to prove now after struggling to get involved behind Sam Spinner at Haydock in November. It has to be possible that we are into the last chance saloon with Zarkandar who won this race 12 months ago.
He is definitely better in a small field race like this rather than taking on lots of runners in handicaps. If he runs well at Haydock we will keep him on the go but if he disappoints again then we will have to think seriously about his future.
15:15 - Silsol
Ran a blinder to finish fifth in the Coral Welsh National six weeks ago on his first start over fences for a while. He probably just needed that run as he had been off for a year with an injury before blowing up badly on his return at Haydock at the end of November.
While this looks a competitive handicap there are plenty of plus points for Silsol who stays very well, is at his best in the mud and has a lovely racing weight. If he runs up to his best he must have a big chance.
17:00 - Virak
Bounced back to form with an easy victory at Ludlow just over four weeks ago on his first start in a hunter chase.
Virak has been a decent money spinner for his owners but found life tough last season in the grip of the handicapper. It looks as though switching him to hunter chases has given him a new lease of life. He jumps and stays well, handles soft ground and we plan to take him to Cheltenham as one of our team for the Foxhunters Chase provided he qualifies by finishing in the first two at Haydock.
And my two at Wincaton...
14:45 - Cliffs of Dover
Improved dramatically as a juvenile, winning six out of his seven starts before a tendon injury ruled him out of Cheltenham.
He came back into training with a couple more including Saphir Du Rheu a fair bit later than the rest of our team. Saphir needed his first run back at Newbury a week ago and I suspect it will be the same with Cliffs of Dover.
I don't really want to start him back on this heavy ground at Wincanton but he has to take his chance here because after more than a year off we are running out of time to give him a prep race before Cheltenham.
Although he has done plenty of steady work and has had a racecourse gallop I am nervous about him on this testing ground and have no doubt he will improve for the outing.
17:05 - Sao
A half brother to Frodon he won well at Compiegne last May with the highly-rated We Are A Dream, now with Nicky Henderson, back in fourth place.
We then bought Sao who has taken time to come to hand and needed surgery to sort out a wind problem. We've had to be patient with this horse who been very free at home and needs to learn to settle, so I was keen to start him off at our local track Wincanton in a low key race.
Sao is one to note for the future, a lovely big scopey type who looks a ready-made chaser in time.
Best Chance of the Weekend: I fancy Silsol's chances as an each-way bet.
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