Paul Nicholls: Verdicts on all my 24 runners on a massive Saturday of racing
After a weekend off due to the equine flu outbreak, Paul Nicholls is back with a bang on Saturday, with an immense team out for the superb card at Ascot and elsewhere. Get our man's exclusive thoughts on all 24 runners here...
"I am tickled pink by the way Getaway Trump has progressed since an unlucky debut at Chepstow. He was highly impressive at Exeter and looked a serious horse when chasing home Champ in the Challow Hurdle. Major player."
Three in the second race on the card
13:00 - Brio Conti, Malaya and Darling Maltaix
Brio Conti badly needed his first run at Sandown at the start of the month after a long absence and, while I can normally get most of mine properly fit at home, he likes his food so much it is taking time for him to shed the weight. He seems to need loads of work. He ran all right before getting very tired at Sandown on testing ground but still looks on the burly side and is likely to need this run, too.
A clear round is the priority for Malaya, a classy mare who has had a couple of heavy falls this season. She ran with great promise in a Grade 1 race at Auteuil in November until tiring late on and coming down at the final flight. Malaya then fell two out at Kempton seven weeks ago. She has been schooling fine at home recently and we can start to make a plan once she gets her jumping together.
I was really unhappy with the handicapper for raising Darling Maltaix by a harsh 15lbs after Ascot where the race rather fell apart late on. Now he has dropped him a couple of pounds after he finished fifth next time in the Lanzarote Hurdle.
The stiffer nature of Ascot will suit him much better than Kempton where he ran into some traffic problems. While I still think Darling Maltaix is on an unrealistic mark I expect him to run tidily under a patient ride by Lorcan Williams.
Coup has an unexpected chance
13:35 - Coup de Pinceau
We are maybe pitching Coup de Pinceau in at the deep in the Reynoldstown but he is a solid jumper and has a chance now that the race has cut up. You need a tough, genuine horse who stays well for this Grade 2 and he fits the bill on goodish ground that has come in his favour.
Black Corton has a big chance
14:10- Black Corton and Art Mauresque
He ran very well against Top Notch last time at Kempton, staying on stoutly to finish second over a trip short of his best. Black Corton won the Reynoldstown over this course and distance a year ago and with Coneygree standing his ground he only has to carry 11st 6lbs in a limited handicap. That gives him a big chance on going that is ideal for him.
Has been running Ok but is still firmly in the grip of the handicapper and dropping him 2lbs to a mark of 150 after he was well beaten in the Skybet Chase at Doncaster is unlikely to make any difference. I have no doubt that Art Mauresque stays this trip of three miles but he has not won for almost two-and-a-half years. However he tends to run well at Ascot, is best going right handed and Lorcan Williams' claim takes a handy 5lbs off his back.
Classy Clan should win this
14:45 - Clan Des Obeaux
I am thrilled they managed to switch this race to Ascot after Newbury was lost a week ago and the bonus is that the Gold Cup winner Native River has dropped out.
This should really be a nice day out for Clan Des Obeaux who is up to a mark of 173 after his brilliant win in the King George.
While he had a little holiday since Kempton he is fit and well and this race should put him spot-on for Cheltenham.
We are aware that this race could be tactical with a handful of runners so he is unlikely to get the fast pace that suited in the King George.
But his class should see him through.
Tickled pink by Trump's progress
He was fit and ready to run in this a week ago at Newbury and I believe the switch to Ascot is in his favour because it is a stiffer two miles with a steady climb from Swinley Bottom.
Getaway Trump is the obvious one of my duo. I am tickled pink by the way he has progressed since an unlucky debut at Chepstow. He was highly impressive at Exeter and looked a serious horse when chasing home Champ in the Challow Hurdle. Major player.
On the other hand, the flat nature of the track at Newbury might have suited Mont Des Avaloirs better than Ascot.
However, he is in really good order at home, absolutely bouncing and you can put a line through his last run because things didn't work out for him as he was handier than ideal when he finished a long way behind Mohaayed at Ascot before Christmas. That race also came too soon after his fine run at Newbury.
By no means an outsider.
Two strong contenders in Betfair Ascot Chase
15:55 - Cyrname and Politologue
This Grade 1 Chase has been the obvious target for Cyrname since he destroyed a smart field of handicappers over course and distance four weeks ago. He outran and outjumped them that day and now has to prove he can do it at the top level.
As Harry Cobden couldn't choose between my two in this we decided he should stay on Cyrname as Sam Twiston-Davies knows Politologue so well. Cyrname looks fantastic at the moment and his bold, accurate jumping will again be a big asset.
Politologue is back to his optimum trip after finishing fourth in the King George where a couple of blunders didn't help his cause. He is a rock solid horse who always gives his running, has Grade 1 winning form and I've taken off the hood he usually wears because he doesn't need it any more. He should again play a part in what looks a terrific race.
I find it hard to split my pair as there is precious little between them. May the best one win.
Stamina could reward Worthy Farm
16:30 - Worthy Farm
Won nicely at Taunton in November over three miles, staying on all the way to the line. We then made the mistake of making too much use of him at Cheltenham a month later.
So we will give him a chance in this, drop him in and try to let him use his stamina in the second half of the race. Worthy Farm is a fine big horse who will be jumping fences next season. Although he has taken his time to mature and still lacks experience he is going the right way.
Sixth or better is the goal for final Ascot runner
17:00 - Silver Forever
She is a lovely prospect who looked exciting when hacking up in a bumper at Chepstow in October.
Silver Forever then ran well under a penalty at Huntingdon two months ago where she was a little tapped for speed in a race when the slow gallop didn't play to her strengths.
Ascot will suit Silver Forever much better. She needs to finish in the first six to qualify for a valuable Mares race at Sandown in a month's time and I will be very disappointed if she can't manage that.
My Team at Wincanton
Dogon disapppointed before but could make amends
Disappointed on debut for us at Cheltenham because he was showing plenty of promise at home. We ran every test possible on Dogon after that but they all came up negative. Maybe he is one of those French horses that takes time to acclimatise. He is rated 139 and continues to work like a useful type so I wouldn't be surprised to see him perform much better on his second start for us.
Saint can put Haydock run behind him
13:45 - Magic Saint
After a highly encouraging start for us at Haydock things didn't go his way at Ascot where he missed the break, got behind early on and was never able to make up the lost ground. I suspect dropping back to two miles at Wincanton will suit this bold jumper and I am hoping he can bounce back ridden by Daryl Jacob.
Lots to like about Grand Sancy
Ran a cracker last time in the Tolworth Hurdle to be beaten only half-a-length by the highly rated Elixir De Netz in deep ground at Sandown. He is an improving horse and though he is not well in at the weights with a couple of these I expect to put up a good show in this Grade 2 Hurdle.
He is a tough character, worked great on Thursday morning and is a live contender.
Ground could be in this one's favour
16:05 - Overland Flyer
He has been off for a while since running below par at Worcester in October where he was eventually pulled up. We have been waiting for better ground in the spring for Overland Flyer and after one or two issues last year I'd say he is as fit now as I've ever had him.
He could run Ok now that we have cauterised his palate since his last run.
Peak to Peak my pick in the 16:35
16:35 - Dan McGrue, The Eaglehaslanded and Peak to Peak
Both Dan McGrue and Peak to Peak have been off for a long time with leg injuries. Even though they have both done loads of work I would have said a fortnight ago that they badly needed their first run back.
Two weeks down the line they are a fair bit straighter after plenty of hard graft. Even so they are bound to improve for the outing. Dan McGrue excels on heavy ground which he is not going to get at Wincanton after another dry week.
The Eaglehaslanded is gradually coming back to form and gave his new owners a great run for their money last time at Cheltenham where he was in with every chance at the final flight before keeping on to be third.
The step back to a slightly shorter trip at a quicker track is a bit of a worry but unlike my other two runners in this we know The Eaglehaslanded is fully fit.
Peak to Peak will relish the drying conditions and the form of his last run at Chepstow in October, 2017 is gilt-edged. He was beaten less than a length by Court Minstrel and Sam Spinner and loads of horses who finished behind them subsequently came out and won.
If Peak to Peak was 100% fit I would fancy him and even though he is bound to improve I have a sneaky feeling he will run very well.
Trip in Torr's favour
He has been running over inadequate trips up to now and should be much better suited to stepping up to two miles, five-and-a-half furlongs in this. Southfield Torr has gone close on a couple of occasions at Taunton and with stamina coming into play now he should have a little chance.
My trio at Haydock
Don't underestimate Quel Destin
12:50 - Quel Destin
Has been on a roll this season culminating in a hard fought victory in the Grade 1 Finale Hurdle at Chepstow late on December when he saw off Adjali by a neck after a great duel.
He has had a little break since then, will come on for the run and this should tee him up nicely for the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham. Quel Destin has improved each time he has run for us and shouldn't be underestimated in a race we win with Frodon.
Positives for If You Say Run
This is not quite as hot a race as Ascot last time when If You Say Run stayed on stoutly off a steady pace to finish a decent third to Magic of Light. She does tend to hang left late on in her races and did so again at Ascot so Haydock should suit her much better with a running rail to help her.
With the trip of two-and-a-half miles looking ideal I can see If You Say Run going very well in this wearing cheek pieces for the first time to help her concentrate.
Pacha and Tucker a team to be feared
17:10 - Pacha Du Polder
He needed his first race at Doncaster last year after a few problems but I am pleased to say we have had a clear run with him this time and he was ready to start a fortnight ago at Musselburgh until the card was abandoned.
Pacha has such a fabulous record in the Foxhunters at Cheltenham and that is where he goes next as he seeks to win it for a third time.
His jockey Harriet Tucker is back for more, too, after six months out following shoulder surgery. Harriet has worked hard on her fitness and has won a couple of point to points recently. I can't wait to see them in action together again and am expecting a big run.
Best Chance of the Day
Black Corton in the 14:10 at Ascot. Ran a blinder last time behind Top Notch, is in top form at home and suited by the race conditions.
For more insight from Paul on his weekend runners, check out his latest exclusive video update