ONCE again, making selections for Saturday’s National Hunt action before Friday’s declaration stage is tough with so many running plans still up in the air.
The two feature Grade Two contests at Ascot have attracted plenty of entries from Ireland and it will be interesting to see how many stand their ground.
Willie Mullins has used the Coral Hurdle (2.40pm) as a stepping stone for both Faugheen (2014) and Annie Power (2015) in recent years, and it looks likely that the hugely exciting LAURINA will reappear tomorrow.
The unbeaten five-year-old won all four of her starts in last season’s novice campaign in emphatic style, rounding off with facile wins at both Cheltenham and Fairyhouse.
She took the step up in trip in her stride on her last start, so she will have no problems with the extended 2m3½f test, while the race conditions allow her to sneak in at the foot of the weights with 10lbs less than the penalised older horses.
There has been enough rain around for her earlier in the week to take the sting out of the ground and with perfect conditions, the even money available this morning could look big.
Her biggest threat could be If The Cap Fits who shaped well on his reappearance at Wincanton in the Elite Hurdle.
He looked in need of the run that day and will strip fitter on Saturday afternoon.
Last season’s Tingle Creek winner POLITOLOGUE should prove hard to beat when he reappears in the Christy 1965 Chase (2.05pm).
There’s no Altior in this field to outclass the seven-year-old who looked to relish the step up to 2m4f at Aintree in the Melling Chase.
Connections have mentioned possible tilts at the King George and Gold Cup if things go according to plan, so the 2m5f trip should be well within range and the 11/8 with Coral looks worth taking.
On paper, his biggest threat appears to come from Irish raider Min who was a neck behind him at Aintree last year.
However, I’m not sure he definitely wants to go up in trip and a bigger threat may be Gary Moore’s Benatar.
The stable are in red-hot form at present and the six-year-old goes particularly well at Ascot having won here on his only two visits.
Nicholls has multiple entries in the valuable two-mile handicap chase (3.15pm), including the front two in the ante-post market.
Modus brings recent winning form to the party, while Cyrname mixed it in Grade One company last season.
But I’m going to take a chance on another from the same stable in SAN BENEDETO who is set to be partnered by the unstoppable Bryony Frost.
On the face of it, my selection looks to have it all to do to turn it around with Ozzie The Oscar on their recent Exeter running, but there are grounds for optimism.
This time 12 months ago San Benedeto was sent off the 2/1 favourite for this contest from a 5lb higher mark and wasn’t beaten far back in fourth.
He’s had an identical campaign to last season with a pipe opener over hurdles followed by a tilt at the Haldon Gold Cup.
Admittedly, he doesn’t come into this race in quite the same form, but I’m prepared to take a chance at 14/1 with Betfair from a lower mark in a wide-open contest.
Politologue 2.05pm Ascot
Laurina 2.40pm Ascot
San Benedeto e/w 3.15pm Ascot