NATIONAL Hunt trainers must be tearing their hair out at the moment. Last season all it did was rain, now they would give anything for a downpour or four.
The majority of jump horses need a little dig in the ground, yet Wetherby have had to water all week just to maintain the surface as good.
Their big race of the day, and the first major contest of the season, is the Charlie Hall Chase.
Thistlecrack was the early favourite before being ruled out due to the conditions and there are plenty of others entered who ideally need rain, including last year’s winner Bristol De Mai.
It doesn’t excite me at all from a betting perspective, so I’m heading down to Ascot where my strongest fancy will hopefully run in the Sodexo Gold Cup (3.35pm).
We won’t know any of the final fields for tomorrow’s jumping action until later this morning, but I’m hoping Rebecca Curtis declares GEORDIE DES CHAMPS.
The seven-year-old won two chases earlier this year before a respectable third on the final day of the season at Sandown.
He was then fifth behind Virgilio in the Summer Cup at Uttoxeter in July, which was a good effort on just his fifth chase start.
In fact, his stablemate Relentless Dreamer, who was a couple of places in front that day, came out and landed a competitive handicap at Cheltenham on Saturday.
Aidan Coleman has been jocked up and I like the fact owner JP McManus has some other possible runners who could help keep the weights down.
With Curtis’ horses in great form and no problems with either the ground or trip, Geordie Des Champs looks a decent each-way bet at 10/1 with Coral.
Verdana Blue is the class horse in the Bet With Ascot Handicap Hurdle (3.00pm), coming into it in top form after an impressive win at Kempton a fortnight ago.
The last two winners have carried 11st10lbs or more, so top weight certainly isn’t insurmountable, although she’s 10lbs higher than when fifth in this race 12 months ago.
She will certainly like the ground, but she’s short enough at 9/2 and I’m more interested in DIVIN BERE at a massive 14/1 with Paddy Power.
Paul Nicholls’ five-year-old was second in the 2017 Fred Winter on just his second start for the yard, before finishing runner-up to Defi Du Seuil in a Grade One at Aintree the following month.
He went up to a mark of 148 after that, but after three poor runs last season he’s now down to 138. He had a wind operation during the summer and then won on the Flat at Bath last month.
There’s a chance he won’t run, but he’s Nicholls’ sole entry in the race and the advice is to wait and see if he’s declared before backing him because he must be well-handicapped.
The rest of the Ascot card looks quite tough, so I’ll head over to Northern Ireland for my final selection in the JNwine.com Champion Chase (2.30pm) at Down Royal.
Again, we won’t know the final field until later this morning, but the fact ROAD TO RESPECT has been supplemented is a pretty clear sign that he will take part.
Noel Meade’s son of Gamut was narrowly denied by Outlander in this event 12 months ago and I expect him to land the money tomorrow at 2/1 with Coral.
Road To Respect 2.30pm Down Royal
Divin Bere e/w 3.00pm Ascot
Geordie Des Champs e/w 3.35pm Ascot