Simon Holt: Punters’ friend
Top commentator Simon Holt previews the action from Haydock where L'Ami Serge is fancied to make the most of conditions.
L'Ami Serge (r) can make the most of the weight he receives
Un De Sceaux, who put up an excellent display of jumping when slamming Sire De Grugy by five lengths in last year's Clarence House Chase, can follow-up if racing gets the go ahead at Ascot on Saturday.
The 2015 Arkle winner and 2016 Champion Chase runner-up (to Sprinter Sacre) battled on gamely to confirm the placings with Sire De Grugy in last month's Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown but this course over a slightly longer distance could suit him even better.
Ar Mad was the eyecatcher that day, rallying gamely from the last to take fourth after losing his place approaching three out, and this free-goer is bound to help set another blistering gallop. However, connections are certainly eyeing races over longer distances eventually, and Un De Sceaux is also a strong stayer at this trip given that he has won over further in France.
The odds on either horse are hardly attractive, however, and this looks a race to watch and enjoy with course specialist Royal Regatta also likely to be prominent while Top Gamble could be making up ground in the closing stages if they all go off too quickly.
A fascinating contest for the stanjames.com Champion Hurdle Trial at Haydock could see L'AMI SERGE take advantage of the 8lb he receives from Irving and dual race winner The New One.
Nicky Henderson's classy seven-year-old was switched back to hurdles at Cheltenham on New Years Day and looked the likely winner only to be outstayed by Agrapart in very testing ground over the two-and-a-half-miles of the Relkeel Hurdle.
But L'Ami Serge ran like a much happier horse that day over the smaller obstacles having developed a tendency to jump sharply left when chasing last season, albeit still running well at Cheltenham and Aintree.
With a strong pace guaranteed, this drop back to two miles could suit him well and, with conditions again likely to be searching, the weight could make all the difference.
The New One is unbeaten in three attempts over the course and distance but at odds-on on each occasion and against lesser opposition.
The nine-year-old was given a forceful ride by Richard Johnson to beat My Tent Or Yours at Cheltenham in December but then had no answer to Yanworth in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton after which the handicapper dropped him 4lb.
The New One still comes out just best on the ratings here but continues to give the impression nowadays that a longer distance would suit him better. Still, he is bound to set a tough target.
Irving is the other obvious candidate after battling on well to win a second Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle in November having looked to be struggling at one point.
Paul Nicholls' charge has not always been consistent but, given time to get over that hard race (in which Petit Mouchoir may have been an unlucky loser, travelling well when falling three out) he should also go close providing he jumps better than is sometimes the case.
Later, BISHOPS ROAD, from the in-form Kerry Lee yard which took the Somerset National at Wincanton on Thursday with Alfie Spinner, could be over-priced in the Peter Marsh Handicap Chase.
The nine-year-old, a runaway winner on the course (over three-and-a-half-miles) last season, made a satisfactory reappearance in the Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle finishing nine lengths fourth behind Otago Trail (10lb worse off), Bristol De Mai (5lb worse off) and Definitely Red (12lb worse off) with Virak tailed off in sixth.
At odds of 20-1 and on the revised weight terms, Bishops Road is good each-way value to turn the tables and can be forgiven his run in the Welsh National subsequently when conditions were not as searching as is normally the case in Chepstow's feature.
Back at Haydock on soft going, Sam Twiston Davies's mount should run a big race.
Colin Tizzard's French import Alary is a fascinating contender boasting some strong form at Auteuil, and already figuring quite prominently in the ante-post market for the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Reportedly he stays very well and shows plenty at home, but his odds are short enough considering top weight of 11st 10lb.