Black Corton kept on stoutly to win the Kauto Star at Kempton under Bryony Frost at Christmas and with the form looking strong thanks to the likes of Elegant Escape and Ballyoptic winning recently, has to be the one to beat here @ 11/10. The progressive mare Miss Parfois @ 5/2 is the obvious challenger and can give Black Corton a real race presuming she takes to going right handed. On her only other attempt at Sandown course she hung, though that may be down to wind issues that she had last season. Mount Mews has a bit to find on the ratings with Black Corton and Miss Parfois, still has potential but was slow at his jumps last time at Doncaster and needs to improve at his fences. He will stay and given improvement can go well @ 4/1.
Zarkandar won the Rendlesham last year on good to soft defeating Agrapart in the process. With ground now in the favour of Agrapart, it is hard to see Zarkandar repeating the feat and Nick Williams’ seven year old should take the beating @ 4/6. The penalty for winning the Cleeve Hurdle does leave the door ajar for a challenger and Boite is interesting @ 9/2. Following a wind operation he scooted clear by eleven lengths at Taunton and a repeat of that performance would see him competitive, presuming he stays the three miles on heavy ground. If Boite struggles with the trip and ground Donna’s Diamond could be one for the forecast having produced an impressive display over course and distance four weeks ago. No Hassle Hoff will likely find things hard here but is one to watch at the spring festivals.
The improving Gold Present returns to the scene of his victory before Christmas and if fully primed deserves utmost respect @ 9/4. The softer conditions will provide a new test for this son of Presenting and this should set him up nicely for a tilt at the Grand National. The progressive Another Venture @ 4/1 looks a chief threat to Gold Present as he will handle conditions and stays well with a helpful five pounds claimed by Mikey Hamill. Similar to Gold Present Vieux Lion Rouge and Tenor Nivernais will be eyeing the National so are probably best watched though the latter won this race last year. Holly Bush Henry has been in good form but tends to find things tough when taking on better company while Minella Daddy, if building on his reappearance and handling the ground, can go well @ 12/1.
This has been the target for Ch’ Tibello who sports a tongue-tie for the first time but he has been susceptible when stepping into top company and he may again find one too good. He has not been at his best since his return from an absence and the improving Call Me Lord can take full advantage. A smooth defeat of progressive Our Merlin at Sandown propelled him into this sort of race and Nicky Henderson’s son of Slickly must have a great chance @ 7/4. Elgin and Flying Tiger need to find more at the weights and realistically need both Ch’Tibello and Call Me Lord to run below expectations to win this.
The progressive Dieg Man could be anything as he steps into handicap company for the first time on these shores. He has experience having won a juvenile handicap in France and should go well @ 3/1. Simon Munir and Isaac Souede are double handed with Kildisart and Fix Le Kap. Kildisart’s second to Golan Fortune now looks good though he needs to improve again to be competitive here @ 7/2. Fixe Le Kap returns to the track following a wind operation and if reproducing the form of his second to London Prize last season at Sandown, would have a chance @ 8/1. The improving Friday Night Lite @ 10/1 will enjoy conditions, looks to build on his second to Unison at Taunton and should be on the shortlist as should Vivas @ 28/1, who ran a very good race over course and distance last month. Le Patriote should go well with cheekpieces @ 11/2 but needs to find a little more improvement to win this while Stowaway Magic may just struggle in the ground.
A fascinating renewal of the Grand National Trial with the favourite for the Aintree showpiece, Blaklion, taking on impressive course winner The Dutchman and improvers Daklondike and Wild West Wind. Blaklion is improving at nine years old, jumps well, handles any ground and has every right to be favourite @ 5/2. Having had a small break since winning the Becher Chase fitness and top weight are the only things that could scupper his chances here. The Dutchman revelled in the heavy ground at Haydock last time slamming Captain Redbeard by thirteen lengths and looks the type to make into a top staying handicapper. He is still well treated and has to be thereabouts @ 9/2. Daklondike @ 10/1, representing last year’s winning connections, is a progressive six year old and well up to winning a race like this given a little more improvement. He stays very well and though not the best traveller, Tom Scudamore will have to work hard from a fair way out, does respond well to pressure and could be one to back in running when he comes off the bridle. Wild West Wind needs to improve to challenge the principals and bounce back after his fall in the Welsh Grand National, though he was travelling well at Chepstow while Three Faces West still has to reproduce his 2016 form but would be dangerous if he does. Yala Enki and Silsol are both worth a second look @ 14/1. Yala Enki has finally slipped down to a winnable mark and should be competitive with the weights favouring him as he locks horns with The Dutchman again. Silsol showed that these types of races are to his liking with a good performance when fifth in the Welsh National and a repeat of that effort would see him in a with a shout here.
Cue Card attempts to win this race for the third time but afer two disappointing efforts this season time may just be catching up with this crowd favourite. Course and distance winner Top Notch heads the market and should go well @ 9/4 though his defeat of Kempton specialist Double Shuffle and Josse’s Hill last time can be questioned and in Waiting Patiently and Coney Island, will have two potential grade one chasers snapping at his heels. Waiting Patiently @ 5/2, is unbeaten over fences, including a victory over Tingle Creek winner Politologue last season and should go very well following his Kempton defeat of Art Mauresque. Injury has blighted Coney Island’s career but if he can build on his impressive display last time, will surely go close @ 4/1. The ground has come in favour of Frodon and he must not be underestimated @ 12/1.
Quickened Clear’s Best Bets:
Another Venture – 2.25 Ascot – 2pt win @ 4/1
Fixe Le Kap – 3.00 Ascot – 1pt win @ 8/1