Petit Robin capable of providing neat twist
For the first time since the week before Christmas, National Hunt racing looks set to enjoy a Saturday programme uninterrupted by the weather. And what a programme it is.
At home, the rescheduled MCR Hurdle takes centre stage at Leopardstown, while both Ascot and Haydock feature high-quality cards in England. The Victor Chandler Chase, being run for the third time as a Grade One, is the highlight at Ascot, with the Tingle Creek hero Twist Magic looking to add a fifth win to his name at this level.
A frustrating horse on occasion in the past, Paul Nicholls' eight-year-old has seemed more consistent since last spring, to the extent that he could conceivably go off odds-on to further embellish his reputation. However, he faces a serious challenge in the shape of Petit Robin, and that one is attractively priced at 11/4 with Coral.
Second in this race last year as a mere six-year-old, Petit Robin went on to claim third behind Master Minded in the Champion Chase, just run out of the second spot by Well Chief. A bad mistake subsequently put paid to his chances at Aintree, but he confirmed that he remains a horse of some potential by comprehensively accounting for Well Chief on his reappearance at Kempton last month.
Well Chief reopposes here, but the old warrior has struggled with his more youthful counterparts on each of his last two starts, and ought to be held again. Indeed, having just turned seven, Petit Robin still has massive scope for further improvement, and is a far less exposed horse than the favourite.
With Barry Geraghty on duty at Haydock, the booking of Tony McCoy -- who won on the Nicky Henderson-trained representative when he partnered him at Newbury in November 2008 -- can only be a bonus.
Twist Magic and Ruby Walsh will not be easily overcome, but Petit Robin may have it in his armoury to cause a bit of an upset.
Walsh, who has a typically strong book at the Berkshire venue, is taken to land the subsequent handicap hurdle on Qozak. Twice successful as a novice last season, Qozak was a facile winner of a handicap on his seasonal debut on Thursday.
He gets in here with a five-pound penalty that still leaves him five pounds out of the handicap. In theory, that means he is 10lbs worse off now, but the suspicion is that Qozak would have won with another 10lbs on Thursday, and he is fancied to do so today as well.
Up at Haydock, the most interesting betting heat is the Peter Marsh Chase. The three-mile handicap is traditionally a race that goes the way of a seasoned campaigner, with the last eight winners aged eight or more.
Nonetheless, Howard Johnson's Prince De Beauchene, a half-brother to the classy stayer Miko De Beauchene, looks thrown in at the weights.
Lightly raced since moving to Johnson's yard from France in the autumn of 2008, the seven-year-old made an encouraging start to his season when second at Carlisle at the end November.
Having run to his left in the closing stages that day, Prince De Beauchene will be happier back on a clockwise circuit now, and he can be expected to come on a lot for his first outing.
With last year's winner Cloudy Lane and the Grand National hero Mon Mome among the opposition, this represents a proper test for a relative novice, but the selection could yet prove to be a decent horse.
Prince De Beauchene is a pound out of the handicap, but his rider's three-pound claim more than compensates for that. At 11/2 with Paddy Power, he is the value option.
At home, Plaisir D'Estruval will be better for the drop back to two miles and five furlongs in the Leopardstown Handicap Chase, while Carthalawn gets the nod in the MCR Hurdle. Third in the race 12 months ago, Charles Byrnes' nine-year-old has been in good form over fences, and doesn't look overburdened off 10st 11lb.
Best bet: Prince De Beauchene