'Bristol' has youthful edge over Cue Card
Kauto Star was one of those horses I rarely backed on the right days, and when he returned as an 11-year-old to try win the Betfair Chase at Haydock for a fourth time in 2011, I offered the view that he was past it.
I'm always sceptical when people say they are happy to be proved wrong but in this case, it happened to be true and I didn't care that my bet on Long Run was scuppered.
As the old warrior came over the last fence, enjoying that remarkable success as a racing fan meant more to me than my wallet, and I found myself cheering him on.
He would, of course, go on to win the King George for a fifth time that winter, cementing his place as one of the genuine legends of the sport.
With that year in mind, I'm reluctant to say Cue Card, which is also aged 11 and seeking his fourth Betfair Chase today (3.0), should be written off - and once again the racing fan in me would love to see him do it.
But in my view, he's become a little inconsistent with age and he's now fell twice in his last three races.
All horses have their birthday on January 1, so he'll turn 12 in the New Year - although he was foaled on the last day of April, 2006, so it will be a few months before he actually reaches that age. But it's a big ask to win top races aged in double figures and it usually takes an exceptional horse to do so.
What I'm most concerned about is coming back after a fall. In the last ten years, it has actually proved profitable to blindly lay any chaser on the exchanges coming back after a spill, and such horses have a strike-rate of around 10pc.
But if you concentrate on Grade One races only, it's extremely hard to bounce back after a fall last time out and since 2008, just seven horses have done so from a total of 141 runners - a strike rate of under 5pc.
Interestingly enough, four of those winners came in 2016 including Cue Card himself. He won the Aintree Bowl having fell in the Gold Cup previously, although he couldn't manage to do the same in 2017, finishing second at Aintree after another fall in the Gold Cup beforehand.
I know you can use stats and figures to prove almost anything you want, but it's my gut feeling that he's going to find this tough - although, as I say, I'd be genuinely happy to be proved wrong just like I was in 2011.
While I'd like to come up with a big-priced alternative, I reckon Bristol De Mai is a solid favourite and I'm happy to take the 11/8 on offer at the time of writing.
With the going set to be heavy, he'll love the conditions and he's got a perfect record at Haydock with two wins in two races, including the Peter Marsh Chase back in January.
Cue Card was too far out when falling in the Charlie Hall at Wetherby last month to put up any real challenge, but the selection put in a mighty performance for a six-year-old to land the spoils at the expense of stablemate Blaklion.
On official ratings, Nigel Twiston-Davies' gelding is 8lbs inferior to Cue Card but with improvement highly likely and Cue Card possibly in decline, how accurate the official figures actually are is questionable.
It will be interesting to see what effect the Cue Card jockey change will have with Harry Cobden replacing Paddy Brennan.
It must have been tough on Brennan and, although sometimes a change of jockey can liven up a horse, Cobden hasn't got the same level of experience, aged just 19.
Gordon Elliott's Outlander is also in with a chance under the hugely talented Jack Kennedy (left).
He was disappointing in the Gold Cup festival races at Cheltenham and Punchestown, but he raised a few eyebrows when beating Road To Respect and odds-on favourite Our Duke in the Champion Chase at Down Royal at 16/1.
An operation to fix a back problem known as 'kissing spine' during the summer seems to be a success and regardless of past form, it's unwise to discount any of Elliott's runners in the big races these days.
At Ascot, Defi Du Seuil is expected to go off at 8/11 or thereabouts in the Coral Hurdle (2.40).
That's understandable considering he's got a nice picket fence beside his name with six straight hurdle wins since arriving in Britain, including the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham.
The best juvenile in training last season, he's got loads of potential, but he's not guaranteed to be as good stepping up to this 2m 3f for the first time, and I'm not going to spend a whole load of money finding out if the distance will suit.
Instead, a chance is taken on Lil Rockerfeller, which was trading at 7/2 in the early markets. Trained by Neil King, he appeared in need of the run when third on his reappearance in a Grade Two at Wetherby earlier this month.
He hit 1/5 in-running when finishing a good second in this last year, and put in a career best when narrowly beaten by Nichols Canyon in the Stayers' Hurdle at Cheltenham despite going off at 33/1.
On that form, he's entitled to go close at this level and with L'Ami Serge also posing a serious threat, this could be much closer than the market suggests.
The Worlds End is likely to go off as favourite around 5/1 for the Grade Three Betfair Stayers' Handicap Hurdle (2.25 Haydock), and with four wins in his last five races including a Grade One last time in April, he certainly has strong claims here.
However, a mark of 149 puts him right up near the top of the weights and in races like this, I prefer to back one which has had a recent run. Priced 16/1 and higher yesterday, Templeross looks a decent each-way alternative.
Nigel Twiston-Davies' charge wasn't disgraced in a couple of races over fences this term, and a hurdle rating of 131 here seems fair considering he made the frame in a competitive handicap at Ascot back in February off just 1lb lower.
Jockey Jamie Bargary claims 3lbs and I'll be disappointed if he's not placed at the least, with Champers On Ice another one to consider.
12.10 Haydock: Whatmore
1.15 Haydock: Clan Des Obeaux
2.05 Ascot: Smad Place
2.25 Haydock: Templeross (e/w)
2.40 Ascot: Lil Rockerfeller
3.0 Haydock: Bristol De Mai
3.15 Ascot: Upsilon Bleu (e/w)
Do the double
Trained by Alan King, Smad Place seemed to have lost his way last season and it appeared that age was catching up. But the ten-year-old put in a nice round of jumping to win the Old Roan Chase on his seasonal reappearance at Aintree last time, and looked back to his old self. He can keep the momentum going with success today around 3/1 in the Christy 1965 Chase (2.05 Ascot).
Jurgen Klopp has said there's no problem with Liverpool's mentality following Tuesday's draw to Sevilla in the Champions League in which they blew a three-goal lead. In fairness, their domestic form has picked up since defeat to Tottenham back in October. Chelsea had an easy win against Qarabag on Wednesday, and come to Anfield today on the back of four league wins, making this a hard one to call. As such, backing the draw might be the value option here at 13/5.