Grey can deliver on potential for all-conquering Mullins
Willie Mullins' Ballycasey will face a stern test when he strives to become just the second Irish-based Ascot Chase winner in the Grade One's 20-year history.
The £150,000 six-runner contest is hardly a vintage edition, but is still a decent race, with Ptit Zig and Balder Succes both really smart sorts, as is the mare Ma Filleule.
Nicky Henderson's grey was just denied by Holywell at Cheltenham in March before running out an impressive winner of the Topham Chase at Aintree, and she was last seen getting within a couple of lengths of Sam Winner back at the Liverpool track in December.
Ma Filleule emerges best at the weights when you factor in her seven-pound mares' allowance, so she certainly has a real chance over a two-mile-five-furlong trip that suits well.
Still, the distance is also ideal for the other protagonists, and one or two of them will probably just have a bit much for Barry Geraghty's mount.
Balder Succes is the top-rated on 162. He is a likeable sort that comes here on the back of a pretty straightforward victory down in grade at Kempton, but he is another that is vulnerable to a horse with a touch more class.
Ptit Zig is just a novice, but he is unbeaten in four over fences, and Paul Nicholls' decision to tackle this with him is significant. While conditions will suit ideally, it's not hard to pick holes in his form, so he is short enough at as low as 7/4 favourite for this, given that he is far from the finished article and that he is taking on more practised rivals.
With all that in mind, this might represent a fine opportunity for Ballycasey to start fulfilling some of his considerable potential.
A useful hurdler whose only defeat in three starts came when he was third to Morning Assembly in a Punchestown Grade One, the grey son of Presenting beat Don Cossack and Carlingford Lough in the Dr PJ Moriarty Chase a year ago, form that reads especially well now.
He fell at Leopardstown during a schooling session ahead of Cheltenham, where he ultimately failed to stay when fourth in the RSA Chase, having shown up well until after the third-last fence. On his next start in the Powers Gold Cup at Fairyhouse, he was on the verge of claiming a second Grade One only to crash out at the second-last, when he had Rebel Fitz and Bright New Dawn on their knees.
Ballycasey then returned to three miles at Punchestown, where his stamina failed him again, as he had the field stone cold two-out and still led over the last, only to be outstayed by Carlingford Lough, with Morning Assembly and Don Cossack well back.
On his return this season, he sluiced up against inferior opposition over two-and-a-half at Gowran Park, before an experiment over two in the Dial-A-Bet Chase backfired. All told then, his overall profile at this trip over both hurdles and fences is of the highest order, with form figures that read 111F1.
In that light, odds of 7/2 about Ruby Walsh's mount look generous.
More Of That was already a dubious World Hurdle favourite prior to it emerging that his participation is in doubt after he bled during a piece of work this week.
He looked a shadow the horse he was last year on his Newbury return, and, while it is not beyond Jonjo O'Neill(above) to get him right in time, he has a bit to prove. The surprise was that the money came for Annie Power, which would be trying to emulate Cyborgo's 1996 feat of winning the three-miler having not run since finishing second in it 12 months earlier. It would be a massive ask, even for a horse of Annie Power's ability. Firstly, unlike the mares' race, the World Hurdle is a proper Grade One, so she won't win it half-cocked.
More importantly, Annie Power's keenness was her undoing last year, so it is almost certain that she would be too gassy were she to contest the three-miler without a run. The mares' race is the race for her.