Theatre primed for gala performance
Given its proximity to the Cheltenham Festival, it's no surprise that the Ascot Chase frequently tends to lack strength in depth.
The Betfair-sponsored contest is the last Grade One before the annual gala gets under way next month, and its recent history suggests that whatever wins this year's renewal will be up against it at Prestbury Park, should it run there.
Riverside Theatre easily beat Gauvain here in 2011, but this afternoon will be the first time that he has run since, having fractured his pelvis during preparations for the Ryanair Chase.
Previously, Voy Por Ustedes, Kauto Star and Monet's Garden were all turned over in successive years when hot favourites for their respective Cheltenham targets after scoring impressively at Ascot.
While a visually taking performance so close to the Festival leaves a positive impression on punters, it may ultimately do so at a cost.
This time round, the first two from last year reoppose, with Kauto Stone an interesting rival for Paul Nicholls and Ruby Walsh.
Second to Sizing Europe in the Tingle Creek after winning at Down Royal, he is a progressive six-year-old that will be suited by the return to an intermediate trip here.
However, Kauto Stone was all of eight lengths behind Sizing Europe at Sandown, and the horses that finished behind him were not Grade One campaigners.
In truth, this is another less than vintage Ascot Chase, rendering the 9/4 that can be had about Riverside Theatre a particularly generous offering.
While the Ryanair is on the agenda again, Nicky Henderson's eight-year-old's first-time-out record is exemplary, with four wins in four seasonal bows.
Last term, he began with a breathtaking display at Kempton in November, before splitting Long Run and Kauto Star in the King George at Kempton en route to his triumph in this.
That is form of the highest standard, and it will be a surprise if there is any 9/4 still left about Barry Geraghty's mount by the time the tapes go up.
Riverside Theatre should win, though pay little heed when the layers subsequently slash his odds from 10/1 to around 9/2 favouritism for the Ryanair. Today is the day.
Also at Ascot, Pearlysteps is worth an interest in the Weatherbys Bloodstock Insurance Chase. Second at Haydock on his first completed start of the season, Henry Daly's nine-year-old still has scope to improve on just his eighth chasing start.
At Haydock today, Willie Mullins saddles Some Target in the Betfred Grand National Trial. Having failed to shine this term, it's hard to fancy David Casey's mount.
Victor Dartnall's consistent Giles Cross, runner-up in the last two Welsh Nationals, has each-way appeal at the very least at up to 6/1, but Mohayer strikes as the value option at twice those odds in the three-and-a-half-mile test.
There are few better with a progressive staying chaser like this than Jonjo O'Neill.
The Jackdaws Castle handler has stepped Mohayer up in trip for both of his starts this term, prompting a Market Rasen win over three miles and an absolute rout over two furlongs further at Ffos Las.
Off a 9lb higher mark, the Giant's Causeway grey has more on his plate in this company, but he is overpriced given recent displays.
Eddie O'Connell's Powerstation is the other Irish runner at the Liverpool venue in the Grade Two hurdle.
Preferred in that, though, is Restless Harry, which drops in class after an aborted chasing career and after twice failing to cope with Big Buck's.
One other that may be worth keeping onside is Celestial Halo in the Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton.
Binocular will be odds-on for this, but he isn't the most reliable these days, and Celestial Halo's front- running style often yields results at this speedy track.
Best Bet: Riverside Theatre