It's Ascot Chase day on Saturday and the Racing Post's Robbie Wilders provides three selections from the supporting races at the Berkshire track.
Kinondo Kwetu @ 11/4
Sporting John @ 12/1
Zoffany Bay @ 13/2
The Grade 2 Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase (1.50) provided the winner of the Ultima at Cheltenham last season and Oscar Elite, who was third in that from 3lb out of the weights, is probably using this as a prep for the festival.
Jay Jay Reilly looks up against it in this field and this looks a match between Bold Endeavour and KINONDO KWETU.
Bold Endeavour has been impressive in two starts since joining Nicky Henderson and deserves to be odds-on in a weak race for the grade, but probably has bigger targets in mind and it is difficult to know how good Kinondo Kwetu is. He represents the better value at the early prices.
Kinondo Kwetu bids for a seventh successive victory, having claimed six handicaps on the spin and has been trained with a spring campaign in mind, so I’ve few concerns about a 118-day break.
He scored with plenty left in the locker at Aintree off a mark of 132 last time, and should be fully revved up for this on ground that is coming right for a trainer seeking the biggest success of her career.
The Swinley Chase (2.25) will take some winning, but I believe SPORTING JOHN might be the answer for Philip Hobbs, whose horses appear to be returning to some form.
Sporting John must defy top weight here, but is much better than a mark of 147 if anywhere near his best and although he pulled up at Wetherby in the Rowland Meyrick on Boxing Day, that was his first chase start in 20 months.
This former Grade 1 winner might just have needed the return to that discipline after being campaigned as a hurdler and that Wetherby race is working out strongly anyway with subsequent big efforts from Sounds Russian, Top Ville Ben and Zanza.
Sporting John is down 4lb for that and if recent wind surgery has rectified a breathing issue, he looks a solid each-way play with bet365 offering four places.
Three miles on decent ground should be perfect for him and as an eight-year-old he still has time on his side to return to his pinnacle.
Weekend Racing Preview: Ascot Chase attracts high-quality field
Cheltenham Festival: Harry Cobden profile
Cheltenham Festival: Davy Russell profile
The following handicap hurdle (3.00) has attracted one of the most fascinating runners of the day in ZOFFANY BAY, who debuts at the age of nine for Peter Fahey following a 700-day lay-off.
Fahey’s British runners are always worth monitoring (3-9 this season and 21 per cent over the last five) and Zoffany Bay could be thrown in off a mark of 122 given he gave a subsequent Grade 2 winner a good beating at Auteuil when last seen.
The absence is an obvious concern, but he sneaks in right at the bottom of the weights and will be fine on this ground.
His best Flat form for Ali Stronge a few seasons ago was on a fast surface and the booking of Aidan Coleman looks like a statement of intent from a shrewd trainer.
Perhaps Zoffany Bay is being aimed at something like the Martin Pipe and he would need to incur a significant rise to make the cut for a race like that.