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There is a plethora of top-class racing action this weekend
  1. Horse Racing

Weekend Racing Preview: Ascot Chase attracts high-quality field

Ascot, Haydock and Wincanton all feature on ITV Racing on Saturday, with the 2m5f Grade 1 Ascot Chase being the highlight of the afternoon action.

On Sunday, there is a Grand National trial at Punchestown, which may give us some Aintree clues, while there is also a Listed race for mares on the card from the Irish venue.

Defending champion tops Ascot Chase field

Fakir D’Oudairies produced one of his best career performances 12 months ago to land the Ascot Chase. Joseph O’Brien’s runner hit the front of the field after the last fence at the Berkshire-based racecourse, eventually scoring by just less than two lengths.

The Irish horse bypassed the Cheltenham Festival in 2022 and that patience was rewarded, as he landed the Marsh Chase at the Grand National Meeting at Aintree on his final start of the season.

The eight-year-old finished second behind Galopin Des Champs on his opening outing of the latest campaign in the John Durkan Memorial Punchestown Chase. He then went one place better at Thurles last time out in a Grade 2 contest over the extended 2m4f trip.

Only four horses in history have won the Ascot Chase more than once, and Fakir D’Oudairies is 7/4 to add his name to a list which includes Tiutchev, Monet’s Garden, Riverside Theatre and Cue Card.

Former Arkle Trophy and Clarence House Chase winner Shishkin is set to take on last year’s winner in the feature race at Ascot. This will be his first test over 2m5f under Rules.

Nicky Henderson’s runner has now been beaten on his last two starts, including when he was third in the Tingle Creek Chase and the Seven Barrows chaser is 9/4 to bounce back to victory.

Champion trainer Paul Nicholls has won the Ascot Chase four times in his career and a fifth success would ensure he takes the outright record for a trainer. He is set to saddle Pic D’Orhy and the Silviniaco Conti Chase winner is 11/4 to extend his winning run to four races.

Also at Ascot on Saturday, the Swinley Handicap Chase is a valuable prize at 2.25pm. Christian Williams had an excellent campaign last season with his staying chasers, and he is represented in this race by Cap Du Nord. He is 9/2 to win another major prize over this 3m distance.

Knappers Hill looking for Wincanton success

Knappers Hill won the Elite Hurdle at Wincanton earlier this season. Nicholls’ hurdler is back over the same C&D where he is looking to land the Grade Two Kingwell Hurdle. With a mark of 153, he is the highest rated of the four runners set to line up.

The Ditcheat runner has won six of his 10 starts over hurdles. He is 6/4 to add to his tally on the track in the feature at the Somerset venue.

First Street was third in the Relkeel Hurdle on his last outing for Henderson and he will be getting 2lb from Knappers Hill in the race this weekend. The four-time winner is 11/8 to win at this level for the first time in his career.

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Fontaine Collonges spearheads Grand National Trial

Venetia Williams’ mare Fontaine Collonges was victorious at Haydock earlier this season in a handicap chase over 3m1½f. That was her third success over fences and it also proved she had the stamina for staying races.

The eight-year-old is stepping up in distance once again for the Grand National Trial at Haydock. Williams won this 3m4½f contest in 2014 and 2018 and her mare is 9/2 to give her a hat-trick in the race.

Five-time Grade 1 winner Bristol De Mai will need to carry top weight in the Grand National Trial this year. He was awarded this contest in 2022 after The Galloping Bear was disqualified.

The 12-year-old has often produced his best around this course throughout his career and should the 11/2 shot prevail again, he will be a popular winner at the Merseyside track.

Gigginstown all in for Punchestown Trial

The Grand National Trial at Punchestown could be the chance for an Irish-based horse to enhance their credentials for the world’s most famous steeplechase at Aintree later in the season.

Gigginstown have five horses declared to run in the 3m4f contest on Sunday afternoon.

One of those is last year’s winner Death Duty. He is now 12 years old and he will be joined by stablemates Coko Beach, Defi Bleu and Milan Native as Gordon Elliott looks to land the valuable handicap prize.

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