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1.15 - Scotty Brand Handicap Chase (Listed, 2m½f)
Theinval has a history of running big races on both days of this meeting and he shaped promisingly on Friday, despite eventually beating only one home, so another positive showing here can be anticipated from him.
Both Return Ticket and Some Reign arrive in winning form, Rebecca Menzies' charge having easily taken advantage of a gilt-edged opportunity at Sedgefield last month, and are considered but KING D'ARGENT is the one to beat for the Skelton brothers.
He's been most progressive since going chasing this season, winning four times in five attempts having taken a fall when leading at Newbury in December - the only blemish in that sequence.
He had lots in hand last time at Warwick on good ground and is likely to be on or around the pace throughout. A 9lb rise from the handicapper sets a question but he looks equipped to answer it again.
1.50 - CPMS Novices' Champion Handicap Chase (3m)
This has attracted a really promising field with a few strong candidates, but none more so than FIVE STAR GETAWAY for trainer Christian Williams.
The seven-year-old was outclassed on chasing bow at Warwick in November in a race won by Allmankind (runs here later) but returned to action last month with a decisive success upped to 2m4f on good ground.
He's since added to that tally at Sandown and Haydock - scoring with a degree of ease at the Merseyside venue this month in spite of the handicapper having bumped him up 15lb. The assessor has repeated the dose now but so, too, might Five Star Getaway.
He's got plenty more to give on the evidence we've seen lately and this step up to three miles should be another positive given how he's been going through his races. He gets a confident vote.
There are threats, and they are headed by fellow recent winners Marown and One More Fleurie.
The latter won over this trip at Warwick a week ago and has scored in all three completed starts over fences (in the lead when falling at Fakenham last month, too). A 6lb penalty for his success last weekend is far from prohibitive, though this does look a tougher test on paper.
Marown is 3-4 at Ayr, scoring twice over hurdles last season and over 2m4½f on heavy ground in December on his second chase start (third here previous to that over shorter). His recent figures over fences read 1221, taking the step up to this distance in his stride at Wetherby last month as he accounted for the previously promising Messire Des Obeaux (pulled up).
This represents his toughest challenge thus far, but he should be in the mix. Irish raider Pilbara is back from a break and needs close monitoring given Emmet Mullins' fast-growing reputation with UK raiders, with Flegmatik not out of the reckoning for the Skelton machine.
2.25 - Coral Scottish Champion Hurdle (Limited Handicap, 2m)
A few of these re-engage having run well in the County Hurdle at Cheltenham last month. Milkwood (third) placed best of them, with ANNA BUNINA (eighth) and Thyme White (12th) behind. The form looks strong after Belfast Banter took a Grade 1 novice at Aintree last weekend.
Neil Mulholland's charge will be popular here after that podium finish and should go well, but he had a serious tactical advantage at Cheltenham in being ridden close to the pace, whilst both Anna Bunina and Thyme White were out the back in that cavalry charge and never really got into positions to challenge realistically, leaving the impression there might be more to come from them.
John McConnell's mare now has champion jockey Brian Hughes on board and is fancied to give Milkwood something to think about here; with a fair discrepancy at the prices, she looks value.
Thyme White is another that looks capable of better. His comeback win at Chepstow (2m, good) in the autumn was very promising and he hasn't really gone on from that in three runs since, albeit they've come in hot races.
The handicapper has cut him some slack now and Paul Nicholls' charge is good enough to take advantage soon. Calcio goes into a handicap for the first time and Dan Skelton's charge is another that must be noted.
3.00 - Jordan Electrics Ltd Future Champion Novices' Chase (Grade 2, 2m4½f)
Frontrunner ALLMANKIND wasn't done any favours in the Arkle at Cheltenham in being taken on early by Captain Guinness and the duo paid for it late on. Giving a sight to the mighty Shiskin likely would have yielded defeat in any case for the Skelton inmate but there's nothing quite of that ilk to worry about here.
Once rated 90 on the Flat, Allmankind has been a terrific recruit to the jumping ranks, winning Grade 1 novices as a hurdler and chaser. The way he saw off Sky Pirate at Warwick (2m, soft) in the Kingmaker in February was impressive and another bold showing from flagfall can earn him his third graded success of this impressive season as he tackles this increased trip for the first time.
Tamaroc Du Mathan is a worthy opponent for Paul Nicholls, a trainer that so often does well at this meeting. He's 2-3 himself over fences with his only defeat coming when second to Shishkin at Kempton in December.
He proved himself at this distance when taking out the Grade 2 Pendil at Kempton with a confident stalking ride and will seemingly attempt something very similar now with Sean Bowen deputising for the sidelined Harry Cobden. Malystic and Whoshotthesheriff have work to do on paper.
3.35 - Coral Scottish Grand National Handicap Chase (Grade 3, 4m)
Merigo, winner in 2010 and 2012, is the only Scottish-trained winner of this race in nigh-on four decades but hopes will be high that stat can be amended positively this afternoon as a nine-strong home team go into battle.
Aye Right heads the betting for Harriet Graham despite finishing third behind Vintage Clouds in the Ultima at Cheltenham last month. Everything went swimmingly well for the winner there and it shouldn't be a shock if Callum Bewley's mount does indeed turn things around over this longer trip.
Dingo Dollar, the mount of champion jockey Brian Hughes, joins Mighty Thunder, The Ferry Master and Big River amongst the leading Scottish-based contenders, while Eider Chase hero Sam's Adventure will relish the stamina test and must go on the shortlist, though perhaps conditions will be faster than ideal for Brian Ellison's charge.
Not so for SOLDIER OF LOVE, the lone representative for Paul Nicholls as he bids for a fourth success in this race.
He made rapid progress last summer over fences, winning four times at Bangor and Newton Abbot from July to mid-September on good ground at 3m-3m2f. His sequence was ended when he finished second to Galvin at Cheltenham in October and soft ground was likely against him when pulled up there in November.
A second clash with Galvin in last month's National Hunt Chase at the Festival was aborted late on due to the soft ground but the winner enhanced the form with his success there.
Good ground will favour Soldier Of Love and Sean Bowen is an able deputy for Harry Cobden on this attempt at four miles. Given Nicholls' fine record in the race, a big showing is expected.
French import Enqarde is another worth keeping onside for Dr Richard Newland. He's won 2-5 starts for this trainer since November and was sent off favourite for Haydock's Grand National Trial in February under Charlie Hammond.
They were right in the mix late on before tiring on the heavy Merseyside ground. Interesting that the shrewd trainer is willing to try four miles after that run, but Enqarde was a good-ground winner in France and could have a say.
4.10 - Play Coral 'Racing-Super-Series' For Free Handicap Hurdle (2m5½f)
With a strong book of rides at Ayr this afternoon, this could be a big day for champion jockey Brian Hughes in his quest to hold on to that crown. Harry Skelton has wrestled control from him with a fortnight to go and Hughes needs to strike back.
The Nicky Richards-trained WETLANDS looks his best chance on the card today. A bumper winner at Newcastle last March, the Westerner gelding was second on hurdles bow here in October (2m, soft) before going a place closer at Carlisle in November.
Since then, it's been plain sailing with three smooth wins coming here in December and at Newcastle and Carlisle more recently upped in distance. He's a fluent mover over his obstacles and an opening handicap mark of 132 is within reach.
Enemy Coast Ahead won all three starts over hurdles last summer after joining Olly Murphy from Tom George, those wins at 2m/2m4f on good ground. He's had wind surgery during his downtime and is a danger, albeit the form of his Uttoxeter success in August isn't exactly strong. Wetlands may have too much for him.
4.45 - Coral 'Fail To Finish' Free Bets 'Hands & Heels' Finale Handicap Hurdle (Conditional And Amateurs, 2m4½f)
Irish raiders are to be feared at this venue at the best of times but particularly so after the super spring campaign the Emerald Isle team has enjoyed on British soil.
GLENTRUAN came in for market support in a Cork maiden hurdle over a similar trip last month and never really looked like letting his backers down. That was an improved showing from him and it's likely there is more to come.
Castletown won this event in 2019 off this mark but hasn't managed a win since over hurdles/fences. He cannot be factored out but maybe Deniliquin is more of a danger for Paul Nicholls.
He's only had three starts after arriving at Ditcheat in 2018 but last month's Stratford fourth over an extended two-miles was the best of those runs. Further improvement is possible from him and puts him in the melting pot.
5.20 - Ayrshire Cancer Support Standard Open NH Flat Race (2m)
A really strong bumper to round things off at Ayr, six of the ten already having tasted success. Flemenstide is a big player for Paul and Megan Nicholls, seen to good effect last weekend in an Aintree Grade 2 in these colours, and he's one of four carrying penalties.
Downpatrick winner Drumbear and Perth scored Lock Down Luke are major contenders too, the latter seeing the form of his Carlisle second in October boosted in that Aintree contest last Saturday.
High Worth was second at Warwick on debut five weeks ago and could improve now for Nicky Henderson but MASACCIO gets a narrow vote for Alan King and Adrian Heskin.
He won a junior bumper at Doncaster in December in good style under a confident ride and, as a four-year-old, may take advantage of the allowance he gets from the other previous winners.