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1.15 - Virgin Bet Handicap Chase (1m7½f)
The Paul Nicholls-trained Dolos has won the last two renewals of this handicap, defeating recent Grade 1 Clarence House Chase scorer First Flow when obliging from only 1lb lower than this mark a year ago. He comes back for another go having twice run well in defeat at Cheltenham since returning from wind surgery this term and must be considered a leading chance.
Closest to him in early betting is Caribean Boy for Nicky Henderson and in-form Daryl Jacob. He's got pleasing form in four runs since joining the Seven Barrows team from France but was turned over at short odds last time at Ascot (winner won again next time). He's got claims but this trip could be on the sharp side for him.
Mr One More is lightly-raced and made a pleasing start to his chasing career when second at Chepstow in November. Harry Fry's charge was well-held fourth on Boxing Day at Kempton over further but should have a challenge in him dropped in distance.
PADDY'S POEM is fancied to land the pot however. He's getting weight from the field and he was an excellent second over C&D (soft) last month behind the progressive Ibleo in what was his first start in 13 months. The Venetia Williams-trained winner advertised that form when scoring again at Doncaster last weekend and the runner-up was clear of the remainder in second spot.
With his fitness boosted, Nick Gifford's charge has a big chance here, despite racing from an 8lb higher mark.
1.50 - Virgin Bet Scilly Isles Novices' Chase (Grade 1, 2m4f)
This looks a very good renewal of the Scilly Isles on paper, with the majority of the seven-runner field having claims of some form or another.
Messire Des Obeaux put away a good horse in Protektorat when landing the re-routed Dipper at Wincanton last month. Alan King's charge had raced only once from April 2017 until his December chasing bow at Wincanton, but he's intent on making up for lost time it would seem. He travelled like a dream in that success last time and is not overlooked easily for this.
Hitman found only leading Arkle contender Allmankind too strong over shorter in the Grade 1 Henry VIII Novices' Chase here on the Tingle Creek card in December. Assuming Paul Nicholls' runner takes to this increased distance, he's a major player, though he has thrown in an odd jumping error.
Paint The Dream has work to do, while Sporting John went out like a light on chasing bow at Exeter in November. Hard to know what to make of Philip Hobbs' challenger on that showing and his distance seventh in the Ballymore at Cheltenham last season, but for certain he's not one to dismiss yet.
Nicky Henderson's Dame De Compagnie made a successful chasing bow at Ayr last month, winning a match with Cornerstone Lad. He faces a much different challenge here.
Most appealing is SHAN BLUE, 3-3 over fences after taking the Kauto Star Novices' Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day. He's a very impressive jumper and while that was over three-miles, he began his campaign over this sort of trip at Wetherby without issue.
The testing ground should ensure this is enough of a stamina test for him. He's a very smart novice in the making for the red-hot Dan and Harry Skelton team and his bold jumping style on the front end will pile the pressure on his rivals.
2.20 - Virgin Bet Cotswold Chase (Grade 2, 3m)
The leading protagonists have stood their ground after this race was lost from Cheltenham last Saturday ensuring this Grade 2 Gold Cup Trial still boasts last year's Blue Riband bridesmaid Santini in defence of this crown, alongside 2018 Festival kingpin Native River.
They clashed at Aintree in December in a race where the low sun made a mockery of the contest, the re-opposing Lake View Lad coming home ahead of the pair in what amounted to a flat-speed test in the end. It will be a major shock if he can uphold that form now.
Santini has since finished fifth in the King George at Kempton, a top-level contest that was always deemed unlikely to play to his strengths. This therefore is set to be the first tailor-made test he has faced since finding only Al Boum Photo too strong in the Gold Cup at Cheltenham back in March.
He's a key player but regular rider Nico de Boinville is absent and Aidan Coleman (on board here with a view to standing in next month at Cheltenham if the trainer fires both Champ and Santini at the Gold Cup) will have to get to know this sometimes lazy racer fairly quickly. He's a C&D winner here before but the extra stamina-test of 3m1f at Cheltenham would have been better for him, seemingly.
Native River has won 2-6 starts since his career-defining Gold Cup success in 2018. That was a gargantuan effort from the front and last season's wins at Aintree and Newbury didn't ultimately deter the feeling it left a lasting mark on him.
There's a Denman-esque notion to Native River now. He's still very good but maybe just blunted slightly by his gallant Gold Cup triumph. This is his chance to disprove that theory, but he too might have been better suited at Cheltenham.
Yala Enki was third in the Welsh National last month before his determined Taunton win a fortnight ago. He'll fancy the conditions and the extra weeks' rest won't harm his chances, but he takes on proven Grade 1 performers now and that is a concern.
Saint Calvados has a stamina-query against his name and so we land on BRISTOL DE MAI.
The grey is a three-time Grade 1 winner (all at Haydock) but he has also finished third in a Cheltenham Gold Cup. He's the apple of Nigel Twiston-Davies' eye and the grey will thrive on the forecast heavy ground at a track where he won the Scilly Isles in 2016 as a novice.
He seems to have been around forever but Bristol De Mai is just turned 10 - only a year older than Santini - and in these trying conditions he may avenge last year's defeat to the Seven Barrows inmate in this very race at Cheltenham.
2.55 - Virgin Bet Warriors Handicap Chase (2m4f)
This is less of an ask for Benatar, third in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup at Cheltenham in December, bit even so, he's got a massive weight to carry and that's a worry on this heavy ground. He was having his first run in almost two years in that Cheltenham event and he is respected from an unchanged mare of 142 now for trainer Gary Moore.
Alnadam was a C&D winner in December on just his second start over fences and should prove better than he showed when disappointing since at Kempton over Christmas. Back here on a testing surface, discounting the Skelton's runner isn't advisable.
Gardefort made a really pleasing return from a long absence of his own when second to Bennys King at Ascot in December (2m3f, heavy), though he was pulled up next time.
December's Doncaster winner EVANDER could be the answer for trainer Oliver Greenall. He ran into an on-form Capeland when second last month at Wincanton but was well clear of the remainder in that Class 2 contest. He's only been nudged up 1lb for that showing and could have more to give in a first-time tongue-tie now.
3.30 Sandown - Virgin Bet Masters Handicap Chase (3m)
Perhaps the one race on the card where plenty have questions over them. Danny Whizzbang has lost his way in recent times and his two efforts this season were unconvincing. The new headgear needs to provoke a turnaround for Paul Nicholls' runner.
Coo Star Sivola sees his mark continue to slide and there have been hints lately he could produce a big effort, but he's not quite built on that promise yet.
A Toi Phil rallied to finished fourth at Kempton four weeks ago but three-miles around here on testing ground isn't certain to suit. The striking option therefore is forecast market leader ASK ME EARLY for Harry Fry and Sean Bowen.
He has twice scored at Chepstow since going chasing, both wins on testing ground over just shy of three-miles. He's up another 7lb here and steps out of novice company but, given that he's meeting exposed rivals all without their problems to seek, it could turn out to be a fine bit of placement from his trainer.
4.05 - Virgin Bet Novices' Limited Handicap Chase (1m7½f)
In receipt of weight from his four rivals, it wouldn't be wise to overlook the claims of High Up In The Air for Gary Moore and son Joshua. He's on a four-timer but this is his toughest task my some distance. He gave away lots of weight when beating a next-time-out winner at Plumpton last month but perhaps one or two of these will outclass him.
Dostal Phil beat the progressive Funambule Sivola at Newbury on heavy ground on his reappearance/chase bow last month and has scope for better representing Philip Hobbs and Richard Johnson.
The Skelton team continues to fire on all cylinders, entering the weekend with a 46 per-cent strike-rate over the previous fortnight. Trainer Dan has made no secret of the fact it's quality he wants now, rather than quantity of winners, and few can argue it's not a tactic that is paying off.
Second on chase debut at Bangor in October, ANTUNES beat off Mr One More and Lieutenant Rocco in an Intermediate Chase at Chepstow in November (2m, heavy) in what amounts to a decent piece of form.
He subsequently tackled a Grade 2 novice at Ascot over 2m3f in December where he found it tough going (SP 20-1) behind the likes of Allart and Fiddlerontheroof. This should prove more to his liking and he's got more to give on the evidence of that Welsh success on penultimate start.