Will it ever stop raining?! Once again we can expect testing conditions for this weekend's feature jump racing at Ascot and Haydock.
Let's start at Ascot where on Thursday the ground was described as heavy, soft in places and there was more rain forecast. Gary Moore is bidding for further success with Tingle Creek and Desert Orchid Chase winner Sire de Grugy who is the clear favourite 5/4 favourite with Sky Bet to win the Clarence House Chase.
He has been a great flag-bearer for the stable this year and he has a great relationship with jockey Jamie Moore who does a lot of the work with him. He has never run at Ascot before, but his jockey thinks it will suit him.
Somersby is his closest market rival and he has proven course form as he was beaten a short head by Master Minded in this in 2011, won the race in 2012 and was third behind Sprinter Sacre when it was held at Cheltenham last year. He has a good record at Ascot but his best form is on better ground.
Having said that, it was heavy at Cheltenham last year and you wouldn't say it was the ground that beat him that day as it was his first run for nine months and he did have Sprinter Sacre in the field! He was behind Sire de Grugy in the Tingle Creek last time out and looks to have his work cut out to reverse the placings, but with his love of Ascot and given a bit of luck it's not an impossible task.
Hidden Cyclone and Days Hotel are the Irish raiders and the former looks to have the best chance of Grade 1 success here for trainer Shark Hanlon. He was second to Benefficient in the Grade 1 Dial-A-Bet Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas where he suffered interference from the winner and could be classed as a bit unlucky.
The slow ground will play right into his hands as he stays further than Saturday's two miles one furlong and if he is to come back for the Champion Chase at the festival, which is apparently the plan, then he ought to show up well in this.
He looks a progressive horse over fences and is only a nine-year-old so I'm going to take the favourite on with this Irish runner.
At Haydock the ground is heavy and there is a decent card which includes the Sky Bet Supreme Trial Novices' Hurdle.
It looks a competitive two-mile Novices' Hurdle with Un Temps Pour Tout the market leader with the sponsors. Trained by David Pipe, he's a bit of a dark horse as far as UK form is concerned as this is his first start for Pipe having joined him from France.
His last run stands up to the closest scrutiny though as he was an excellent third in a Grade 1 at Auteuil behind the Paul Nicholls trained Ptit Zig (who runs in the Champion Hurdle Trial). He is a three-time winner over hurdles in France and was a rather expensive purchase for his new connections who paid £450,000 for the four year-old at the sales in November. He ought to be good for that but he could recoup some of that here and could be one to watch with regards the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury next month for which he is currently a 14/1 shot with Sky Bet.
Back to Saturday's race and Valseur Lido could be another Willie Mullins horse bidding to take some sterling back to Ireland. Owned by Gigginstown House Stud, he has won his last three, his last two over hurdles and he is progressing nicely, he is 25/1 for the Supreme at the moment.
Zamdy Man hails from the Venetia Williams stable and has won his last two and made all to win a listed race over course and distance last time out. His hurdling technique wasn't perfect last time out and that could be a worry in this sort of company.
Sgt Reckless claimed the scalp of West Wizard at Kempton in November and he may be one for each-way punters if he runs here as he works nicely at home and Mick Channon has his horses in good form.The declarations weren't made at the time of writing, so it's quite hard to nail your colours to the mast. However, the Pipe horse is likely to be pretty short, so it might be worth taking a chance on another winner for Venetia Williams with Zamdy Man.
Also at Haydock there is a Champion Hurdle Trial and if Un Temps Pour Tout were to run a big race then he would pay a huge compliment to Ptit Zig. The ground won't worry him as he has won on heavy in France. Pupil beat master at Ascot last time out as this horse finished second to Dan Skelton's Willow's Saviour in The Ladbroke and he is a lovely horse with a great engine.
Jeremy Scott had the option of switching Melodic Rendezvous to chasing if he didn't make the grade at the highest level over hurdles this term. He won the Elite Hurdle at Wincanton, but then ran a disappointing race behind My Tent Or Yours in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle, but it transpired he pulled muscles there. It's interesting to see him entered and he will love the ground if he turns up. It could be that he waits for the Betfair Hurdle instead as he recovers from that injury.
Marito and Blood Cotil are entries from the Willie Mullins stable. Marito won over fences last time out, but he's equally effective over hurdles. Blood Cotil fell in a chase last time out, but ran very well in France in the summer. It's Ptit Zig for me here.
The Peter Marsh looks like a competitive Limited Handicap Chase. Gary Moore is bidding for a big race across the card double as his Vino Griego is top weight in this three-mile-one-furlong contest. Josh Moore rides and takes off a valuable 3lbs, but the horse is capable of jumping errors and that's a worry.
Sydney Paget is one of the leading contenders for Donald McCain, he was a course and distance winner in November but he then ran badly at Wetherby on Boxing Day. Merry King is visored for the first time for Jonjo O'Neill, he's worn cheekpieces before. He will handle the ground and stays very well.
Dr Richard Newland has his team in form and his Night Alliance has to overcome a hefty rise in the weights for an easy win in the Tommy Whittle last time out. The Minak hasn't run since February 2012 and is the mount of Daryl Jacob for Paul Nicholls. He runs off a slightly lower mark than when last we saw him, but he is entitled to come on for this outing.
Given the form of the Venetia Williams horses you would be hard pressed to overlook any of her runners at the moment. Katenko is a fascinating runner here as he bids to regain some of the form that saw him a contender for the Gold Cup last year. You may remember he came into Cheltenham calculations last season after winning a Grade 3 at the track in January last year.
However, he wasn't able to take his chance in the race after undergoing emergency surgery for colic just over a week before the festival. He improved hugely last term before that setback and I think he has a chance here with a couple of runs under his belt this campaign. Unfortunately, he fell when running a big race in the Hennessy on his reappearance and then ran a bit flat on his next start just a week later. The bonus to take from those two runs, is that the handicapper has dropped him a couple of pounds and he will also love Saturday's ground.
At the prices, he's the one for me. He is entered in the Gold Cup again (50/1 with Sky Bet) and also in the Grand National (33/1), which was a target for him last year before his season was cut short.
I'm also looking forward to seeing the reappearance of Dunguib in
the Limestone Lad Hurdleat Naas on Saturday. He's been off the track since finishing well beaten behind Hurricane Fly in the 2011 Champion Hurdle.
The 2009 Champion Bumper winner has been off since suffering a leg injury and it will be interesting to see how he gets on. He can be a bit free and he could well be rather fresh on his first run back.
Hidden Cyclone in the Clarence House Chase @ 7/2 with Sky Bet
Zamdy Man in the Sky Bet Supreme Trial Novices' Hurdle @ 9/2 with Sky Bet
Ptit Zig in the Champion Hurdle Trial
Katenko in the Peter Marsh Chase
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