Ben Linfoot tries to answer the key questions on Saturday

Ben Linfoot: Should we listen to Paul Nicholls and more questions | Our man tackles the punting posers ahead of Ascot & Haydock on Saturday

Ben Linfoot tackles the big questions ahead of Ascot and Haydock on Saturday including angles in the Betfair Chase, the Coral Hurdle and an interesting Irish raider.

Should we be listening to Paul Nicholls ahead of the Betfair Chase?

Paul Nicholls: Bullish ahead of the Betfair Chase

Some punters choose not to listen to trainer comments and that’s generally a wise move. Use your own eyes and close your ears is sound advice and won’t see you far wrong.

However, in this day and age of trainer columns there is the odd bit of information amongst the waffle that is well worth digesting and when Paul Nicholls puffs his chest out and lays his hand on the table ahead of a Grade One it’s one of those occasions where we should at least listen.

Nicholls has a proud history in the Betfair Chase having won it six times; four times with Kauto Star and twice with Silviniaco Conti, the common denominator there being they won seven King Georges between them.

It’s a slightly different trip these days with the modern Betfair being run over 3m1f and 125 yards, as opposed to the bare three miles and less in the past, but that’s of no concern to dual King George hero CLAN DES OBEAUX who has stamina in his armoury.

More importantly, though, he has the speed and the class to travel well over this sort of trip and while the market has him third best in behind Lostintranslation and Bristol De Mai that feels all wrong.

He's simply a better horse now than the one that got turned over by Bristol De Mai in this race two years ago, but the main reason for him being the outsider of the big three here is because that run and his seasonal return at Down Royal last season were seemingly used as stepping stones to the King George.

But fears over this race being a Kempton prep for Clan were addressed by Nicholls in his Betfair column where he said on Thursday night: “We are not using this as a warm-up for his hat-trick bid in the King George and there will be no excuses on the fitness front.

“Clan is a month further down the line compared to his first run of the season at Down Royal last year. He has had a lot of graft and I really fancy him.”

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Those are strong words and I do think they’re worth listening to. With Cheltenham an unlikely destination for him this campaign after two pretty hefty defeats in the Gold Cup, Nicholls will be tuning him up for three shots at Grade One glory; this race, the King George and something in the spring at either Aintree or Punchestown.

That’s different to his last two seasons and this has a nice set up for Sam Twiston-Davies tactically, as well, as Bristol De Mai should tow him into things - and while neither he nor Lostintranslation can be confidently ruled out of calculations, like everything in betting, this is a price thing.

And with Lostintranslation 11/8, Bristol De Mai 9/4 and Clan Des Obeaux 11/4, it’s the latter that makes plenty of appeal.

At his best, those two King George victories, he is the most talented of this trio and while teams Tizzard and Twiston-Davies are in and out of form, Nicholls just continues to fire in winner after winner with his Wincanton treble on Thursday taking his incredible November tally to 27 wins from 72 runners at 38%.

Clan Des Obeaux has had wind surgery since we last saw him and has had 253 days off the track, but his trainer has explicitly told us that this is no stepping stone to Kempton.

It’s a Grade One, it’s the Betfair Chase and it looks very winnable for a 171-rated dual King George winner who doesn’t have to worry about peaking in March. At 11/4, it simply has to be Clan.

Has Master Tommytucker put his jumping woes behind him?

Master Tommytucker: Faces a good field at Haydock

F-1-F-F-2-1. Things haven’t been plain sailing for MASTER TOMMYTUCKER over fences, as a couple of high-profile falls at Kempton last season demonstrate, but he’s managed to stay on his feet both starts this campaign.

First up was a second to Al Dancer, the subsequent Paddy Power Gold Cup third, at Newton Abbot, where mistakes at the 9th, 10th and second last fences contributed to a two-and-three-quarter length defeat.

The jury was still out after that and I’d be pretty wary of his 12-length win over Precious Cargo in a two-runner race at Huntingdon 10 days ago, as well.

He frequently jumped out to his left that day, in exaggerated fashion at the last, and while his easy victory over a 145-rated rival demonstrates his clear ability, it’s very hard to see him smoothly negotiating the Haydock fences without fuss.

And if he can’t get into a groove up front, he’s there to be got at with Good Boy Bobby and Dashel Drasher leading the opposition in a hot little race.

Paul Nicholls won this Back And Lay On Betfair Exchange Graduation Chase six years running from 2012-2017, with Clan Des Obeaux himself his last winner of this prize, but, on balance, I’d rather be a layer than a backer of his Master Tommytucker in this year’s renewal at prices around 7/4.

What should we expect from Laurina?

Laurina: Aiming to bounce back on her first start for Nicholls

This is becoming the Paul Nicholls Show and that’s okay, because that’s exactly what Saturday could be.

Ascot’s big race this weekend is the Grade 2 Coral Hurdle, which has attracted a desperately disappointing turnout of just three horses, but it’s still got the look of a tricky conundrum to unravel.

Unless LAURINA is back to her best. In that scenario, getting 13lb from both Call Me Lord and Song For Someone, the freely available 11/8 and 6/4 would look like a gift from the punting gods.

On her last three starts for Willie Mullins, Laurina disappointed. Two of those runs can be attributed to tackling fences, but her defeat at Punchestown back over hurdles in February was a more worrying display considering her weak finishing effort.

Nicholls’ record with the Sullivan Bloodstock Ltd horses that have arrived from Mullins’ this season has been mixed.

The sole success story was Estelle Ma Belle, who won a Ffos Las Mares’ Maiden Hurdle by five lengths at 5/2, but Saglawy, Eglantine Du Seuil, Getareason, Dolcita, Stormy Ireland and Duc Des Genievres have all suffered defeat.

Duc Des Genievres ran well in the Shloer Chase, but Nicholls is still learning about his new charges and the switches have not seen an immediate upturn in results.

Like Duc Des Genievres, Laurina has had wind surgery since we last saw her, but despite getting a considerable weight advantage, you sense Nicholls would just take an encouraging run with her on her first start for the yard, rather than demanding immediate fireworks.

How significant is it that Henry De Bromhead brings over Abbey Magic to Ascot?

Henry De Bromhead: Interesting runner at Ascot

The logistics of travelling horses from Ireland to England or vice versa are clearly not straightforward at the moment, so perhaps we should sit up and take notice of this.

Henry De Bromhead has upped his visits to England in recent years, with his non-Cheltenham raids increasing in number from 2014 onwards, to the point where in 2018 and 2019 he brought 26 horses over for five victories, although most of those runners were at Aintree.

His Ascot arrows have been few and unsuccessful, with just six coming over from his County Waterford base to the Berkshire track, Paloma Blue’s third last year his best result.

But with no non-Cheltenham visits so far in 2020, ABBEY MAGIC’s declaration in the Coral Hurst Park Handicap Chase looks an interesting assignment.

De Bromhead won with his admirable Champion Chase hopeful Put The Kettle On at Cheltenham last weekend, a mare who jumps well and has plenty of guts, and, at a lesser level, Abbey Magic looks cut from the same cloth.

She jumps well, usually leads and has proven very hard to pass as she has made rapid strides since being switched to De Bromhead. He got her in August 2018, immediately put her over fences and she’s four from five since, her long absence of almost two years to September this season not disrupting her ascent.

Bar her win at Navan, all of her chase victories have come at right-handed tracks, and her victory off 134 under Rachael Blackmore last time out was comfortably a career best.

Up 6lb to 140, she has to find more again if she’s to win in this company, but right-handed Ascot should suit and Bryony Frost looks a good booking for this perennial front-runner.

Pace pressure could be a problem – she wouldn’t want to get into a battle up front with Gino Trail and First Flow – but her mere presence in the line-up raises an eyebrow given De Bromhead sends one sole runner to England this weekend for a £15,000 first prize.

Is there an interesting stat that steers you to a bet on Saturday?

Rebecca Curtis: Superb touch with staying novices over fences

There is and it’s Rebecca Curtis’ record with stayers in novice handicap chases.

Her record with horses running in excess of 2m7f in the genre is excellent, as she’s had 16 winners from 71 runners at 22.54% including five victories in the last three years.

A staying novice chaser is something she excels with and that’s demonstrated by comparing her strike-rate percentage with the likes of Nicky Henderson (19.1%), Paul Nicholls (18.9%) and Colin Tizzard (13.7%).

Her profit & loss to a £1 stake at SP also generates a profit of +£19.45, so backing them blind hasn’t been a bad idea - although there are more reasons to be interested in her MINELLA BOBO at Ascot on Saturday.

He runs in the Play The Coral “Racing Super Series” Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase at 12.55 and shaped really well on his first start in 551 days at Uttoxeter last time.

Racing prominently throughout, he jumped well before getting tired late on and Brian Hughes looked after him once his chance had gone, but it was a performance full of promise.

Helpfully the handicapper dropped him 3lb and put the winner, Demachine, up 10lb, so a hefty 13lb pull with Saturday’s favourite is not to be sniffed at and I’d expect the selection to strip fitter at Ascot.

The Demachine form looks good, as the second, Morning Vicar, came out and won well at Newbury, while both Northofthewall and Checkitout might well have won their subsequent starts but for falling late on.

Most eyes will be on Kerry Lee’s horse, but Minella Bobo is a very interesting lurker towards the bottom of the weights and I’ll be backing him accordingly at double-figure prices.

Posted 1145 GMT on 20/11/2020

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