Richard Mann previews Saturday's all-weather action from Lingfield and The New One Unibet Hurdle at Haydock.
A host of old favourites return for the Betway Handicap at Lingfield with nine-year-old Pactolus and seven-year-olds Petite Jack and Kyllachy Gala all lining up.
The latter was a striking winner over this course and distance last time and looks well worth his subsequent hike in the weights but Battle Of Marathon was equally impressive when he cruised to victory here two weeks ago and he might prove the pick of the market leaders.
Nevertheless, the alarming lack of pace in here tempers enthusiasm for a decent wager on either of the marker leaders while Pactolus, for all his tactical versatility, has to be considered a doubtful stayer on his first start at this trip.
Instead, FURZIG looks well worth support at 4/1 on the back of his cosy defeat of the re-opposing Original Choice over course and distance on New Year's Eve, when staying on nicely to claim the spoils close home on his first try at 1m4f.
For a five-year-old, Furzig doesn't have many miles on the clock - trainer Richard Fahey having to adopt a patient approach following a setback that kept him off the track for 487 days back in early 2019 - and he remains open to further improvement, particularly over this trip.
Crucially, he has proved adept racing from near or off the pace and with his stamina now assured, don't be surprised if Connor Murtagh is one of the first to strike for home this time in a race where it could pay to sit handily.
Archie Watson continues to go great guns and will be hopeful he holds the key to the Ladbrokes Home Of The Odds Boost Handicap.
In Electric Ladyland, Watson saddles the likely favourite following a ready success at Chelmsford when last sighted back in September.
A pacey sort who was thought good enough to go to Royal Ascot as a two-year-old, the Cable Bay filly now has three wins to her name from nine career starts but, crucially, each of those career victories have come over the minimum distance.
Her prominent racing style and low draw suggests she should be in the firing line from the off again but stepping up to 6f for the first time, I wonder if she might be vulnerable late on if jockey Luke Morris is unable to bargain an uncontested lead.
The defection of stablemate Littledidyouknow robs the race of the only other obvious pace angle in the contest so Electric Ladyland should be the one to catch, though that might just set things up for LITTLE BROWN TROUT.
William Stone's gelded son of Casamento made a winning debut at this track when weaving his way through the eye of a needle before scoring with something in hand under a confident Hollie Doyle just under three weeks ago, and he still has the potential make up into a useful all-weather sprinter.
Having taken some time for the penny to drop, Little Brown Trout came good when scoring in grand style at Yarmouth in October before failing to get a race run to suit at Newmarket subsequently.
A luckless run at Wolverhampton then followed but he was very good when successful at Lingfield last month and the suspicion is that this track might prove ideal for him, one where he can take a lead before producing one strong run in the straight after swinging off the final bend.
A 4lb rise in the weights certainly shouldn't prove insurmountable and with Dazzling Des and Zulu Zander both needing to prove themselves over this trip, Taste The Nectar might emerge as the chief danger to the selection following a couple of fast-finishing near misses.
That being said, he will need to travel much better than he did last time if he is ensure he is close enough to pounce in the closing stages, and Little Brown Trout's superior tactical speed make him well worth a bet at 4/1.
Over at Haydock, Champion Hurdle credentials are put on the line in the The New One Unibet Hurdle.
Last year's Triumph Hurdle hero Pentland Hills promises to be all the rage following his comeback run in the International Hurdle at Cheltenham but despite trainer Nicky Henderson issuing a bullish update on him in recent weeks, he looks awfully short at 13/8.
Having travelled and jumped with his usual zest at Cheltenham, I was really concerned with the manner in which he cut out late on and the fact he went from challenging at the final flight to be beaten five lengths into fifth at the line just illustrates how tamely he faded.
There might have been more to it than just needing the run at Cheltenham and until I see him back on song, he looks one to be wary of.
Positive comments from our very own David Ord earlier in the week, followed by similar sentiments from Ruby Walsh and Kevin Blake on Thursday, have seen Darasso attract support for the big one in March but I can't feel that CORNERSTONE LAD has been severely underestimated in Saturday's market once again.
Veteran handler Micky Hammond has worked wonders with his six-year-old, who is now six wins from 13 starts over hurdles and turned in a personal-best performance when taking down dual champion hurdler Buveur D'Air in the Grade One Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle.
Valid excuses for the runner-up shouldn't take away from Cornerstone Lad's gallant front-running display and there is potential for him to get his own way once again.
A previous course and distance winner who relishes deep ground, this rapid improver seems sure to run his race again and with Darasso making his first start of the season and both Pentland Hills and Ballyandy having questions to answer, 9/2 looks well worth taking.
Posted at 1615 GMT on 17/01/20.
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