The initial entries are out for both the Betfair Ascot Chase and the William Hill Grand National Trial at Haydock in February - get the latest news here.
Multiple champion trainer Paul Nicholls accounts for four of the 18 entries for the G1 Betfair Ascot Chase on Saturday, February 20.
The Betfair Ascot Chase, run over the intermediate distance of two miles and five furlongs, is the most valuable chase run at Ascot.
Nicholls has a strong hand as he chases a record fifth Betfair Ascot Chase, with his quartet headlined by the stunning 2019 victor Cyrname, the 2/1 favourite with Betfair, and dual G1 King George VI Chase hero Clan des Obeaux.
The Ditcheat handler can also call upon progressive 10-year-old Master Tommytucker, who looked as good as ever in a G2 event at Kempton Park earlier this month, and G1 Cheltenham Gold Cup sixth Real Steel.
Nicholls, 11-times champion Jump trainer and Betfair ambassador, said: “Of our four, Master Tommytucker definitely goes for the Betfair Ascot Chase.
“It just looks the obvious race for him given the trip and everything, and I don’t see the track posing any problems at all. He is improving rapidly and deserves his place in a race like this.
“Cyrname’s main target could be the Gold Cup, although we have not made a final decision on that.
“The Betfair Ascot Chase is another option we wanted to have, but if we decide to go for the Gold Cup, then he won’t be able to run in both races. We will have to make our minds up over the next fortnight about what we want to do.
“After how impressive he was in the Charlie Hall, I was keen to aim him towards the Gold Cup. Then obviously what happened at Kempton [pulled up] didn’t help, but I have put a line through that.
“Clan des Obeaux will run in the Denman Chase at Newbury, though with the way the weather is at the moment, we felt it was worth making an entry for Ascot just in case.
“Real Steel is a possible for Ascot, but he would not want to run if the ground is too soft. We may keep him fresh for the Ryanair.”
Last year’s Betfair Ascot Chase victor Riders Onthe Storm (Nigel Twiston-Davies) could attempt to emulate Riverside Theatre (2011 & 2012), the only horse to win the race in successive years.
Other proven G1 performers among the entries include Ryanair Chase second Saint Calvados (Harry Whittington) and 2019 Betfair Chase scorer Lostintranslation (Colin Tizzard).
Leading owners Simon Munir & Isaac Souede have four entries of their own, all in the care of Nicky Henderson - Caribean Boy, Janika, Terrefort and Top Notch. Henderson is also responsible for Mister Fisher, winner of the rearranged G2 Peterborough Chase at Cheltenham in December.
Venetia Williams is represented by Fanion d’Estruval, a creditable fourth behind First Flow in the G1 Clarence House Chase at Ascot on January 23, and recent Chepstow scorer Cepage.
Dashel Drasher (Jeremy Scott) has enjoyed two victories over the course and distance this season, most recently defeating Bennys King (Dan Skelton) in a valuable handicap chase on January 23. Cyrname won the same race in 2019 prior to his Betfair Ascot Chase success.
Caspian Caviar Gold Cup second Midnight Shadow (Sue Smith) and Kalashnikov (Amy Murphy) are also engaged.
Betfair spokesman Barry Orr commented: “Off the back of a good run in the King George, Cyrname went off the 4/11 favourite in this race last season when seeking back-to-back wins.
“He is still at the head of the market for this year’s renewal, although is 2/1 following his disappointing run in the King George last time out.
“On these entries, it looks like a strong field could go forward and that is reflected in the betting.’’
Cheltenham Gold Cup runner-up Santini (Nicky Henderson) is the headline name among 34 entries received for the William Hill Grand National trial at Haydock Park on February 20.
The 3m 4 1/2f Grand National Trial has been won by some of the sport’s most famous staying chasers, including three-times Grand National winner Red Rum in 1975, the 1992 Grand National hero Party Politics, who lifted the prize in 1993, and subsequent Cheltenham Gold Cup winners Cool Ground and Master Oats, who won the 1992 and 1994 renewals respectively, the latter having been staged at Kempton Park.
Seven Barrows trainer Nicky Henderson is yet to win the race, but in G1 winning nine-year-old Santini he has a top class prospect that could change that statistic.
He said: “The plan is to run at Cheltenham on Saturday but if it is very testing ground we would think again as it’s not the right time to be doing that. There is only the Denman Chase after this weekend and the plan is to run Champ there, but I am not saying they both can’t go there.
“Everything is just a bit up in the air with the ground like it is so it is hard to make plans. I’m not saying he would jump into a Grand National by having an entry in this race I just want to make sure all avenues are covered.
“It is unlikely that he runs there as it probably comes a bit too close to Cheltenham but the options for him are so limited. Haydock is unlikely to come up with better ground at this time of year but you never know - we will just have to see what happens.
“He would easily stay the trip around Haydock that’s for sure.”
Henderson has another entry in Pym, who was last sighted finishing fifth in the Listed Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle, having previously made a winning return at the same level in the Future Stars Intermediate Chase at Sandown Park in November.
Henderson added: “Pym is another that really wants decent ground and he has been having a bit of break during the winter. The race at Newcastle probably came a bit quick for him a bit like how the race at Sandown did for If The Cap Fits so we are just freshening him up.
“He does want decent ground but at the same time he is a hard horse to place. He would get the trip at Haydock no problem though as he is a thorough stayer.”
Another eye-catching entry is Bristol de Mai, who is one of three put forward by trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies alongside Ballyoptic and Cogry. Bristol de Mai has won five of his six starts at Haydock - a tally which includes three victories in the G1 Betfair Chase (2017, 2018, 2020).
Paul Nicholls, who saddled Shotgun Willy to glory in the 2003 renewal, is represented by last season’s Midlands Grand National winner Truckers Lodge, and recent Taunton scorer Yala Enki.
Nicholls said: “I’ve entered Truckers Lodge and Yala Enki in the race as both horses want to be in there. We have not decided a plan yet whether to run them in it or not but that will be made in time.
“I have given Yala Enki an entry in the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham on Saturday, though it is only a tentative entry and he would only run if they had lots of heavy rain.
“Yala Enki was third in the race last year and he will probably end up carrying 11st 12lbs in it but we will have a look at it for him. Truckers Lodge didn’t run in the race last year as he had a little injury and we then went fresh to the Midlands National. I will chat to the owners and see what they want to do.
“It took him a while to get over the race the other day but he is back on form now. If you look at his Chepstow run with Yala Enki he was 16lb higher than in the race the year before. He was put up too much for winning the Midlands National and that is what has stopped him off that mark so he still ran very well.
"Truckers Lodge put everything into it at Chepstow and he just takes a bit more time to get over races than Yala Enki.”
Charlie Longsdon expects the step back up in trip to be more suitable for his sole entry, Just Your Type, who finished third at the track over three miles last Saturday, 23 January 23, behind Royale Pagaille in the G2 Peter Marsh Limited Handicap Chase.
Longsdon said: “Just Your Type will either go for the Grand National Trial or the Eider Chase. He ran a cracking race the other day. The trip was too short for him as three miles is not his cup of tea, and if you took the winner out, who is getting all the hype he deserves, then he would have probably won.
“I know he finished third but we probably paid the penalty for trying to chase the winner early doors and if we just sat quietly for longer we wouldn’t have lost second place.”
Nicky Martin hopes her stable star The Two Amigos can better his fourth place finish in the race from 12 months ago by going one better than in the Welsh Grand National at Chepstow.
Martin said: “He is such a superstar. Considering he is only 15”2 you would not think he would be a chaser but he jumps so well on the whole and the plan is to go to Haydock.
“He doesn’t always finish his races well when he comes off the bridle and I was worried he would get caught for second in the Welsh Grand National, but on what was better ground than it was described at Chepstow he stayed on well.
“He is only 2lb higher than when he finished fourth in the race last year and the horse is in better form than 12 months ago. He is very fresh again after running over nearly four miles at Chepstow two and a half weeks ago. He deserves to win a race like this as he has been knocking on the door for a while.”
Secret Reprieve, 7/1 joint-favourite with William Hill, winner of last month’s re-arranged Welsh Grand National, is one of two entries for Evan Williams, along with Prime Venture, while last year’s winner Smooth Stepper features alongside stablemate Fagan for trainer Alex Hales.
William Hill’s other 7/1 joint-favourite is Notachance (Alan King), winner of the G3 McCoy Contractors Civil Engineering Classic Handicap Chase at Warwick earlier this month.