Paul Woloszyn previews Saturday's Pertemps Network Swinton Handicap Hurdle at Haydock and has two against the field.
Paul's best bets
Over the past week Britain has experienced a mini heatwave and we've adorned the first Classic winners of the Flat season - memories of wet Cheltenham and Aintree Festivals already seem an age ago.
On Saturday, however, there is reason for jumps fans to awaken from their slumber as the Swinton Hurdle takes centre stage at Haydock.
The Grade Three handicap has a rich history and was once the fourth most lucrative prize in National Hunt racing behind the Grand National, Gold Cup and Champion Hurdle. Its roll of honour includes two-time Christmas Hurdle winner Intersky Falcon and Irish Champion Hurdle hero Macs Joy, while Champion Hurdlers Rooster Booster and Flakey Dove, as well as brilliant dual-purpose star Overturn, are among those who have gone close in it down the years.
Last year's renewal was won by John Constable, who became Evan Williams' third winner of the race in five years following Barizan and Ballyglasheen in 2013 and 2014.
The seven-year-old is back to defend his crown but looks up against it now 22lbs higher in the handicap than he was 12 months ago and having to give 11lb and upwards to his rivals.
The Welsh trainer is also represented by SILVER STREAK, a horse who, not overly burdened off a mark of 132, would look to hold serious claims of giving the trainer a fourth success. The five-year-old was second in the race best known as the Ladbroke in December off just 2lbs lower, the form of which really stacks up.
Fourth that day was Betfair Hurdle second Bleu Et Rouge, while also in behind were Champion Hurdle fifth Elgin, runaway winner at Cheltenham last month, Magic Dancer, Punchestown Festival second Man Of Plenty and the re-opposing Chesterfield.
Sixth in the Imperial Cup when last seen, all three of Silver Streak's three wins have come with good in the going description, so with plenty in his favour you could certainly do worse than take the 10/1 currently available.
The aforementioned Chesterfield is another who is bound to be in the mix, Seamus Mullins' consistent eight-year-old being placed in the County Hurdle and Scottish Champion Hurdle on his last two starts. He does have history against him however with no horse older than seven to have won the Swinton since Peter Bowen's Dreams End defied 11st 11lbs in 1997 as a nine-year-old.
Paul Nicholls has never won the race, his best efforts being two second place finishes with All Set To Go and Mr Mole, but there are strong reasons to believe the race could go to Ditcheat this time around.
Capitaine is arguably the best handicapped horse in the race. The mount of Nicholls' newly appointed number one Harry Cobden is rated only 137 over timber, 12lbs below his chase mark. The six-year-old looked set to go close on his return over hurdles at Cheltenham last month, travelling strongly over the last before finding nothing up the hill when asked to stake his claim.
He was dropped 2lbs for that effort but his lack of resolve when it was needed just creates a doubt in my mind and he's one that might be best to follow again instead when back over fences.
I do, however, really like the chances of Nicholls' other contender, ACT OF VALOUR. The four-year-old comes to Haydock after just missing the cut for the Chester Cup and it could prove to be a blessing in disguise.
The son of Harbour Watch has been crying out for some good ground and it's to his credit that he has still managed to put up some very good displays this season, finishing just four lengths second to We Have A Dream in February and beating another Henderson rival, Pacific De Baune at Fakenham last month. He followed that win up with a close-up fifth in a competitive handicap on Sandown's jumps finale day and certainly has more to offer off a mark just 2lbs higher.
A race that forms part of the only mixed jumps/flat meeting staged in England, the Swinton promises to be a cracker on a day that offers something for all racing fans.