Racing commentator Simon Holt takes a look at the Betfair Chase before revealing two selections for Saturday's action.
Saturday's Betfair Chase, comprising last season's Gold Cup duellists Native River and Might Bite along with last year's winner and course specialist Bristol De Mai, plus Clan Des Obeaux and five-time Grade One winner Thistlecrack, is a race not to be missed.
Ground conditions - faster than usual at Haydock for this time of year - could enable Might Bite to exact revenge on Native River after their epic slog through the mud at Cheltenham in March, but the latter is formidably tough and boasts several victories on good-to-soft going.
Nigel Twiston-Davies, trainer of Bristol De Mai, was confident earlier this week that his horse would not be inconvenienced by the surface, but he will walk the track and there must be a question mark as the grey's three wide-margin course victories have come on soft or heavy ground.
Without a win since landing the King George just over two years ago, Thistlecrack needs to bounce back to something like his best to be truly competitive (though was less than six lengths behind Might Bite at Kempton last Christmas) while the youthful Clan Des Obeaux, third behind Might Bite and Bristol De Mai at Aintree in April, looks obviously progressive.
It's a fascinating race and, being an admirer of the classy poise and matinee idol looks of Might Bite, he just gets my vote but the odds are short enough and this is probably a race to watch and enjoy.
Earlier, MR ANTOLINI should go well for the Twiston-Davies team in the Betfair Best Odds On ITV Races Handicap Hurdle over two miles and three furlongs.
The eight-year-old improved markedly in the second half of last season, beating the smart Call Me Lord in the Imperial Cup at Sandown before narrowly missing out at Plumpton subsequently.
Those two efforts came on soft ground, but Mr Antolini seems pretty versatile and made quite an eye-catching reappearance over two miles and five furlongs at Cheltenham (good) last month, travelling strongly throughout and holding every chance approaching the last before fading into a close fifth behind the well-handicapped First Assignment.
A strong stayer at two miles, this trip could be ideal and I will be disappointed if he doesn't run a big race with that race under his belt.
At Ascot, Paul Nicholls looks sure to have a say in the two featured chases with Politologue set to start a warm favourite on his reappearance in the Christy 1965 Chase.
Last season's Tingle Creek winner proved that he is equally effective over this type of trip when narrowly out-gunning Min at Aintree (2m4f) last April and this dual Grade One winner should concede weight all round with Charbel, conqueror of last week's BetVictor winner Baron Alco at Chepstow, the one who could give him most to do.
There may be better value about the Nicholls-trained CYRNAME in the Gerard Bertrand Hurst Park Handicap Chase in which the former champion trainer is also represented by last month's Cheltenham winner Modus.
The pair met at Aintree in the spring when fourth and fifth respectively behind Finian's Oscar and could both be well suited by the likely strong pace here.
Cyrname might be taken on for the lead by Speredek and Ozzie The Oscar on this occasion but probably stays better than that pair and ran an encouraging third to Mister Whitaker at Carlisle on his reappearance.
Mister Whitaker, fourth in the BetVictor last week, went up 7lb for that win whereas the selection (beaten four lengths conceding 2lb after a fine round of jumping) has been left on the same mark yet his excellent neck second to Terrefort at Sandown last February suggests he can rate higher.
Modus could be suited by the way this race is run as he tends to come from off the pace. However, his jumping can be a bit sticky (Ascot is a tough test) and, while he found plenty up the Cheltenham hill to beat the re-opposing Duke Of Navan (1lb better off), he has not always looked dependable.