Balder looks primed to give Alan King a second Ascot Chase success

Bill Esdaile
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WITH just over three weeks to go until the start of the Cheltenham Festival, the excitement is really starting to build. Most of the key protagonists have now had their prep runs but there are still a couple of decent trials to look forward to, not least tomorrow’s Grade One Ascot Chase (3.50pm) over 2m5f.

Paul Nicholls landed yet another big prize last weekend when Mr Mole took the Game Spirit at Newbury and his Ptit Zig was all the rage when the entries came out for this on Tuesday.

He is undoubtedly a top class chasing prospect and this intermediate trip seems to suit him at this stage of his career. However, I’m not sure the form of his novice wins over Champagne West and Josses Hill are as good as they seemed at the time, and he’s taking on some experienced chasers here.

BALDER SUCCES was slightly disappointing in his first three starts this term over short trips, but he bounced back to form at Kempton last time when stepped up to 2m4½f.

He loves a small field and conditions look to be just about perfect for him tomorrow. This race will determine whether he lines up in the Betway Champion Chase or the Ryanair, but the latter is surely the most likely.

Alan King won this prize with Voy Por Ustedes back in 2009 and the 9/4 with Betway about his charge is far better value than Ptit Zig, who is as short as 13/8 in a place.

Nicky Henderson’s Ma Filleule is very talented, as she showed when tearing apart her rivals in the Topham last April, and she will have the 7lb mares allowance here.

I wouldn’t rule out a big run from her, but she might just get slightly tapped for toe against these speedier rivals.

Ballycasey also can’t be ignored as he is another who relishes this kind of trip. He ran a stinker at Leopardstown over Christmas, but two miles is too short for him and a strong performance here would set him up perfectly for the Ryanair.

Up at Haydock, the big betting race is the Grand National Trial (2.55pm) where 13 runners are set to go to post.

They haven’t had as much rain as is normally the case at this time of year so, although the ground won’t be as bottomless as normal, it is still going to be a brutal stamina test over the 3m5f trip.

The one that first caught my eye was Benbens for Nigel Twiston-Davies, who ran on just a fraction too late in the day last month over three miles at this course.

He should appreciate an extra couple of furlongs, but he stopped quite quickly in the Welsh National and I just wonder if he’ll be able to truly get home over this distance.

Benvolio, Samstown and Monbeg Dude are all respected, despite having to carry welter burdens, while Broadway Buffalo is two from two at Haydock and is another who could go close if he can prove his stamina.

However, the one I will be backing is last year’s winner RIGADIN DE BEAUCHENE, who has dropped down to a mark just seven pounds higher than 12 months ago.

It was an incredible training performance to win on his seasonal reappearance then, but he was also second in this race two years ago and this tight track clearly suits him well.

I’m not too concerned about him being pulled up on his last three starts and his handicap mark is workable. The 10-year-old is a proven stayer and I always prefer those in a race of this nature. Take the 10/1 with Betway.

Back at Ascot, I fancy CAROLE’S DESTRIER to run a big race in the Hamilton Chase (2.40pm) for Neil Mulholland. He ran really well at Cheltenham last time and the step back up to three miles will be in his favour in a race which doesn’t have much depth to it.

Donald McCain has his string in fine form at last and I can see his DIAMOND KING going very close in the handicap hurdle (3.15pm). He was well supported at Cheltenham last month, but was too keen and clearly needed the run having been off the track for a year.

Something like the Coral Cup looks an obvious target, but he will need to pick up a penalty to get into that and a win here would do just the trick.

■ Pointers…
CAROLE’S DESTRIER 2.40pm Ascot (tomorrow)
RIGADIN DE BEAUCHENE e/w 2.55pm Haydock (tomorrow)
DIAMOND KING 3.15pm Ascot (tomorrow)
BALDER SUCCES 3.50pm Ascot (tomorrow)