12.40: Alan KIng's Kempton Christmas debut winner GIBRALFARO went into many notebooks (including mine) when accounting for some decent types and this is a good test to see if the Dalakhani colt is up to taking on the best in a Cheltenham Festival event in March. CONNETABLE is an interesting recruit from France representing the Paul Nicholls bandwagon, whilst the entry of SWINCOMBE TONY adds icing on the cake.
Favourite factor: Seven of the last eight renewals have been won by market leaders whilst two horses returned at 100/30 prevailed in the first two contests.
Favourite factor: This is a new race on the Ascot card.
1.50: Harry Fry has saddled the last two winners (Highland Retreat and Bitofapuzzle) and though Harry's eight-year-old raider DESERT QUEEN lacks some of the potential of those two gold medallists, Noel Fehily's mount looks sure to give a good account of herself. Six-year-olds lead the seven-year-olds 3-2 via the last five renewals whereby AURORE D'ESTRUVAL and VROUM VROUM MAG are obvious dangers representing the two vintages. VROUM VROUM MAG is a winner of nine of her 13 races to date, having finished 'in the three' on the other four occasions.
Favourite factor: Four of the seven favourites have been successful from a toteplacepot perspective to date, statistics which include two winners.
2.25: Five-year-olds come to the gig on a four timer and MONSIEUR GIBRALTAR and BARON ALCO appear to be the pick of this year's four vintage representatives. Chasing has not gone to plan for VALUE AT RISK who would be a big player here if his confidence has not been knocked after a couple of falls over the larger obstacles, whilst fellow seven-year-old ZULU OSCAR receives the overnight reserve nomination in a typically competitive Ascot handicap hurdle. Without wishing to confuse readers by listing the names of too many horses, plenty of respect is also paid to Nicky Henderson trio of declarations.
Favourite factor: Just one of the nine favourites has obliged to date, whilst just two market leaders have secured toteplacepot positions.
Favourite factor: 13 of the 15 winners since the turn of the Millennium have been returned at 5/1 or less, stats which include seven successful favourites.
3.35: Nine of the 13 winners carried weights of 10-13 or less whilst Paul Nicholls comes to the gig on a hat trick, having saddled the last two winners at 12/1 and 11/2. Eight-year-olds have secured three of the last six contests and putting all the stats and facts together, my short list consists of SALUBRIOUS, BERNARDELLI and TARA ROAD. Although SALUBRIOUS carries far more weight than the trends suggest to produce a victory, it's impossible to ignore Paul's nine-year-old, especially as SALUBRIOUS was Paul's only entry at the five day stage. TARA ROAD is a definite each way player down the foot of the handicap, whilst BERNARDELLI represents the north with a sporting chance.