11:38 Chepstow

ASK ME EARLY (NAP) (best price 11-10) beat Grange Road a shade more cosily than the official winning margin suggested at Exeter last time out and now heading back to a track where he’s enjoyed plenty of success in recent times, Harry Fry’s grey rates a confident vote to confirm his superiority. 

A two-time chase winner here last season, the son of Ask has the Welsh national as his main target this term and it’s clear by the way he’s campaigned, connections are at pains to protect his handicap mark for the big day. Using a novice hurdle at the West Country venue as a decent starting point, the seven-year-old was well-supported on his first outing for 227-days and even though there were moments when he looked unlikely to land the gamble, he ultimately came through nicely at the death. Once his stamina kicked in on the run-in, there was only going to be one outcome and with today’s extra yardage likely to play even more into his strengths, he makes plenty of appeal at his morning odds. 

Ask Me Early - 2pts @ 11/10

13:08 Navan

BURNING VICTORY (best price 10-3) hasn’t always convinced with her jumping but despite her rather frail technique, she’s managed to perform to a high standard over hurdles and arriving here following a tremendous effort in the Cesarewitch at Newmarket back in October, Willie Mullins’ mare can come to the fore over a trip that should complement her stamina requirements. 

A fortuitous winner of the Triumph Hurdle two years ago, looking back it’s simply amazing that she had the necessary pace to perform to such a high level over two miles and that view is backed up by the fact that she posted a career-best effort at HQ in a proper test on the Flat. In a race which sorted out the wheat from the chaff, only two horses could maintain the gallop all the way to the line, and with the other being now one of the market leaders for the Stayers Hurdle, namely Buzz, it just puts into context how well she performed 56 days ago. Given plenty of time to recover from that bruising encounter, the daughter of Nathanial has quite wisely been stepped up to three miles and with the rhythm of a race of today’s nature also likely to help her weigh up her hurdles better, the whole project should end up smelling of roses. 

Burning Victory - 1pt @ 10/3

14:12 Wetherby

Haafapiece is the proven course specialist and will obviously catch the attentions of many because of his record here, but he will have to improve again to contain ROMEO BROWN (best price 3-1) who has the look of an incredibly well-handicapped horse when bouncing back to form at Hexham last time out. 

Formerly rated as high as 122 in his pomp when trained by Philip Kirby, the son of Yeats had rather lost his way until coming back to a little bit of form post wind surgery and it was in mid-summer when connections decided to switch stables in a bid to try and properly rekindle the old flame. Well-backed to make a winning start for Sue Smith in an ordinary handicap at Southwell, unfortunately, the gamble went astray courtesy of a bout of lameness during the three-mile event. Given time to recover, he returned to action 162-days on to contest a two-mile affair at the Borders venue and in what turned out to be a strongly-run race for the grade, he absolutely laughed at the opposition to score by a wide margin. Significantly quicker at all points of his race than the good novice hurdle over the same trip, the seven-year-old clearly ran miles better than his rating of 100 and even though the assessor has done his best to try and readdress the balance, he still could end up having a little more in hand than his revised mark. 

Romeo Brown - 1pt @ 10/3

15:35 Sandown

BENSON (best price 4-1) landed this prize last year when on a bit of a roll, and even though he faces no easy task up against Metier in his bid to retain his crown, Dr Newland’s gelding shouldn’t have too much to fear from anything else. 

A winner of two ordinary novice hurdle prior to facing the Esher slopes for the first time, the six-year-old was also fitted with a tongue-tie in his bid to walk away with his biggest prize to date and following a healthy gallop in testing conditions, he came through with flying colours despite a potential race-ending mistake two out. Sent off favourite for a valuable handicap hurdle at Ascot next, the son of Beat Hollow did remarkably well to finish fourth of the 17 runners considering where he was in the field at halfway and after that excellent effort, we never saw him again all season. Operated on for a wind issue in the interim, he came back to action at Cheltenham to contest a 2m5f handicap and although he looked one of the most likely winners two out, he ultimately just didn’t quite get home up the hill. Likely to be all the better for that initial outing, a return to a stiff two miles will suit and providing he can work his way into a position whereby he’s within striking distance turning for home, his usual strong finish should see him a major player in the final outcome. 

Benson - 1pt e/w @ 4/1

18:30 Wolverhampton

Lost Gold was unlucky to bump into the classy Miss Marble in an above-average novice event on her debut at Kempton and commands a huge amount of respect, but whether she can cope with the substantially-made SCREAMING PETRUS (best price 15-8) is another matter and David Loughnane’s gelding is strongly fancied to build on his hugely-promising opening gambit back over tonight’s C&D. 
Well touted prior to his debut, the son of Kingman wasn’t that well-positioned as the field swept out of the back straight and, as a result, he could never obtain the clearest of runs when needed down inside the final two furlongs. He did, however, hit the line extremely strongly, leaving the impression he might have won with a clear run and with that initial experience unlikely to be lost on him, this big, bull of a three-year-old can take care of business on his return to the Dunstall Park venue.

Screaming Petrus - 1pt @ 15/8