Five horses to watch at Ascot and Haydock this weekend

Laurina is set to line up in the Coral Hurdle at Ascot on Saturday.
Laurina is set to line up in the Coral Hurdle at Ascot on Saturday.

Steve Chambers takes a look at the entries at Haydock and Ascot this weekend, and picks out five horses that could sparkle and potentially throw their hat into the Cheltenham Festival picture...

Laurina - Paul Nicholls (Ascot 14:40 - Coral Hurdle, Saturday)

Paul Nicholls has been in red-hot form in the early stages of the National Hunt season, and the master of Ditcheat, who is attempting to regain his champion trainer crown, will saddle an eye-catching recruit in the shape of Laurina in Saturday's Coral Hurdle at Ascot. A fine winner of the 2018 Mares' Novices' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, while under the stewardship of top Irish handler Willie Mullins, Laurina has gone off the boil in recent times, and owner Jared Sullivan has elected to send his classy mare to Nicholls, who will look to recapture the top notch form of yesteryear.

Fourth in the 2019 Champion Hurdle, Laurina was then sent over fences by Mullins, but having won on her chasing debut, she then failed to kick on as she was pulled up on her next two chasing starts. Last seen finishing third in a mares hurdle at Punchestown in February, the seven-year-old has been given a lengthy absence and has since moved to Somerset from Closutton in the hope a change of scene can see her back to top form.

Entered for the Grade 2 Coral Hurdle at Ascot on Saturday, Nicholls has already pointed out that Laurina will gain the benefit of a mares' allowance, and will not carry any penalties, so she will have some significant positives in her favour. However, she could face some lively opposition with the Gary Moore-trained Goshen currently heading the ante-post betting for the 2m 4f event.

A first rate juvenile last season, Goshen scooted clear of his rivals in the Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, but a last flight fall saw the four-year-old's dreams of juvenile glory hit the Prestbury Park turf. Two disappointing runs at Haydock and Goodwood on the Flat have left a cloud hanging over Moore's raider, but a return to hurdles should see him return to form, however, he does still hold an entry in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle later this month, and having already been scratched from the Elite Hurdle earlier in the season, then there's no 100% guarantee he will run.

Nicky Henderson's Call Me Lord, the Tom Symonds-trained Song For Someone and the Martin Pipe hero Indefatigable are also entered and will add significant depth to the race, but if Goshen doesn't line up then Laurina is the most fascinating contender, as Nicholls looks to get the starlet back on the winning road once again.

Coral Hurdle
Laurina silk



Imperial Aura - Kim Bailey (Ascot 14:05 - Chanelle Pharma 1965 Chase, Saturday)

One of the most exciting chasing recruits to emerge out of the novice division this season is Imperial Aura, who is one of four entries for Saturday's Grade 2 Chanelle Pharma 1965 Chase at Ascot. The Berkshire venue has attracted a disappointing number of runners for a race that has been won by the likes of Master Minded, Vautour and Politologue in recent times, but the quartet should serve up an intriguing contest with Imperial Aura potentially facing Itchy Feet, Black Corton and Real Steel.

An impressive winner of the Novices' Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in March, Kim Bailey's Imperial Aura then kicked off this season with a dominant victory in the Colin Park Intermediate Chase at Carlisle, and Bailey will now send his classy seven-year-old up in class for Saturday's Grade 2. Currently available at 16/1 for the Ryanair Chase at the 2021 festival, Imperial Aura is still open to significant improvement and Saturday's test should enlighten connections whether he continues to progress and can turn into a real Ryanair candidate.

Itchy Feet disappointed last time out in the Old Roan Chase at Aintree, so will be hoping to recapture the form that saw him win the Grade 1 Scilly Isles Novices' Chase last season. Black Corton and Real Steel will represent the Paul Nicholls team, and the former was last seen finishing fourth over three miles, while Real Steel is another horse like the abovementioned Laurina who has switched to the Nicholls yard and was last seen finishing sixth in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, so could be another that find this trip a little sharp.

Kalashnikov - Amy Murphy (Haydock 14:25 - Betfair Stayers Handicap Hurdle, Saturday)

Amy Murphy's stable star Kalashnikov will make his reappearance on Saturday, but having been seen the last two seasons competing over fences, the seven-year-old will return over hurdles at Haydock Park. Carrying top weight in the hugely competitive Betfair Exchange Stayers' Handicap Hurdle this weekend, Kalashnikov is hovering around the 16/1 mark for the valuable prize, but if he can produce his best then he could well be a lively outsider. A really smart hurdler in his younger days, Kalashnikov stormed to victory in the 2018 Betfair Hurdle at Newbury before finishing a gallant runner-up in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle a month later.

A campaign over fences the following season saw him end the year with a Grade 1 win in the Manifesto Novices' Chase at Aintree's Grand National meeting, but last year he failed to kick on from a second placed finish in the Old Roan Chase, and Murphy's charge ended the season without a win. Having bled in his last two outings, Kalashnikov was put away for the summer, and Murphy is now looking to get his career back on track and a trip to Haydock on Saturday will be a starting point.

Stepping up to three miles for the first time in his career, Kalashnikov will not only have to defy a longer trip and top weight, but will also face some classy opponents with David Pipe's win machine Main Fact and Fergal O'Brien's Imperial Alcazar two of the fancied contenders in the betting, but Kalashnikov is a fascinating addition to line-up and could be a value each-way play for some punters.

Betfair Stayers' Handicap Hurdle
Kalashnikov silk


Clan Des Obeaux - Paul Nicholls (Haydock 15:00 - Betfair Chase, Saturday)

It will be another busy weekend for Paul Nicholls, as he unleashes some of his stable stars at Ascot and Haydock, but the biggest high-profile runner will be Clan Des Obeaux, who will bid for glory in the Betfair Chase.  The Grade 1 showpiece on a stellar Jumps card on Saturday afternoon may have only attracted five entries, but it should serve up some vital Cheltenham Gold Cup clues with Clan Des Obeaux coming up against former winners Lostintranslation and Bristol De Mai.

A winner in 2019, Lostintranslation has been installed as the favourite to retain his crown, but dual winner Bristol De Mai (won in 2017, 2018) will be attempting to recapture his Grade 1 crown for Nigel Twiston-Davies in what is set to be an absolute crackerjack renewal, and Clan Des Obeaux will be the third vital cog in the entertaining contest.

While Clan Des Obeaux's two market rivals will be being targeted at a potential Cheltenham Gold Cup tilt in March, Nicholls has already said that his charge won't be heading to compete in the festival blue riband event, and his spring target could lie at the Punchestown Festival. Before that, the ultimate goal for Clan Des Obeaux is to win a third consecutive King George VI Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day and Saturday's Betfair Chase is an ideal prep race for the festive Grade 1. Fourth in the 2018 Betfair Chase, Clan Des Obeaux will look to improve on that effort, and Nicholls has already stated that his charge will be more tuned up for the 2020 running, and if he can produce his best then he has to be a major player in an exciting renewal at the Lancashire venue.

Cloudy Glen - Venetia Williams (Haydock 15:35 - Betfair Stayers Handicap Chase, Saturday)

A hugely impressive 13-length winner of the Southern National at Fontwell Park on Sunday, Cloudy Glen could make a swift return to the track in the final race at Haydock Park, and the Venetia Williams-trained raider has been installed as the ante-post favourite for the Betfair Stayers Handicap Chase.

With a 7 lb penalty to carry, Cloudy Glen will have to defy the burden of top weight, but with ground conditions likely to be in his favour, and having shown he is in red-hot form with Sunday's dominant success then it's hard to write him off, if he takes his chance in a competitive-looking contest.

With stamina assured, Cloudy Glen will need to emulate his run from last weekend, and he will have some lively opposition in the shape of Kings Monarch, Pobbles Bay and Don Poli, but having shown so much zest for the marathon test last time out then providing those exertions haven't taken too much out of him then he has to be the one to beat. Williams will only let him take his chance providing his Fontwell win hasn't left a mark, but if the seven-year-old does turn up in the same form then he can quickly notch up a sparkling November double.

Betfair Chase
Clan Des Obeaux silk

Clan Des Obeaux

2021 Cheltenham Festival
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