Venetia Williams hit the bar last year when second in the Betfred Grand National Trial, but she can go one place better in the Haydock feature this time.
In-form Williams saddled Rigadin De Beauchene to claim minor honours in 2013 and while that one tries his luck again, preference is for stablemate Emperor’s Choice.
The seven-year-old marked himself as a stayer to follow when landing an ultra-competitive renewal of the West Wales National at Ffos Las earlier this month.
Admittedly Emperor’s Choice was competing off just 10st that day but he overcame a mid-race rough spot to prevail by a comfortable eight lengths at the line.
He stayed every yard on very testing ground and conditions will be very similar on Merseyside so that is a definite plus.
The handicapper has taken a dim view of that victory, saddling Emperor’s Choice with a 10lb rise, but as the weights were published before his win, he escapes with just a 5lb penalty.
That means he is technically 5lb ‘well in’ and it is easy to see why stable jockey Aidan Coleman has picked him for the race.
Celestial Halo warms up for the Festival in the Betfred Mobile Hurdle and it will take a good one to beat him following his Newbury romp back in November.
The 10-year-old was allowed to set the pace and while Medinas tried to reel him back in, Celestial Halo proved 17 lengths too good.
Paul Nicholls’ charge does not have to make all, though, as he showed when winning at Auteuil last spring, and he has the best part of 20lb or more in hand of his rivals.
The Ditcheat handler should also be on the mark a bit closer to home as Zarkandar can retain his Bathwick Tyres Kingwell Hurdle title at Wincanton.
The seven-year-old lifted this Grade Two heat last year in similarly attritional conditions to those he faces this weekend.
Second on each of his three starts this term, he has only been beaten by leading Champion Hurdle hope The New One and top mare Annie Power so the form is certainly far from shabby.
He is perhaps at his best with a better surface and longer trip, but Zarkandar’s class usually sees him through and it looks like being no different on this occasion.
Captain Chris should prove a worthy favourite in the Betfair Ascot Chase as he tries to go one place better than in 2013.
Only Cue Card beat him that day, when a terrible blunder two fences from home cost him valuable momentum and any real chance of glory.
He lost his way a bit stepped up in trip for his final two starts but showed some of his old sparkle when a close-up third in the Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon before Christmas.
The reopposing Riverside Theatre was the winner that day but, as he was in receipt of 10lb from Captain Chris, there is every reason to expect the form to be turned on its head.
Captain Chris warmed up for this with a cosy win at Kempton last month and Philip Hobbs appears to have found him an ideal Grade One opportunity.
Many Clouds is the choice in the RSA Trial Novices’ Chase after his victory at Wetherby over the Christmas period.
The form got a boost when runner-up Indian Castle beat a Grade One winner last time out and Many Clouds is a horse who looks built for fencing.
Cole Harden is a confident selection for the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle.
The five-year-old has won his last two starts and saturated ground will really play to his strengths.
Rebellious Guest is on a roll and his confidence is sure to be riding high ahead of the Ladbrokes Handicap at Lingfield.
George Margarson’s charge has been highly tried in the past but after two winless seasons on the level, connections’ decision to drop back down the scale has been paying dividends.
A victory at this track in January was quickly supplemented with another at the start of February, when Rebellious Guest also defied a 6lb rise in the process.
His potent turn of foot saw him take it up in the shadow of the post then and similar tactics are likely to be deployed.
While Rebellious Guest will have to defy another 6lb rise and a slight step up in company, he still makes plenty of appeal on a mark still 6lb short of his career high.
National Service is worth another chance in the 32Red Handicap after letting down favourite-backers.
He won an average maiden in November but then could not quite follow up at Kempton earlier this month, going down by a head in a tight finish.
His inexperience showed a little and National Service should be able to step up on that effort.
ASCOT: 1.30 Cole Harden, 2.05 Many Clouds, 2.40 Chance Du Roy, 3.15 Like Minded, 3.50 Riverside Theatre, 4.20 Mountain King, 4.50 Golden Milan.
GOWRAN: 1.50 Followmeuptocarlow, 2.25 Argocat, 3.00 Mazuri Cowboy, 3.35 Un De Sceaux, 4.10 Space Ship, 4.40 Federici, 5.10 Honeys Joy.
HAYDOCK: 1.45 Hawk High, 2.20 Celestial Halo, 2.55 EMPEROR’S CHOICE (NAP), 3.30 Flemenson, 4.05 Oscar Rock, 4.35 Dungeel, 5.05 Always Right.
LINGFIELD: 1.40 Apophenia, 2.15 Sagesse, 2.50 National Service, 3.25 Rebellious Guest, 4.00 Watersmeet, 4.30 Captain Starlight, 5.00 Compton Prince.
WINCANTON: 1.20 Advisor, 1.55 Tagrita, 2.30 Lamps, 3.05 Aldopicgros, 3.35 Zarkandar, 4.15 Knight Of Noir, 4.45 Carry On Sydney.
DOUBLE: Emperor’s Choice and Captain Chris.