With less than eight weeks to go until the Cheltenham Festival, trainers are now faced with the dilemma of whether or not to run their horses ahead of those fantastic four days in the Cotswolds.
For those not rated high enough to get into one of the handicaps, the decision to run is easy, but for those on the periphery of the weight range, things are a little more complicated.
Saturday’s Holloway’s Hurdle at Ascot (2.25pm) is a case in point, as a number of these may well be lining up in the Coral Cup or Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle in a couple of months.
When looking at the race earlier in the week, my big fancy was Ben Pauling’s Le Breuil, who strikes me as a well-handicapped horse.
He was hugely impressive when beating Gary Moore’s Benatar in a novice hurdle at Newbury last March and was then thrown in the deep end in a Grade One at Aintree.
That was a step too far so early in his career, but he ran well for a long way on his reappearance at Kempton behind Bags Groove.
A well-fancied even-money favourite on his next start at Aintree last month, he couldn’t quite live with Black Ivory, but there was no disgrace in that performance.
He was conceding nearly two stone to the winner and that one followed up in good style at Warwick last weekend.
If Le Breuil is declared, I will be backing him, but he’s rated 139 and that should be high enough to get into the Coral Cup, so Pauling may well decide to wait.
This race could cut up, as surely Nicky Henderson’s recent Kempton winners William Henry and Jenkins will be missing.
The one I think could still be well ahead of his mark is OXWICH BAY from Evan Williams’ Glamorgan stable.
He’s been very consistent this season, finishing second twice and then winning well at Ffos Las last month.
The key to him is this intermediate trip, as it certainly seemed to bring out some improvement on his last start.
Although he was comfortably beaten by one of Saturday's rivals Magic Dancer at Cheltenham in November, he technically has a 7lb pull at the weights with Mitch Bastyan’s 5lb claim.
Williams has had a good season so far and has some decent handicap hurdlers in his yard, so he should know where he stands with this one.
If you can find any 10/1, that will be a very fair each-way price.
The action gets underway with a juvenile hurdle (12.50pm) which has produced some very good winners over the past decade, including Binocular, Grandouet and Top Notch.
Alan King has won two of the last four and his NAYATI is strongly fancied to give him another success.
On his first start for the yard, he got the job done well at Newbury over Christmas, with King saying that he’d prefer slightly better ground.
He should get that, while the yard’s juveniles are performing well, as evidenced by Redicean’s comprehensive win at Kempton last weekend.
Speaking of in-form yards, and there aren’t many in better health than Seven Barrows.
Henderson has a few options in the closing novices’ hurdle (4.05pm), but none are more interesting than SANTINI who was so impressive on his stable debut at Newbury’s Ladbrokes Winter Carnival.
He came clear in the closing stages and stablemate Chef Des Obeaux, who finished a four-length second, won by 19 lengths on Saturday.
POINTERS – SATURDAY
Nayati 12.40pm Ascot
Oxwich Bay e/w 2.25pm Ascot
Santini 4.05pm Ascot