Dan's dare can pay off with Shelford
Shelford has an outstanding chance of providing Dan Skelton with back-to-back triumphs in The Ladbroke at Ascot today.
Willow's Saviour handed the Alcester handler the first big-race success of his career in the prestigious handicap a year ago and the yard has continued to go from strength to strength, with Shelford starring already this season.
A former useful Flat performer for three different yards, the five-year-old made an encouraging debut for his new trainer when runner-up at Ascot in late March, after which he was given a well-earned summer break.
There was a lot to like about his comeback victory at Chepstow in early October and he returned to the Welsh circuit later that month to take out the Grade Three Silver Trophy Handicap Hurdle.
A 7lb rise to a mark of 134 may initially seem harsh enough, but the Chepstow runner-up Aubusson went on to land the fiercely competitive 'Fixed Brush' Handicap Hurdle at Haydock and with a revised rating in the 150s, he tests the water at the top level in the Long Walk.
Shelford, on the other hand, comes back in trip to two miles, but with demanding conditions set to prevail, that should not be too much of an inconvenience.
He is certainly open to further progress and it is difficult to see him finishing out of the frame granted a clear round.
A disappointing field of just five runners go to post for the JLT Long Walk Hurdle, with Reve De Sivola bidding for a third successive victory in the race.
He has conditions to suit, but recent efforts have been below par and he does not rate an attractive betting proposition.
His aforementioned stable companion Aubusson is respected, but it is hard to look beyond Paul Nicholls-trained favourite Zarkandar.
A regular at the top table for a number of years, the seven-year-old endured a frustrating campaign last time, filling the runner-up spot behind Annie Power on a couple of occasions and The New One before finishing fourth at Cheltenham and Aintree.
The seven-year-old showed he remains as good as ever when notching a deserved Grade One victory at Auteuil last month and this three-mile-one-furlong contest appears an excellent opportunity for him to strike gold at the top level for a fifth time.
The Tommy Whittle Handicap Chase takes centre stage at Haydock, with Firebird Flyer likely to go well for Evan Williams.
The seven-year-old was an impressive winner of a good race at Ludlow in February, after which he performed with credit over both fences and hurdles on Merseyside.
He won with plenty in hand on his seasonal reappearance over smaller obstacles at Ffos Las, suggesting he may even have raised his game this term, and he might not be badly handicapped if that is the case on his return to chasing.
The ultra-demanding conditions he is likely to face hold no fears for him.
Talented bumper mare Bon Chic is of definite interest as she makes her jumping and British debut at Fakenham tomorrow.
Seventh on her racecourse introduction in last season's Goffs Bumper at the Punchestown Festival, Bon Chic went on to be placed behind the exciting Valerian Bridge at Cork before breaking her duck at Punchestown in October. Bon Chic should be a tough nut to crack tomorrow.