Paul Nicholls can choose from a powerful team of four after 18 entries were revealed for next month’s Betfair Ascot Chase at Ascot.
The Ditcheat trainer has four victories in the two-mile-five-furlong feature to his name, and recent Kempton Grade Two winner Master Tommytucker is the one from his quartet described as “definitely” on course for the February 20 showpiece.
It is his 2019 winner Cyrname, however, that heads the betting with the sponsors – with dual King George hero Clan Des Obeaux and Real Steel also in the mix.
Nicholls said: “Of our four, Master Tommytucker definitely goes for the Betfair Ascot Chase.
“It just looks the obvious race for him, given the trip and everything, and I don’t see the track posing any problems at all. He is improving rapidly and deserves his place in a race like this.
“Cyrname’s main target could be the Gold Cup, although we have not made a final decision on that.
“The Betfair Ascot Chase is another option we wanted to have, but if we decide to go for the Gold Cup, then he won’t be able to run in both races. We will have to make our minds up over the next fortnight about what we want to do.
“After how impressive he was in the Charlie Hall, I was keen to aim him towards the Gold Cup. Then obviously what happened at Kempton (pulled up in the King George) didn’t help, but I have put a line through that.
“Clan Des Obeaux will run in the Denman Chase at Newbury – although with the way the weather is at the moment, we felt it was worth making an entry for Ascot just in case.
“Real Steel is a possible for Ascot, but he would not want to run if the ground is too soft. We may keep him fresh for the Ryanair.”
Riders Onthe Storm (Nigel Twiston-Davies) took top honours 12 months ago as Cyrname fell, and he may attempt to emulate Riverside Theatre (2011 and 2012) as the only horse to win the race in successive years.
Other proven top-level performers among the entries include Ryanair Chase second Saint Calvados (Harry Whittington) and 2019 Betfair Chase scorer Lostintranslation (Colin Tizzard).
Leading owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede have four entries, all in the care of Nicky Henderson – Caribean Boy, Janika, Terrefort and Top Notch. Henderson is also responsible for Mister Fisher, winner of the rearranged Peterborough Chase at Cheltenham in December.
Venetia Williams is represented by Fanion D’Estruval, a creditable fourth behind First Flow in last weekend’s Clarence House Chase at Ascot, and recent Chepstow scorer Cepage.
Dashel Drasher (Jeremy Scott) has enjoyed two victories over the course and distance this season, most recently defeating Bennys King (Dan Skelton) in a valuable handicap chase on the Clarence House card – a race Cyrname won in 2019 before his Ascot Chase success.
Caspian Caviar Gold Cup second Midnight Shadow (Sue Smith) and Kalashnikov (Amy Murphy) are also engaged.
Betfair spokesman Barry Orr said: “Off the back of a good run in the King George, Cyrname went off the 4-11 favourite in this race last season when seeking back-to-back wins.
“He is still at the head of the market for this year’s renewal, although is 2-1 following his disappointing run in the King George last time out.
“On these entries, it looks like a strong field could go forward, and that is reflected in the betting.”