Linfoot: Express delivery

Ben Linfoot bids to follow up his 25/1 winner in the Betfair Hurdle as he seeks out the value from Ascot and Haydock on Saturday.

The Grade One Betfair Ascot Chase has been a fine pointer towards the Ryanair Chase in recent years, but the one already proven Ryanair horse among the six-strong field,RAJDHANI EXPRESS, has been overlooked in the betting and is worth backing at 20/1.

He’s up against some promising types on Saturday, including Balder Succes, Ballycasey and the novice Ptit Zig, as well as stablemate Ma Filleule, but none of that quartet have been placed in a Grade One outside of novice company, unlike the selection.

He was a good third in last season’s Ryanair Chase, form that entitles him to be right in the mix at Ascot, and he would be much shorter in the betting were it not for some questionable efforts so far this campaign.

For whatever reason, he’s suddenly become a really difficult horse to settle on his last two runs and Sam Waley-Cohen had his arms pulled out at Ascot in November, while his mount wasn’t much better when eventually finishing last at Huntingdon a month later.

Given time to recover from those excursions, the better ground at Ascot on Saturday is a positive and hopefully the first-time hood will be too, an aid which Nicky Henderson reaches for in a bid to stop him being so keen early on.

If it works he’s no 20/1 chance on his Ryanair form alone, and it’s worth chancing the headgear has the desired effect at those sort of prices.

The best bet on the Ascot card could well be in the preceding race, the Les Ambassadeurs Casino Handicap Hurdle, as UNIQUE DE COTTE looks well worth chancing at 11/2.

The average field-size for this race over the last eight years has been 15, but only seven turn up this weekend and with no obvious early pace it could become tactical.

With Unique De Cotte having already proven himself over further – he won the conditional jockeys race over 2m 5f at Cheltenham’s November meeting – Tom Scudamore could well take the bull by the horns and make use of his mount’s stamina by trying to make all.

Even if he doesn’t, the impression he made when winning at Cheltenham, despite slipping and making errors, marks him out as the most interesting horse in this line-up and you can forgive him his Newbury defeat as it came too soon after his Prestbury Park victory.

It’s never alarming to see David Pipe reach for the tongue-tie after a short absence and, given the JP McManus-owned horse needs to go up around 10lb to get into races like the Coral Cup and the Martin Pipe race at Cheltenham, he is one to side with this weekend.

Finally, the Betfred Grand National Trial up at Haydock is going to be a real test of stamina as usual and it’s no surprise to see former Welsh National winner Monbeg Dude at the top of the betting, while last year’s winner Rigadin de Beauchene is dropping back down the weights and would go close with a clear round of jumping.

However, the most appealing bet is Philip Hobbs’ GAS LINE BOY at 11/1, as he hosed up over the course and distance in November with subsequent Welsh National winner Emperor’s Choice well beaten in second.

Up 15lb, Gas Line Boy was pulled up in the Chepstow feature, but that’s the second time he’s failed to complete at the Welsh track and he should be much more at home back at Haydock judging by the manner of his success at the course earlier in the campaign.

The handicapper has had a quick rethink, too, dropping him back 5lb to 142 so he’s ‘only’ 10lb higher than when thrashing his Haydock rivals the last time he was in the North West.

He’s a decent bet at double-figure prices and at 20/1 so is Sandy Thomson’sHARRY THE VIKING.

This horse is extremely well-handicapped on his old form – he was rated almost 20lb higher in his pomp with Paul Nicholls – and he’s an out-and-out stayer as he first suggested when finishing second in the four-miler at the 2012 Festival.

He’s been on the decline ever since that effort, but cheekpieces have seen him bring a relative level of consistency to his performances of late and there was plenty to like about his most recent second at Kelso.

That was only in a veterans chase, but those sort of contests are reliable form guides for these staying contests as they are made up of experienced and reliable horses and he jumped well on the front end under Derek Fox.

Lie Forritt ultimately had too much zip for Harry The Viking at Kelso, but Thomson’s horse was 2lb out of the handicap that day, he gets a 5lb pull at the weights here and the extra emphasis on stamina can help him reverse the form.