The Peter Marsh Handicap Chase (3.15) takes centre stage on Haydock’s Saturday card and Highland Lodge is taken to defy his veteran status for one last hurrah.
Now a 12-year-old, Highland Lodge has thrived in his golden years under handler James Moffatt having joined the yard back in 2015.
A win in the Becher was followed by a neck second in the same race 12 months later, before an unsuccessful tilt at the Grand National in April.
Dropped fully 10lb for that run, Higland Lodge jumped superbly on his fourth career run in the Becher last month, jockey Henry Brooke getting plenty of his rivals in trouble a long way from home but was run out of things at the last by Blaklion and eventually ran out of steam in third.
That was a mighty performance from Moffatt’s charge – who clearly retains plenty of love for racing – and given Blaklion could well be the Grand National winner in-waiting, with tomorrow’s test just shy of three miles two furlongs on heavy ground set to suit, this should be well within his sights.
Rock The Kasbah would rate a big danger having skipped the Welsh National for this assignment but I’d say his revised mark of 149 leaves him a bit high in the weights here, while mud-lover Yala Enki hasn’t raced with the same zest in three starts this season. All things considered, Highland Lodge looks the bet at 16-1 (bet365).
Down at Ascot, Un De Sceaux should prove very difficult to beat in the Clarence House Chase (3.35).
A winner of eight of his nine starts of hurdles, Willie Mullins’ charge has been top-class over fences, winning this race for the past two seasons, including last year when it was switched to Cheltenham on Trials Day.
A mud-lover with bags of speed, Un De Sceaux has proved nigh on unbeatable when conditions fall his way, namely a two miles on soft or heavy ground, and he comes here in top form having won the Hilly Way in decisive fashion at Cork in December, thrashing nearest rival Top Gamble by 25 lengths hard held.
His main market rival here, Brain Power, is some 10lb inferior on official ratings and with the going set to be pretty testing at Ascot, it’s hard to see past another victory for this likeable 10-year-old, en route to a tilt at retaining his Ryanair Chase crown at the Festival. Get him in the book now for that contest at 4-1.