Bristol and Calvados have excellent claims

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Ascot and Haydock are the venues for the ITV cameras on Saturday and both tracks have attracted competitive and interesting fields that makes for appealing betting mediums.

Haydock slog right up Bristol’s street

The first race of interest to this column is the Grand National Trial Handicap Chase (14:40) at Haydock.

Now, there is no doubt that this is going to be an absolute slog. I have always considered heavy ground at Haydock to be a specialist surface, as plenty of horses that handle heavy ground elsewhere can’t seem to get through the mire at Haydock when the ground is testing. With the ground already being called heavy on Thursday with an abundance of more rain due to arrive, this really does promise to be a notably attritional contest.

There are a couple of horses in here that are very much proven on Haydock heavy, including Lord Du Mesnil, but the one I’m going to side with is Bristol De Mai.

The 11-year-old seems to have been around forever and has built a formidable record around Haydock over the years, winning five of his seven starts around there including three renewals of the Betfair Chase.

Significantly, he won on all three of the occasions that Timeform called the ground heavy when he ran at Haydock, including two renewals of the Betfair Chase where he beat Cue Card by 57 lengths (literally!) and Clan Des Obeaux by two lengths. In short, he has always operated particularly well in the highly-specialised conditions that will prevail on Saturday.

As well as that, the handicapper has given him a real chance. Now, the British handicapper has been dishing out remarkably lenient treatment to a whole host of British-trained horses this season so that tempers enthusiasm relating to seemingly generous treatment.

However, Bristol De Mai has been dropped 7lb for two runs this season, one of which was actually a very good run when a close third in the Fleur De Lys Chase at Lingfield last time. He is now off his lowest mark in five years and the return to Haydock heavy might well see him return to winning ways.

Calvados can be Saint of Betfair Ascot Chase

The main event of the entire weekend is of course the Betfair Ascot Chase at Ascot (15:38) and it has attracted a fiercely-competitive field of eight, of which literally any of them could win and not be considered a shock.

My heart will be with the Joseph O’Brien-trained Fakir D’Oudairies and while he looks to have a great chance, at the current prices my head is leaning towards the Paul Nicholls-trained Saint Calvados.

The nine-year-old established himself as a high-class chaser for Harry Whittington in recent seasons, though he didn’t convince with this stamina for three miles in a couple of attempts at it.

Switched to Paul Nicholls over the summer, the Ditcheat maestro gave him his first run of the season in the King George VI Chase at Kempton, but again his stamina seemed to run out, albeit having been put into the race too early off the back of a strong pace.

There is a chance that he could get three miles in the right circumstances, but all told it looks as though this sort of mid-range trip could well prove to be best for him.

Indeed, it is worth remembering that the last time Saint Calvados tackled a mid-range trip he finished an arguably unlucky neck second to Min in the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in 2020 with A Plus Tard and Frodon in third and fourth.

That is very strong form in the context of this race and if the return to a mid-range trip can bring him back to that sort of level, he will prove tough to beat.