Punting pointers and trainer views for the day's big race over jumps
Pertemps Network Swinton Handicap Hurdle | 1m7½f | ITV4/RUK
Evan Williams has become the man to beat in the last big handicap hurdle of the spring and he has landed the prize in three of the last five years.
Nothing ever looked like getting the better of his John Constable, who was left clear at the last flight 12 months ago and bounded home a 14-length winner.
The seven-year-old is 22lb higher in the weights as he bids to emulate previous dual winners Dreams End and Eradicate in a race in which Williams also runs Silver Streak, who will be better suited by this ground than when sixth in a muddy Imperial Cup at Sandown in March.
"John Constable's in good form but he's got plenty of weight," the trainer said. "There's no doubting that on his day he's a good horse but it's tough to win a race like this off top weight.
"Silver Streak has a great racing weight and Tom O'Brien has won on him before and gets on well with the horse."
Two chances of a first winner for Nicholls
Paul Nicholls is overdue a first victory in this race and both his runners have been big fancies in the ante-post betting.
Act Of Valour looked the likely winner until outstayed in the latter stages on testing ground at Sandown last time, while Capitaine appears attractively treated on a mark 12lb lower than his chase rating.
Nicholls said: "Capitaine ran nicely at Cheltenham last time out and may have needed the run, so I’m sure he'll have improved for it.
"He hadn’t run for a long time because of the ground and got a little tired coming up to the last at Cheltenham. I've always had this race in mind and hopefully he'll improve for it.
"Sadly Act of Valour missed out on a spot in the Chester Cup but has a nice weight. He ran very well on the last day at Sandown and I think a flatter track could suit him better. He looked a winner jumping the last that day so I think he'll run well."
Skelton the man in form
No trainer has made a quicker start to the 2018-19 season than Dan Skelton, who's had two horses placed from just four runners in this race.
Last year's second Optimus Prime tries again, switching back from chasing after running a respectful second to the mighty Footpad in Grade 1 company at Punchestown last month, and is joined by stablemate Ashkoul, who won at Fakenham last month.
Skelton said: "Ashkoul won last time and has a chance off no weight. Bridget Andrews gets on well with him.
"Optimus Prime ran a good race when second in the race last year. He's better off with the winner and there is nowhere else to go."
What they say
Donald McCain, trainer of Dear Sire
He has a chance. Obviously he's going up the weights all the time and it's getting tougher for him but he's a wonderfully consistent little horse who's in great nick and I think fastish ground round Haydock will really suit him.
Seamus Mullins, trainer of Chesterfield
He's in good form and we're looking forward to it. He was a bit unlucky at Ayr last time as he got hampered at the second, lost tactical position and was always playing catch-up. This is his time of year and his ground.
Alan King, trainer of The Unit and William H Bonney
The ground should be ideal for both. The Unit ran well in the Scottish Champion Hurdle and I hope he'll be that little bit sharper having had the experience back over hurdles. William H Bonney has had a wind operation since his last run. He travels well and he's not been finishing his races so let's hope that brings some improvement.
Charlie Longsdon, trainer of Forth Bridge
This time of year suits him, with good ground and good weather. He was 16-1 in the week but he was ahead of Capitaine last time and he is better off at the weights with Dear Sire from when that one beat him at Musselburgh.
Tony Carroll, trainer of Havana Beat
He enjoys the hurdling game. I've been very pleased with how he's gone and I'd be hopeful but I'd like to see a bit of rain. The ground would be the only concern.
Peter Bowen, trainer of Lord Napier
He did it well last time but it's a huge step up to the Swinton from Perth. He wears a tongue-strap and may improve a bit for that. The ground will suit him as well.
Richard Newland, trainer of Hassle
It's a big ask on his first run back after a long time off but he's really well and I hope he gives a good account. He had a little fracture but he's made a full recovery and he's in good form. Sam Twiston-Davies knows him well and has won on him twice.
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