Ballycasey can prove a big snag in Ptit Zig's path to the top

Nicholls sees this exciting novice winning a Cheltenham Gold Cup one day

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The Independent Online

You need to go back to 25 October to find a Saturday when Paul Nicholls did not saddle at least one winner and it would take a brave punter to bet against that sequence being extended today when the champion trainer sends powerful battalions to all three televised jumps venues.

His big gun is Ptit Zig in the Grade One Ascot Chase. Nicholls sees this exciting novice winning a Cheltenham Gold Cup one day and in the meantime he is a strong Festival fancy for the JLT Chase next month. Ptit Zig faces his sternest test over fences to date as he steps out of novice company to take on a field that includes Balder Succes, Ballycasey and Ma Filleule, all roughly his equal on form, if lacking his potential.

Ballycasey (3.50 Ascot), a fine jumper in the main, though prone to the occasional costly blunder, has yet to fulfil his promise, but  conditions seem ideal for Willie Mullins’ raider and this might well be the day when he puts it all together.

No trainer is in better form than Mullins, who is operating at a strike rate of 50 per cent, exceptional even by his high standards. He has not just been shooting fish in a barrel, either; only one of his 12 winners this past week has been at odds-on.

Nicholls’ Benvolio is favourite for Haydock’s Grand National Trial following his gutsy near miss in the Welsh Grand National, but the fourth there Monbeg Dude has a fine chance of reversing the placings at the revised weights.

Ridden for the first time by Tony McCoy, Monbeg Dude is likely to be heavily backed and the outsider Harry The Viking (2.55 Haydock), a light of former years but still capable of mixing it in a race like this off bottom weight, makes more appeal each-way.

Ascot, Haydock and Wincanton are live on Channel 4 Racing today