Tom George, trainer of the Betfair Chase third favourite Nacarat, is relishing the dashing grey's return to the top level in Saturday's Grade One feature at Haydock. The nine-year-old warmed up for his meeting with Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Imperial Commander with a convincing victory at Wetherby last month and has, apparently, been sparkling at home since.
"I'm not going to go as far as saying we'll beat the big guns," George said yesterday, "but we're going there to be competitive. The horse has come out of the Wetherby race really well and we are more than happy with him. And we're really looking forward to Saturday."
Nacarat's seasonal debut success was his first since he announced his potential as a big-stage player by taking the Racing Post Chase at Kempton in February last year. His progress last season, though, was compromised by niggling physical problems, and his appearances restricted to five.
"We seemed to be going round in circles before, but this year we've been able to train him properly," George said. "We've been able to do a lot more with him because he hasn't been feeling the aches and pains he did in the past, and we feel there's a lot more to come from him. He's working like a properly good horse now, whereas before he was just a normal horse."
Nacarat, who carries the colours of Simon Clarke, will have a new rider on Saturday, after the defection of Sam Thomas, who rode him at Wetherby, to more fancied rival What A Friend. Whoever takes over will be the fourth set of hands on Nacarat's reins in two years, but George remains unfazed by the prospect.
"He's a fairly straightforward horse," he said, "very much point and click, with a few little reservations. He's not the sort you can bully and if he does make a mistake, it's often because someone has demanded something. He's the type you have to make a suggestion to, and then just let him get on with it. But he's basically uncomplicated, and because he's physically stronger and in better shape than he has been, he finds it all easier, which in turn makes his jockey's job easier."
Neither Tony McCoy nor Paddy Brennan, Nacarat's most regular riders before Thomas, will be available at the weekend. "We have a few names on our list," said George, "and there won't be any shortage of volunteers."
With Thomas rejoining forces with Paul Nicholls on What A Friend, whom he partnered to Grade One victory in the Lexus Chase last year, one of that powerful stable's regular riders since the injury to stable jockey Ruby Walsh, Noel Fehily, will partner Master Minded for the first time at Ascot on the same afternoon as the top two-miler steps up in distance in the Amlin 1965 Chase.
It is often observed that picking a horse by its name is as good a way as any to find a winner. Certainly at Fakenham yesterday coincidence backers would have been quids in; on the day a certain engagement was announced, Tocatchaprince obliged at 8-1.
Sue Montgomery's Nap
Don't Turn Bach (2.00 Warwick) Disappointed in the spring, but with the close season, and surgery to aid his breathing, behind him can make a winning start over hurdles.
Sunset Kitty (7.40 Kempton) Outclassed over today's course and distance by an upwardly mobile type last time, but in turn was well clear of a stablemate who followed up with an easy victory on Monday.
One to watch
Outstayed over three miles on his chasing debut, Coup Royale (C L Tizzard) will remain on a competitive mark when dropped back in distance.
Where the money's going
Maljimar has been cut to 11-1 from 14-1 for Sunday's Becher Chase at Aintree by sponsors Totesport.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Azlaa (1.20 Lingfield)