Hobbs bullish over Captain
Philip Hobbs feels Captain Chris will adapt to the testing ground when he goes for glory in the Betfair Ascot Chase on Saturday.
The nine-year-old handled conditions well enough to win the Amlin 1965 Chase at the Berkshire course in November, and then ran a tremendous race in the King George VI Chase at Kempton when he was only beaten a neck by Long Run.
"Ideally he wants better ground but he won the Amlin on heavy," said Hobbs.
"He seems in great form and he was always going to have a few weeks off after the King George.
"You can always supplement for the Ryanair, but the Gold Cup has always been the plan and we want to keep our horses apart.
"He ran a fantastic race at Kempton and is in very good form.
"He always had a tendency to jump right, so it shouldn't matter too much at Ascot."
Finian's Rainbow has something to prove after finishing a well-beaten last of four behind Captain Chris on his seasonal reappearance.
Last year's Queen Mother Champion Chase hero has had a wind operation since then and needs a run.
"We've always said we don't want to run him on soft ground, but we haven't got a choice and there's nowhere else to go," said trainer Nicky Henderson.
"I'd have loved to have had another week but I want to give him a run and we will be able to decide about Cheltenham after Saturday."
Colin Tizzard expects Cue Card's performance will tell him which race to go for at Cheltenham, the Ryanair Chase or the sportingbet.com Queen Mother Champion Chase.
The seven-year-old has to put behind him a disappointing display in the King George when he failed to last out the three miles.
"This is a race we planned from Christmas to take in before Cheltenham," said Tizzard.
"He didn't get three miles on heavy ground on Boxing Day. Whether he'll get three miles another day there, I don't know.
"Our view is if he's going to run in the Ryanair he needs to nearly win this.
"If he doesn't stay he can go back and take on Sprinter Sacre in the Champion Chase.
"We will keep the options open to the end, but Ascot should show us which way we are going to go at Cheltenham."
Somersby was far from disgraced on his first run of the campaign, when third to Sprinter Sacre in the rearranged Victor Chandler Chase at Cheltenham. The Mick Channon-trained gelding had won that race last season when it was at its traditional home at Ascot when he defeated Finian's Rainbow.
Somersby's rider Dominic Elsworth is expecting a decent run as the nine-year-old returns to the Berkshire venue.
"I'm looking forward to it. I was pleased with his run at Cheltenham and he has come out of the race well," he said.
"Obviously it was his first run for a while and he was against Sprinter Sacre, so you had to be pleased enough with the run.
"The ground wouldn't have been ideal for him, it was really testing.
"He's back at Ascot, where he has run very well in the past, and I don't see the trip being too much of an issue - he has won over two and a half miles."
Ghizao was well ahead of Finian's Rainbow when third to Captain Chris here in November. His co-owner Andy Stewart believes the nine-year-old will be hard pressed to land this prize.
"He is 100% fine, but probably not good enough to beat Cue Card. It's a competitive race," he said.
"He has got it all to do."
Pigeon Island is likely to be the complete outsider and his jockey Sam Twiston-Davies is hoping they can grab some of the prize money on offer.
"You will always get a great ride off him. It would be nice to nick a bit of prize money. Anything more we will be very grateful for," he told At The Races.
"It's a very open race and obviously Captain Chris is a very good horse."