G1 French Champion Hurdle hero L'Ami Serge heads 14 declared runners for the £80,000 Listed Sky Bet Handicap Chase (3.15pm), staged over three miles and the highlight of an excellent seven-race card at Doncaster this Saturday, January 27.
L'Ami Serge (Nicky Henderson, 11st 7lb), who tops Sky Bet's market at 3/1, is set for his first start over fences since December, 2016, and will be ridden by Davy Russell for the first time, with regular pilot Daryl Jacob in action at Cheltenham.
Owned by Simon Munir & Isaac Souede, L'Ami Serge has won two of his six chase starts so far including placed efforts at the both the Cheltenham and Aintree festivals during his novice campaign. He was last seen out when runner-up to Sam Spinner in the G1 Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot on December 23.
The weights are headed by Tenor Nivernais (Venetia Williams/Aidan Coleman, 11st 12lb, 14/1 with Sky Bet), who was the impressive winner of a Listed handicap chase at Ascot last season. No horse has carried 11st 12lb or more to victory in the Sky Bet Handicap Chase since Bob Tisdall defied 12st 5lb in 1988.
Flying Angel (Nigel Twiston-Davies/Sam Twiston-Davies, 11st 7lb, 8/1), successful in last season's G2 Kingmaker Novices' Chase at Warwick and G1 Manifesto Novices' Chase at Aintree, is having his first start in a handicap chase.
The seven-year-old finished fourth in Ascot's G2 Christy 1965 Chase in November before taking third, beaten 15 lengths, behind Definitly Red in the G2 Many Clouds Chase at Aintree on December 9, his first attempt beyond two miles and five furlongs.
Trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies, chasing his third victory in the race after Young Hustler (1993) and Beau (2000), said today: "Flying Angel is in good form.
"I don't think he has run too badly at all this season and Saturday will be his first run in a handicap for a long time. He hasn't run in a handicap since he was second over hurdles at Cheltenham [in March, 2016].
"He must have a good chance and I am looking forward to seeing how he gets on."
Alan King is bidding for his third straight victory in the race, following back-to-back wins for Ziga Boy, and saddles Label Des Obeaux (Wayne Hutchinson, 11st 6lb, 14/1), while Paul Nicholls, successful in 2005 and 2009, relies on Warriors Tale (Sean Bowen, 11st 2lb, 12/1).
Northern challenger Wakanda (Sue Smith/Henry Brooke, 11st, 8/1) runs after going down by a head in the G3 Rowland Meyrick Handicap Chase at Wetherby on Boxing Day.
Long House Hall (Dan Skelton/Harry Skelton, 10st 12lb, 10/1) makes his belated return to action, having not raced since July, 2016, when he recorded an impressive victory in the Listed Summer Plate Handicap Chase at Market Rasen.
Other leading contenders include G3 Kempton Park handicap chase victor Pilgrims Bay (Neil Mulholland/James Best, 10st 4lb, 12/1), the novice Thumb Stone Blues (Kim Bailey/Ciaran Gethings (3), 10st 1lb, 12/1)) and Mustmeetalady (Jonjo O'Neill/Richie McLernon, 10st 3lb), victorious last time out in a handicap chase over the course and distance.
Sky Bet Handicap Chase, Sky Bet odds:
3/1 L'Ami Serge
8/1 Flying Angel, Wakanda
10/1 Long House Hall
12/1 Pilgrims Bay, Thumb Stone Blues, Warriors Tale
14/1 Label Des Obeaux, Tenor Nivernais, Vibrato Valtat
16/1 Coologue, Mustmeetalady
28/1 Minella On Line
1/5 for first 4 places
Michael Shinners, Racing PR Manager at Sky Bet, commented: "We are all set for another thrilling renewal of the £80,000 Sky Bet Handicap Chase, a race Sky Bet has sponsored continuously since 2003.
"L'Ami Serge is Sky Bet's 3/1 favourite and it will be fascinating to see how this G1-winning hurdler fares on his first run over fences since December, 2016.
"Sky Bet is offering four places on the Sky Bet Chase, providing further interest for our customers in what should be a highly-competitive contest."
Doncaster's excellent seven-race card that also features three Grade Two contests plus the £50,000 Sky Bet Britain's Most Popular Online Bookmaker Handicap Chase (3.50pm, 16 entries) over two miles.
Possible runners include G1 runner-up Forest Bihan (Brian Ellison), multiple G2 victor Top Gamble (Kerry Lee) and exciting novice Bigmartre (Harry Whittington).