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Ptit Zig holds all the aces in Ascot Chase

Ptit Zig looks a worthy favourite to further enhance his Cheltenham Festival credentials with success in the Ascot Chase today (3.50).

Trained by Paul Nicholls, the gelding was a classy hurdler, who has already achieved a similar level of form and is unbeaten in four starts over fences.

This six-year-old easily beat Josses Hill by nine lengths at this track on his penultimate start, and backed that up with an even better display at Cheltenham last month when disposing of a classy field by six lengths.

Ptit Zig stormed clear up the hill to beat the highly regarded Champagne West in the latter, with the pair pulling 19 lengths clear of third to give the form a solid look.

The manner of that success marked Ptit Zig out as a leading contender for the JLT Novices Chase at next month’s Cheltenham Festival, and he is currently Coral’s 7/2 second-favourite for the 2m 4f contest on Thursday, March 12th.

Ptit Zig may well be challenging Vautor (3/1) for favourite status if, as expected, he passes this test with flying colours against some experienced and classy types in the shape of Balder Succes, Ballycasey and Ma Filleule.

Balder Succes is trained by Alan King, and developed into a top class novice chaser last season when landing a brace of Grade 2 victories at Warwick and Kempton before going on complete a hat-trick in the Grade 1 Maghull Novices’ Chase at Aintree.

The seven-year-old finished fourth in this season’s Grade 1 Tingle Creek at Sandown behind leading Queen Mother Champion Chase hope Dodging Bullets, and got back to winning ways last time out when easily landing a Listed contest at Kempton by 10 lengths.

That is strong form and, off an official rating of 162, Balder is the highest rated in the line-up.

Ballycasey represents champion Irish trainer Willie Mullins and was a Grade 1 winner on home soil last season.

The eight-year-old took advantage on an easy opportunity to make a winning reappearance at Gowran Park, but was well beaten last time out at Leopardstown when seventh of eight to Twinlight.

This gelding needs to bounce back to figure in this and, although a strong travelling sort, Ballycasey often finds little off the bridle when push comes to shove. I can’t see him coming out on top if getting into a battle with Ptit Zig.

Ma Filleule receives a handy sex allowance of 7lb and may well prove the biggest danger to the selection.

The Nicky Henderson mare had a progressive profile season, and looked one to keep onside when romping to success in the Topham at Aintree.

This seven-year-old disappointed on her seasonal reappearance when well beaten in a Grade 1 at Down Royal, but stepped up significantly on that effort last time out when a close up third to Sam Winner at Aintree and looks to be returning to form.