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Noel Fehily: Silviniaco Conti can get back to winning ways at Ascot and why I’d run Annie Power in the Champion Hurdle

The dual King George winner looks back to his best ahead of Ascot and the Champion Hurdle has burst into life

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We’ve fitted blinkers on Silviniaco Conti in the Betfair Ascot Chase on Saturday to sharpen him up a bit as he’s dropping back in trip to 2m 5f.

I was down at Paul Nicholls’ yard to school him a fortnight ago and he looks very well. I think he’s really turned a corner and is back on song after a couple of below-par efforts this season.

He was still a little sluggish and under-performed in the King George on Boxing Day where he struggled from an early stage. Before that he was a bit laboured behind Cue Card at Haydock in the Betfair Chase, even though he finished second.

But he still beat Dynaste at Haydock and I’ll be disappointed if he can’t beat the David Pipe runner again.

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Royal Regatta is a solid handicapper while Irish challenger Flemenstar seems to have gotten a new lease of life in Ireland and could be interesting. He’s a multiple Grade One from 2m to 2m 4f and handles the ground. He should get the 2m 5f trip ok.

Triolo D’Alene was very good around Kempton last time and I can see him being involved in the finish but I’ll be disappointed if an on-song Silviniaco Conti can’t get his head in front.

Rest of Ascot card

There’s only six runners in the Reynoldstown Novice Chase (1.5opm) but it’s a tricky contest. I ride Minella Rocco for Johnjo O Neill and he’ll need to get his jumping together if his chase form is to match his novice hurdle form.

Ben Pauling’s Drumacoo was impressive at Huntingdon and while Vyta Du Roc was beaten at long odds-on at Doncaster he can improve for the step up in trip. Philip Hobbs’ Onenightinvienna is the highest rated in the field and his second to Blaklion at Cheltenham is probably the best form line to go on.

Later on the card I ride Muhtaris (4.10pm) who won on the Flat earlier this year at Southwell. He’d previously improved to finish second in a handicap hurdle at Wetherby a couple of months before that. Has had his problems so we’ll see how we go.

Harry Fry’s Calling Des Blins (4.45pm) makes her debut in a UK bumper after winning in France against the boys 12 months ago. Recent Sandown winner Connectable was fourth of four back then and while there’s a couple of winners in this race I’m hoping she’s competitive.

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Faugheen fallout

It’s amazing how Faugheen’s absence from the Champion Hurdle has now thrown the race wide open. You can now make or case for four or five of them winning it now. Before you’d have struggled to see most of them being placed.

If I owned Annie Power (and I had the money) I’d supplement her.

Even though she’s never won a Grade One race over 2m and it mightn’t be here ideal trip, she’s high class and she gets the mares allowance against her rivals. There’s probably more kudos in winning a Champion Hurdle too rather than a World Hurdle where she’d face some very tough, strong, stayers.

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There should still be an Irish winner as the English horses still don’t look good enough. My Tent or Yours misses the Kingwell Hurdle on Saturday so time is getting tight for him and The New One jumps too much to his right for my liking around a left-handed track like Cheltenham.

Henry De Bronhead’s Identity Thief  is improving.  He won the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle earlier this season well and has been freshened up after getting chinned at Leopardstown by Annie Power’s stablemate Nichols Canyon on unsuitable heavy ground.

It will be fascinating to see what the shake-out is if Willie Mullins has to rearrange his pack. But if ever a stable was equipped to do it – it’s the Irish champion trainer.

What do you think?