Leading trainer Paul Nicholls has ruled Silviniaco Conti out of defending his Betfair Ascot Chase crown and also the Cheltenham Festival next month.
The stable star will now be aimed at Aintree and so Vibrato Valtat could fly the flag for Nicholls at Ascot on Saturday 18thFebruary.
Ascot's feature is the Grade One £150,000 Betfair Ascot Chase, with a strong support card including the Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase.
Nicholls gave an update on his plans for Ascot and the next few weeks.
"It is a bit far ahead to be making firm plans, but I have a couple of possibles,” he said.
"We won the Betfair Ascot Chase with Silviniaco Conti last year but he is not going to make it this year unfortunately - he is not quite right at the moment. He will miss Cheltenham and be aimed at Aintree.
“So if we do run something it will be Vibrato Valtat. He will be a bit of an outsider but, looking at the entries, I could see the race cutting up.
"Vibrato Valtat has been running well in all those good races - he had a breathing operation after his run before Christmas and came back at Kempton recently and ran very, very well to be second.
"He is in no man's land really. I can run him in a Warwick handicap off 11st 12lb or against Grade One horses in the hope of picking up some prize money. He is a tough, genuine horse who always gives us a bit of fun in those top races.
"Conti is all right - he will run again this season, possibly at Aintree on a bit of decent ground. He is not easy to keep right nowadays.
Another hope for Nicholls at Ascot on Saturday 18thFebruary is Arpege D’Alene who has big ambitions this year at the Cheltenham Festival and the Scottish National.
"Arpege D'Alene is almost certain to run in the Reynoldstown Novices' Chase (Grade Two, 3m) at Ascot. He is a good staying chaser - he won his novice chase at Aintree in November after being just beaten in the Pertemps Final at Cheltenham last season,” Nicholls added.
"He has been running well over fences and did so at Cheltenham on his last start when he had plenty of weight in a handicap.
"The idea is to go to Ascot and then he will go for the four-miler (J T McNamara National Hunt Chase) at the Cheltenham Festival where Will Biddick will ride him. Four miles will suit him as he stays so well, being by Dom Alco.
"After that, it may be the Scottish National, the route taken by Vicente last year. Arpege D'Alene will gallop and stay forever and one thing he has been crying out for is a real trip. He does not want the ground bottomless, though."
Tickets for Betfair Ascot Chase Day at Ascot on Saturday 18thFebruary are on sale now, from £24.Find out more.