FRENCH raider Baracouda (2.40) is impossible to oppose in this afternoon's £26,000 PricewaterhouseCoopers Hurdle at Ascot.

Francois Doumen's smart hurdler was unbeaten in three visits to this country last season, including a spectacular display at the course in December. He spreadeagled a top-class line-up in the Grade 1 Long Walk Hurdle.

There's good money on offer for the later £12,000 Showcase Handicap and not surprisingly a decent field has assembled for the extended two-mile hurdle contest.

Keep an eye out for Ginger Fox, once highly-rated by the Pitman camp, but out through injury for a mind-bending 849 days.

He must be pretty useful to have been persevered with for so long, although he might just be a little ring rusty and so the vote goes to Misconduct (3.40).

Johnny Portman's dashing grey mare was in no mood for defeat when she powered clear of Romero at Sandown recently, a useful performance which suggested her winning streak was far from over.

Punters wanting to get off to a flyer at Exeter might consider having a flutter on Eric's Bett (12.40).

He's a bit suspect on the stamina stakes, although the fast ground will help and Eric's Bett appears to reserve his best for the track, universally regarded as one of the fairest venues in the country.

Martin Pipe introduces a potentially exciting recruit to the National Hunt arena in the shape of St Helensfield (1.15) in the Bonusprint Novices' Hurdle.

St Helensfield was no mug on the flat when trained by Mark Johnston, paying his way with a smattering of victories in middle-distance handicaps.

And he rarely flinched in the heat of battle, an admirable trait when preparing for a career over jumps.

Southwell has once again attracted a bumper entry and consequently sorting the wheat from the chaff is far from easy.

One runner does come out of the page and hit me between the eyes, Susan's Dowry (12.50), in the mile-and-a-half Alfonso The Wise Handicap.

The five-year-old mare unaccountably ran an absolute stinker on turf at Newcastle last month.

It was surely too bad to be true, but in any case her sand form is significantly superior to that on grass.

Susan's Dowry is certainly not harshly-treated off a mark of 48 and in the hands of Fergal Lynch should be in the shake-up, provided he doesn't make his move too early in the home straight.