With so many question marks hanging over the racing this weekend it is difficult to know what to expect. It’s a real shame as after a few winners last Saturday – I even thought Sir Valentine was going to get up for a few strides in the big race – we should have a few quid with to go to war. We’ll pretend Storm Dennis isn’t going to spoil the fun, anyway, and plough on regardless.
What a good race to get us underway, too – arguably the most informative of the afternoon.
I’m a huge fan of Colin Tizzard’s Copperhead, but I don’t really see him as a prospective RSA winner – more one for the old four-miler. While the heavy ground will slow the others down, this is a massive leap up in class and he needs to prove his effectiveness on ground this soft.
One who will have no problems at all with the ground is Sam Brown. In fact, he probably needs it like this. However, I thought he looked in trouble at one stage at Haydock last time out before the race fell apart around him and he ran out a ready winner.
I may be wrong and it may have been his stamina kicking in, but in PYM he faces by far the classiest horse he has met to date. Nicky Henderson’s runner never quite met the heights expected of him over hurdles but since going over the bigger obstacles he has looked a different proposition.
He has a course and distance win to his name and I really liked the way he pulled clear of a decent yardstick in Imperial Aura last time out at Cheltenham. The second is now rated 143 and Pym brushed him aside readily.
It always looks hard work for Two For Gold, and I’m always wary how many times horses can go to the well – and while Danny Whizzbang will be better suited to this track than Kempton over Christmas, I just wonder if he’ll be good enough.
While The Worlds End appears to have bounced right back to his best this season, holes can be picked in his form.
He won what was possibly one of the weakest Grade Ones run for some time last time out at Ascot, given Paisley Park scared everything else off, and then didn’t end up running.
L’Ami Serge, as we all know, is not the most resolute in a finish. He also beat Unowhatimeanharry at Wetherby, but he is close to qualifying for a bus pass so The Worlds End’s best run this season was probably when third to Paisley Park.
He’s giving away 6lb to the rest but in truth there is only one possible alternative and that looks to be EMITOM.
It has not been a great season to date for Warren Greatrex but there are signs things are improving. This was supposed to be one of his great big hopes but first time out this season he looked woefully short of match practice.
We know he is better than that, though, based on him getting within three lengths of Champ at Aintree as a novice and if he can reproduce anything like that he should go close. The ground should not be an issue either.
To me it looks like DOMAINE DE L’ISLE faces some really badly-handicapped rivals here, and he might be able to make it four on the bounce. Sean Curran has worked wonders with him since his arrival from France.
After one run in May, he outran 50-1 odds to finish a relatively close sixth at Newbury in November off a mark of 122 and since then there has been no stopping him. Wins at Chepstow, Newcastle and Ascot have followed and you’d have to think the step back up to three miles will be in his favour after he only just got up last time. With that in mind, I’m not too concerned about another 6lb rise.
You wouldn’t have thought Ballyoptic is up to winning off 157, but Valtor is only 2lb higher than when bolting up here last season. Captain Drake has been hammered by the handicapper for winning a relatively weak race, Red Indian was well backed on his return but looked a doubtful stayer and this is a bit different to the veterans’ final Jepeck won last time out.
With Fusil Raffles not turning up, this is unlikely to send any shockwaves through the Champion Hurdle market (it was unlikely to even if he had, in truth).
I suppose those who fancy Thomas Darby to make the frame in the Champion will be wanting Song For Someone to go close – and on ratings he should almost win. He’ll love the ground but the sharp track could be again him.
It looks a shootout to me between Quel Destin and CH’TIBELO.
He is a bit of a cliff horse of mine, I must admit, yet I failed to back him in the County Hurdle last season which still smarts. If he’s ever going to win one of these conditions races then surely this is it, although Quel Destin may be improving and is four years younger, this is likely to be Ch’tibello’s cup final as there’s nothing he can really go for at Cheltenham.
On a line through Call Me Lord, too, Dan Skelton’s runner just about comes out best given he was giving him 4lb when just over a length behind him at Cheltenham earlier this season while Quel Destin was getting 3lb when beating Call Me Lord by three lengths at Sandown.
GARO DE JUILLEY looks massively overpriced on his return to hurdles for Sophie Leech.
He has been novice chasing lately and has been running with respect against horses he had no right to be beating in truth. He has come up against the likes of Slate House, Mister Fisher, Midnight Shadow and Simply The Betts – all of whom are graded horses.
However, as a result his handicap mark has been dropping and he can run in this off 132. Given he won the Silver Trophy at Chepstow off 134 a couple of seasons ago he looks attractively weighted to me.
Obviously, he doesn’t have the profile of Eden De Houx, The Con Man or Dorking Bay, but this could turn into a real slog and we are probably better off with a horse who has plenty of miles in his legs.
The Con Man has a nice progressive profile but his last race might not have taken much winning and a 7lb rise seems harsh.
Lord Du Mesnil has made Haydock his home this season, and he has been mightily impressive. But the combination of a minor setback since his last race, much the toughest competition he has faced and another 10lb rise is just enough to put me off him.
Vintage Clouds bounced back to form in the Peter Marsh but he must carry 11lb more – while I’m not sure One For Arthur wants the ground as bad as it is going to be here.
Elegant Escape looks in the grip of the handicapper too, so I think it is between Yala Enki and THE TWO AMIGOS – with preference for the latter just because he is fresher.
They met in the Welsh National on the same terms with Yala Enki faring best in third, but this slightly shorter trip might favour The Two Amigos. Also, Yala Enki has had a run since at Taunton, which was a great bit of placing by Paul Nicholls and he managed to persuade the handicapper to leave his mark alone.
I also do like backing Bryony Frost in staying chases, but if The Two Amigos gets into a rhythm out in front he might be hard to peg back. He’s also still fairly unexposed under Rules. Crucially, he is almost double the price.
He’s not really a betting proposition, but it’s always a delight to watch the best horses and officially CYRNAME is THE best.
Absolutely everything is in his favour. A small field, the ground, and most importantly of all he absolutely loves Ascot.
He never looked happy in the King George for whatever reason, and yet still finished second. It’s probably accepted now that in beating Altior first time out this season it meant both had a very hard race and it clearly left a mark. He’s had 51 days to get over Kempton, though, and he’s unlikely to head to Cheltenham so he’ll be spot-on for this.
Riders Onthe Storm is a good rival for him to face because he has looked massively improved this season, and is around fourth or fifth favourite for the Ryanair. On ratings, he shouldn’t finish within hailing distance of the favourite – but he is at least a worthy rival.
Nap – PYM – Ascot 1:50
Next Best – GARRO DU JUILLEY (EW) – Ascot 3:00