Only one place to start really and that’s to reflect on the 20/1 winner last weekend in the Betfair Hurdle. Agrapart, ridden prominently throughout, was a wide margin winner at Newbury.
This weekend there is a Grand National trial at Haydock plus a number of good races on the Ascot card but we’re unlikely to repeat last week’s feat.
This race looks a really warm race for the Novices’ over a 2m3f trip where Yala Enki can confirm form with Duke Des Champs. The Venetia Williams trained gelding beat the Philip Hobbs charge in convincing style at Exeter in November.
Albeit this contest is over a 2f shorter trip but if Yala Enki can follow similar front-running tactics that saw him successful in the Lanzarote Hurdle at Kempton two starts back; if he does that he could make this a test of stamina, which could expose a few chinks in his rivals armour. He was only third by a length last time beaten by a well-handicapped Saddlers Encore in a Grade 3. At the current prices he justifies the selection.
Duke Des Champs has progressed well over hurdles but he is definitely worth taking for a future over fences. This son of Robin Des Champs is a big strapping type whose jumping had improved at Ascot last time when a comfortable winner. He is likely to track our pick and is the one to highlight as the main danger.
Of the rest Mr Mix is still unexposed having only had three runs for Paul Nicholls since joining from France. His run on stable debut behind Charbel looks a good run but his easy win at Taunton may have been down to the testing ground; this race is far stronger than that he won.
Premier Bond is one that could offer more here stepping up in trip for the first time. He beat William H Bonney last time and the second won at Towcester during the week boosting that form. On his hurdles debut he was second to O O Seven, who has since finished second to Yorkhill in the Grade 1 Tolworth Hurdle before winning an Albert Bartlett trial at Musselburgh. The step up in trip should bring the best out of him and being unexposed makes him interesting.
The other two are Big Chief Benny, useful in his own right but today may not be his day, and Aloomomo, who has been seen to better affect over fences this season. For the latter this is likely to be a race to get him fully prepped for a Handicap Chase at Cheltenham next month.
Advice: Yala Enki (7/2 Each-Way)
This is another good quality race at Grade 2 level for Novice chasers and this time I’m siding with the Philip Hobbs runner.
Onenightinvienna (blue silks in image, below) holds a Grand National entry. He won on his chase debut at Exeter beating Fletchers Flyer in heavy ground where he proved he was a stout stayer. This seven-year-old then ran a good race around Cheltenham to finish behind recent Towton winner Blaklion, which looks good form on paper, especially considering he beat Fletchers Flyer further this day. He went down narrowly last time at Kempton and the cheekpieces have been applied for this run, which if working boost his appeal here.
Ben Pauling’s Drumacoo won on stable debut after a 14-month absence and a switch from Michael Hourigan’s yard in Ireland. He wore the hood when winning at Huntingdon by a wide-margin but the form may not be the greatest; he beat the reoccurring theme here Fletchers Flyer that day. After such a long absence and wearing the hood the question is if he’ll bounce here or if the hood will work, so I’m willing to take him on here.
The other to mention is Vyta Du Roc, who has only had two starts over the larger obstacles. He won a weak race at Bangor before going down to Bouvereuil at Doncaster last time. He finished second to Thistlecrack in the Grade 1 Sefton Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree in April over this trip, so the return to it could see this grey back to his best.
Advice: Onenightinvienna (11/4 Win)
This is a slightly disappointing renewal of this Grand National trial. One thing is for sure – it’ll be a slog in these heavy conditions.
Rigadin De Beauchene won the race in was placed in 2013 before winning in 2014. Last year he was pulled up in this race last year but he runs off a 5lb lower mark than then. He does enjoy it around here but he could get taken on for the lead.
Cloudy Too won last time around here over 3m but the extra trip and this mark could catch him out. Gas Line Boy is likely to be prominent and could lead. He was fourth in this last year but hasn’t completed in his last two. He has the ability to go well and is 2lb lower than last year.
David Pipe’s Broadway Buffalo is quite interesting after he finished second in the 4m Chase at the Festival under Katy Walsh, who is booked to ride here. He won a slog in testing conditions here in December 2014, so should be able to see out this trip.
It’s a very timid selection this one considering conditions but if in the same form as when winning the Welsh Grand National then Mountainous can keep the Kerry Lee Saturday bandwagon rolling. There looks to be a bit of early pace on, so with his proven stamina on this ground he is worth going with again if over that winning run 42-days ago.
Advice: Mountainous (5/1 Each-Way)
The Grade 1 Ascot Chase sees Silviniaco Conti wear first time blinkers in his potential quest for the Grand National where he has an entry. However despite his apparent quality he isn’t a horse I’ve really warmed too. He does have a win here at Ascot but looking at his record he doesn’t tend to run going right-handed. His record going this way is four wins from nine starts, which isn’t bad at all. Going left-handed he is nine from 18 but potentially the blinkers will help that problem. The drop in trip shouldn’t be too much of an issue though he has form over this trip and this track should test his stamina needs.
With all the talk of wind operations in the press it is worth mentioning Dynaste, who is said to have undergone the aforementioned procedure. David Pipe’s grey was behind Silviniaco Conti in the Betfair Chase but having had this treatment and in the tongue-time with blinkers hopefully he’ll be back to somewhere near his best form from when winning the 2014 Ryanair Chase at the Festival. If back close to that he is a big player but I’m not willing to take that chance.
Nicky Henderson’s pair are the two I’m trying to separate. Triolo D’Alene won the 2013 Hennessy Gold Cup, so has the back class. He returned from a year absence to win at Kempton last month but his nearest challenger Ptit Zig unseated giving him a cosy win in the end. He’ll need to find a bit more in this sort of class today but he has to be considered. My vote is tentative but Ma Filleule was second in this race last year behind the later ill-fated Balder Succes and can go one better this time around. She receives weight from her rivals and was suited by the drop in trip when winning a Mares’ Chase last time out. She was also second in the Ryanair, so has to be respected in this wide-open contest.
Flemenstar can’t be discounted if anywhere near his best but he isn’t the horse he was prior to his injury. A Grade 1 winner at Leopardstown in December before following home Felix Yonger in the Tied Cottage last time, but that form may not be the strongest. Andrew Lynch knows the horse well and is considered.
Advice: Ma Filleule (13/2 Each-Way)
This Staying Handicap Hurdle is another contest where plenty of the 14-runners have chances.
The one that stands out to me is Billy Dutton at a double figure price. He tends to be a reliable performer and is one that I’ve backed for a while now. He was probably out of his depth in a strong race at Cheltenham on New Years’ Day, so will welcome this drop in class today. Chris Down’s ten-year-old stays well and will handle the ground. This Ascot track is likely to suit him and the booking of Ciaran Gethings is quite eye-catching as his 5lb claim puts him on a nice mark for this race.
Petethepear is still unexposed and is upped in trip for this race. He is interesting but could be one for the future when over fences. 11-year-old Bangkok Pete has only had 15 career starts and last time out he bumped into the younger and more progressive Baywing. He may be knocking on but does have some smart looking form in the book.
What A Moment is still a six-year-old who could have more to offer in this sort of sphere. He’s from top connections and has only had three starts over hurdles. He is considered with the pedigree suggesting he should have plenty of stamina. Royale Knight won the stamina-sapping Durham National over fences at Sedgefield in October. He’s off a lower mark over hurdles plus Charlie Hammond claims his full 10lb allowance. He has proven stamina and will stay all day – if they go at a good gallop it could play to his strengths.
Advice: Billy Dutton (12/1 Each-Way)