THERE ARE EIGHT races for us to get our teeth into this afternoon. We start at Ascot where the advanced going is good to soft, soft in places.
The Grade 2 Warefield Mares Hurdle is due to go off at 14:05.
There is an Irish interest in this race with Our Girl Salley set to carry a penalty for her impressive win at Leopardstown. She will be up against two consistent mares in Kaffie and Kentford Grey Lady. The latter probably has two of the other runners, Cloudy Spirit and Violin Davis, held on their run at Kempton at Christmas.
It’s a bit of a step into the unknown for trainer Prunella Dobbs and Our Girl Salley, as the mare has yet to run over the three-mile trip. However Barry Geraghty gets on well with her and I doubt if they would be sending her over if they didn’t think she would handle it. I make OUR GIRL SALLEY the selection.
Next on the card at Ascot is the Holloway’s Hurdle, which goes off at 14:35. This Grade 2 is a limited handicap and it has a mixed bag of entries.
Royal Charm heads the weights. He is reverting to hurdling after running over fences for the last two years, but he looks to be on a confidence restoring mission after a few disappointing runs over the bigger obstacles.
The withdrawal of Torpichen leaves Alan King with just one entry, Smad Place, a horse who hasn’t run since March. While he has been working well, he is probably best watched.
Shoreacres reverted to hurdling in December after two years chasing. He’s been runner up in both his starts since and it’s difficult to know if he’ll appreciate the drop back in trip.
I’m going to take a chance with Ciceron. Venetia Williams’ charge came back to form earlier in the month and beat Ihaventgotascoobydo at Sandown. He was raised to a rating of 136 for that and having won off 135 back in February, he might be good enough to win this. The stable has come back to form recently and CICERON is a tentative selection.
Our final race at Ascot is the Victor Chandler (Clarence House) Chase, a Grade 1 over 2m1f. It goes to post at 15:10 and it promises to be a cracker.
Al Ferof impressed everyone on his debut at Cheltenham when he beat Astracad by seven lengths. He then had to work harder to beat For Non Stop — who recently lost to Cue Card by four lengths at Newbury — by a neck at Sandown in early December.
However, Al Ferof is a novice up against more experienced opponents and while he is a likely to be second favourite, it remains to be seen if he can cope with opposition of this class.
The one he probably has to fear most is Finian’s Rainbow, winner on eight out of his 11 starts under rules. Nicky Henderson’s horse made his seasonal reappearance at Kempton at the end of December and despite a bad blunder at the fourth last, had the class and speed to get back and beat Wishfull Thinking. He will improve for the run and is likely to go off the favourite.
Wishfull Thinking reopposes but I can’t see him turning the tables; Somersby doesn’t seem to be able to do it in the Grade 1 races; and Forpadydeplasterer likewise can’t seem to get his head in front anymore.
Gauvain has had a couple of impressive runs this season. He seems to have improved and could be each-way value.
But listening to Barry Geraghty during the week, I got the impression that he was quite confident about Finian’s Rainbow. Provided he puts in a clear round, I think that FINIAN’S RAINBOW will have the gears to win this and set himself up for Cheltenahm.
The first of four Grade 1/2 races at Haydock today is the William Hill.com “Supreme Trial” Novice Hurdle. This two-mile race goes off at 12:40, beginning what is supposed to be a trials day on the Merseyside course.
Only three runners go to post but it’s an intriguing little affair. The advanced going is reported as heavy and this could be the key for this race.
Double Ross has been tried over various distances by Nigel Twiston-Davis with just one win in five starts. However, that came when he beat subsequent winner Henry San by 15 lengths at Folkestone on soft ground.
Oscar Nominee finished down the field in two bumpers in Ireland last season before reappearing and winning by 27 lengths in a maiden hurdle at Southwell at the beginning of the month on good to soft ground.
But preference is for Donald McCain’s CINDERS AND ASHES who was a course and distance winner at the end of December, winning in a canter on heavy ground.
Next up at Haydock is the Grade 2 Altcar Novice Chase, which is due off at 13:10. Five runners have been declared, and this is sure to be another tricky contest.
Our Mick has won his last two races impressively and is in with a live chance. He carries a 4lb penalty for that last win, and while we don’t know if he’ll go on heavy ground, the expectation is that he should as he has won on soft previously.
Cotswold Charmer has only had one run over the larger obstacles, and although he should improve, I don’t think it will be enough against some of these.
Tom George’s Majala is interesting. He’ll go on the ground having won on similar in France. However, the trainer reported that the horse frightened himself at Wetherby at the end of December when he had to be pulled up. He’s been extensively schooled since but it remains to be seen if he takes to British fences, which are quite different to French ones. He’s one to watch.
The one I like is State Benefit who won a Beginners Chase without too much trouble at Exeter on New Year’s Day. He had fallen when leading at Fontwell on his previous run. He’s won on soft ground, and the trip won’t be a problem having won his point to point in Ireland. I think the 4lb he gets from Our Mick will give STATE BENEFIT the edge.
The Grade 2 Stan James Champion Hurdle Trial (13:45) is quite frankly anything but, with none of the main hopes for Cheltenham entered.
Celestial Halo is rated 16lbs above any of his three rivals. Torpichen was withdrawn from Ascot to run here, but he is 8lbs worse off than he was in his last meeting with the favourite, which he lost by two lengths. If form means anything, CELESTIAL HALO must win.
The Grade 2 Peter Marsh Chase over three miles will be a war of attrition, and is probably a race best watched.
I’ve always subscribed to the theory that the higher-weighted horses generally run best in these types of races. David Pipe’s Consigliere is 2lbs off the top of the handicap and was a facile 20-length winner of a 2m5f handicap chase at Wincanton on 7 January.
Prior to that he was a distant third to Quincy Des Pictons over 2m3f at Chepstow with another of today’s opponents, Take The Breeze, a nose away 3rd. The conditions of the race favour the latter to reverse placings here.
Pearlysteps, an out-and-out stayer, and Oscar Gogo will attract support. But jockey Harry Derham’s claim will allow TAKE THE BREEZE run off a very attractive mark on ground that should suit and I think he can win.
Finally we turn to Naas, where five go to post at 13:40 for the Grade 2 Woodlands Chase.
There is little to choose on form between Allee Garde, Four Commanders and Medical Card. For all that, Allee Garde has been rated 7lb superior to Four Commanders.
There was a lot to like about his reappearance when he beat Sonamix at Clonmel in early December, and he followed up finishing six lengths behind Last Instalment in third on good ground at Leopardstown over Christmas.
Today’s ground and the drop in class should suit despite Gigginstown’s double hand with Crash and Four Commanders. Take a chance with ALLEE GARDE to confirm rankings.
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