Saturday January 18th
A poor line-up numerically with only the eight runners. Thomas Darby and last year’s winner Ballymoy are back from unsuccessful stints over fences, the latter looking not in love with it to say the least at Bangor last time – the former is the preferred of the pair as there’s nothing wrong with his Supreme Novices’ Hurdle-second, and he’s related to plenty of 2m4f-performers. Soul Emotion* was made too much use of at Newbury last time, every chance three out till he couldn’t go with likely winner Howling Milan who fell at the last, and he could run well; however for many this revolves around Pic D’Orhy, a smart hurdler in his native France, but an ordinary one on his form thus far for Paul Nicholls – he was down the field in the Triumph Hurdle on his only completion for his current yard, although he moved comfortably till blundering at the second last, dropping away after that to be beaten 20 lengths behind Pentland Hills, and he fell halfway in the Prix Renaud Du Vivier at Auteuil on his only run so far this season.
Two others from Pic D’Orhy’s age group do look likely to run well though. The front-running Song For Someone* was only headed at the last when a good third to Mack The Man at Sandown and he stayed well on the Flat, while The Knot Is Tied* – while one you couldn’t fancy on this season’s form (went off too fast in the Silver Trophy at Chepstow on reappearance) – stays well on the Flat and over hurdles, has had a wind operation and has the Welsh Grand National-winning jockey Jack Tudor taking off 7 lbs. They are preferred at morning betting odds to Haydock winner Bold Plan, who went up 10 lbs for that success back in November, around 9 lengths down with three to jump and finally getting to the front in the final 100 yards. Finally there’s Jolly’s Cracked It, who runs Ascot well, but flopped on both runs over 2m3f or more to date and is swerved for that reason.
Shortlist: Soul Emotion, Song For Someone, The Knot Is Tied
Not firing on all cylinders this season, and disappointed last time at Ascot behind Regal Encore, pushed along before omitted fences going towards Swinley Bottom, a little groudn under a push before 4 out, mistake 3 out, no more approaching home turn, going on well after last but never a factor. Weight-carrying or the trip aren’t issues and he’s best watched for now
Followed up her betvictor Gold Cup-win with a good effort in Listed mares’ chase at Doncaster on December 29th, always up with the pace, loomed up going comfortably going to 3 out, the better jump and led there, pushed along, didn’t assert as La Bague Au Roi battled back, upsides 2 out, hard ridden approaching last in a three-way go, upsides jumping, hard driven, stayed on well, led 150 yards out, sustained effort, caught by Lady Buttons final stride, went down with honours. Seems sure to go well again
Assuming he’s a non-runner (runs in Peter Marsh at Haydock) – hasn’t officially been withdrawn at the time of posting this
After good win in Sir Peter O’Sullevan Memorial at Newbury, up with the pace throughout, failed to stay 3m in Rowland Meyrick at Wetherby on Boxing Day, on and off the bit throughout, prominent to midfield starting final circuit, not fluent 12th, mistake 13th, niggled along 14th, firmly pushed along turning out of back straight, hard driven home turn, kept on and in rear of leading group approaching 4 out, every chance under a push from there to 3 out where just about upsides, put under pressure and couldn’t find extra from 2 out, held in 3rd when mistake last, weakened run-in, looked heavy-legged and was relegated to 5th in last 175 yards. Looks likely to struggle of his 145-mark, not dropped after Wetherby
Espoir De Guye*
Lines up on the hattrick having pretty well breezed up at Ascot just before Christmas, moved best 3 out, loomed upsides First Flow home turn, at most niggled along and led approaching 2 out, pushed along and ran on to draw clear approaching last, pushed out from last, stretched further clear, readily with a little in hand over My Way. Obvious contender
Non-runner (runs in Peter Marsh at Haydock)
Domaine De L’Isle
Another who lines up on the hattrick after winning well over 2m7f at Newcastle on January 4th, midfield approaching 10th, further ground and prominent 13th, travelled comfortably and tracked leaders home turn, moved best after 4 out, disputed lead 3 out, shaken up 2 out, effort and led approaching last, ran on to quickly draw further clear early on run-in, decisive with a little in hand over the reopposing Sam’s Adventure. Sure to go well
Useful on his day but no wins since going in at Perth in April 2018, his first two starts last season a write-off. In first time cheekpieces, ran well for a long way when eventually finishing 4th to Frodon in Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham last January, disputed lead 15th, niggled along approaching 3 out, pecked on landing, pushed along approaching home turn, driven turning in, weakened under a ride approaching 2 out, well held before mistake last, no more. All three of his wins have been right-handed, and the only other time he raced this way round he was 2nd; he’s won fresh before and he could well play an active part here
Good run on reappearance when 3rd to Graceful Legend in Anne Duchess Of Westminster Memorial at Bangor, but modest efforts since, last time at Chepstow over Christmas 4th to Tiquer, moved comfortably enough when mistake 5 out, not shaken up before blundered 4 out, ridden away from it, no impression and faded before not fluent 3 out, hard driven, made no ground before mistake 2 out, no more approaching last. Has become well treated and can’t be dismissed
Two bumper wins and a sole victory over hurdles to his name; yet to win a chase, but fair to say he’s run into a couple on his last two starts – the progressive Lord Du Mesnil at Newcastle two runs ago and the reopposing Domaine De L’Isle at Newcastle last time, chased leader 13th, niggled along approaching home turn, 2 lengths down 4 out, moved comfortably enough, disputed lead 3 out, ridden, led but immediately challenged by Domaine De L’Isle, the worse jump 2 out, headed, put under pressure, rallied, still a chance till mistake last, no extra. If able to act on the right-handed track (only once raced this way), he could run well again
Aintree My Dream
His form has been lagging his handicap mark for a while now and, sent over hurdles on his last three runs, not much sign of getting it back when 3rd to Applesandpierres at Leicester over 2m on December 28th, midfield 5th, further ground to chase leader turning out of back straight, pushed along approaching 3 out, soon hard driven, stayed on and every chance (along with several others) approaching 2 out, weakened nearing it and blundered, hard driven and no impression approaching last where mistake, kept on run-in. His 127-mark is undoubtedly favourable, but he’s raced off good marks since late-October
Shortlist: Happy Diva, Espoir De Guye, Allysson Monterg
The rematch between Defi Du Seuil **and Un De Sceaux* from the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown looks likely to go the same way as the first meeting between these top two-mile chasers, Defi Du Seuil pulling out more after the last; Un De Sceaux, who’s now 12, played his part though in a cracking race – along with Waiting Patiently, who sadly will miss the rest of the season – and won’t be a pushover, likely to go from the front as he often does. The Haldon Gold Cup-winner Janika acts well with give in the ground and should get the bronze medal, then Capeland – who Ascot racegoers have seen a lot of already – in fourth, and Wetherby winner over Christmas Marracudja in fifth. They changed the tactics on Marracudja in the Castleford Chase and went from the front, rather than dropping him in, so maybe he’ll take on Un De Sceaux, and if so that’ll just play into Defi Du Seuil’s hooves. With Altior on the missing list, who knows – the Queen Mother Champion Chase-winner could be in this race.
Selection: DEFI DU SEUIL – Alternative: Un De Sceaux