Ascot Race Preview, 19/12/2020

Ascot
Saturday December 19th

Ascot 2.25
Porsche Long Walk Hurdle Class 1 Grade 1
3m97y – Going: Soft (Heavy in places) – 9 runners

Main Fact*
Posted his ninth win in succession, Flat and jumps, when – after appearing to take no interest for much of the last circuit, as usual – he suddenly found loads under pressure to take what looked a competitive Grade 3 handicap hurdle at Haydock on November 21st, lost place back straight and last when mistake 9th, ridden along in last pair turning out of back straight, began to pick up under a ride approaching 3 out and passed a couple, continued to stay on and was closing in 6th when not fluent 2 out, hung left, hard driven (left-hand whip) and moved into 5th with 4 or 5 lengths to find jumping last, strong effort under pressure and passed them all to lead 125 yards out and beat the reopposing Third Wind nearly 3 lengths. The heavy going at Haydock proved no problem and the ground here may go the same way given the weather forecast; he’s only a lb worse off with Third Wind as well, and even though he’s taking on better rivals (has 20 lbs to find with some of these), he might go close again – with his run style it might be that he keeps something for himself, but up to now he’s pulled out what’s needed at the time
Paisley Park**
Won the Long Walk in 2018 and took the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in 2019. Seemingly put the disappointment of his below-form 2020 Stayers’ Hurdle run behind him when chasing home Thyme Hill at Newbury on his reappearance, field waited for some considerable time after the tape was released before making a start, midfield, moved comfortably and about 4 lengths off leader home turn, shaken up 3 out and had a bit to do, stayed on, closed on leaders under a ride 2 out and soon held a chance, hard ridden and took 2nd after last, one pace last 150 yards, stuck to task and pulled clear of the 3rd. Can go well now he’s back in the room
Portrush Ted
Unbeaten when completing the course over hurdles, though would most likely have finished 2nd to Welsh Saint but for falling at the last in a Pertemps Qualifier at Haydock last February. Returned with a win in another Pertemps Qualifier at Sandown on December 4th, overcoming a mistake at the last to get the better of Storm Arising in the last 100 yards. For me, a bit to find
The Jam Man
Non-runner
The Worlds End
With Paisley Park a non-runner on the day, he took last year’s Long Walk – it was a weak four-runner renewal and, with the irresolute L’Ami Serge to take on in the finish, it wasn’t hard for him to find more (or appear to find more) on the run-in. Made an inauspicious reappearance, pulling up in the rescheduled Grande Course de Haies d’Auteuil at Auteuil in October won by Paul’s Saga, but overlooking that, this is a stronger renewal of the Long Walk than 2019’s and he probably has a bit to find
Third Wind
Best effort last season when winning a Pertemps Qualifier at Wincanton on Boxing Day, stayed on well to lead approaching last, jumped slightly left, driven out to beat Jatiluwih and Storm Arising, to whom he conceded a stone (Portrush Ted gave the latter only 5 lbs when beating him at Sandown). Good run last time out though unable to contain Main Fact’s late surge at Haydock on November 21st, prominent when mistake then left tracking leaders 3 out, chased leader 2 out, stayed on and led last, hard ridden, stayed on till headed by Main Fact 125 yards out, no extra, driven and kept on, maintained gap to 3rd, no impression on winner. For me this one is a one-paced stayer – the more unraceable the going, the better he is – and not for me in the Long Walk
Thistlecrack
On his one and only start last season, he appeared to roll back the years when chasing home Paisley Park in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury in November 2019, with The Worlds End back in 3rd. Off since then, the reality is that he’s 12 going on 13, and there’s more strength in depth in this race than there was in the Newbury one – it’s hard to see him making the frame now
Thyme Hill*
His only defeat in an otherwise stellar first season over hurdles was in the Albert Bartlett at the Cheltenham Festival, unlucky in that he had his ground taken before and after the last before sticking to his task on the run-in. On his reappearance he more than hinted that he’ll be one of the leading staying hurdlers this season when beating Paisley Park in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury last month, headed the main group from 6th, disputed 2nd home turn and travelled comfortably, chased new leader between 3 out and next, niggled along between last 2, effort and led approaching last, travelled best, a length and a half clear jumping, hard ridden, stayed on well run-in, ridden out, sustained effort to the line. It was anything but a true test at the trip (field waited an eternity before making a start), but it puts him in the mix here
Younevercall
Progressing hurdler in 2018/19, rounding off that season when beating On The Blind Side in a Grade 2 over 2m6f at Sandown on the last day, led 6th, went clear home turn, was the only one going comfortably 2 out when 4 lengths up, pushed further clear approaching last. Had his problems and wasn’t seen out after running down the field in the Queen Alexandra Stakes at Royal Ascot in June 2019, until coming back with a good 2nd in a Pertemps Qualifier at Kempton in November, the outcome in the balance at the line and the verdict given to Storm Goddess by a nose. The form lags his best; the distance of the Kempton race, 2m5f, was shorter than most Qualifiers in the series and short enough for this one round an easy track like Kempton – this test will be more suitable, but he has around 10 lbs to a stone of improvement to find on his best form (and more than that on the Kempton race) if he’s to figure
Roksana
Fortunate winner of the 2019 David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, put under strong pressure and unable to go with Benie Des Dieux approaching last, some 3 or 4 lengths 2nd when left clear in front by that one’s fall, hard driven, all out but got there from Stormy Ireland; no chance with Honeysuckle and Benie Des Dieux in this year’s renewal, effort delayed after 3 out, jumped 2 out in 5th and pushed along after, one pace under a ride approaching last, no extra up the hill last 175 yards. Appeared to show improvement on all previous form when readily taking the West Yorkshire Hurdle at Wetherby on reappearance, held up, edged closer going comfortably approaching 3 out, not shaken up and edged closer still on the bit approaching 2 out, shaken up on landing, ran on to lead between last 2, was 2 lengths clear jumping last, ridden out, drew well clear, eased late, beat Next Destination just over 8 lengths. Likely to run well to a point but there’s more strength in depth here

Selection: PAISLEY PARK – Alternatives: Main Fact, Thyme Hill

New material has been posted on rwsteeplechasing.co.uk this week – you can read my latest PLOG (Punter’s Blog) here (titled ‘A Partial Switch of Emphasis’), and you can sift through over 600 pieces of my form analysis for October and November 2020 here.