A cracking card at Ascot this afternoon and conditions look likely to be extremely testing -soft, heavy in places at the time of writing. In the opener Annie Mc shapes as though she will appreciate a thorough test of stamina, but she is unproven on soft ground and is overlooked in favour of Newtide (12.40) who did us a favour when scoring at Haydock last time and is taken to defy the steadier of 12st 2lbs. There are a number of potential improvers stepping up in trip, but few are proven on the forecast ground.
Only five go to post in the Graduation Chase but four hold realistic chances. Activial did us a favour winning at Haydock last time on good ground, but he must give 11lbs to the chasing debutant Kildisart (1.15) and the hope is that Ben Pauling has his 6-year-old ready first-time-out. The selection won a couple over hurdles last season, but has the scope for the larger obstacles. Pauling has had four seconds from his last nine runners so could do with a change of fortune.
One of the more interesting runners on the card is Janika who has his first start for Nicky Henderson having won his last three in his native France on soft/heavy ground earlier in the year. It is hard to get an angle on the form, but he has attracted support earlier in the week and is BetVictor’s 3/1 market leader.
I thought Magic Saint (1.50) travelled like a class act when runner up at Haydock last time on his first start for Paul Nicholls. He is taken to go one better in receipt of 8lbs from the Henderson run. Magic Saint is 7/2 with BetVictor.
Minella Daddy (3.00) was well backed on his reappearance but failed to give his running over today’s C&D returning from a 200-day absence. Today’s slower ground should suit Peter Bowen’s gelding who is 14/1 with BetVictor who are paying each way four places (1/5th odds) on the race. Full Glass, stepping up to 3m for the first time, and Otago Trail are two others to consider in a terrific and valuable handicap chase.
The Betfair Exchange Trophy is our valuable finale and is another tricky puzzle to solve. Not Never has a big race in him this season although it is unlikely to be first time out on ground this testing. They bet 7/1 the field (5 places) at BetVictor and my two against the field are Mont Des Avaloirs (14s with BetVictor) and Chatez (3.35) and marginal preference goes to Alan King’s bottom-weight who is 18/1 at BetVictor. The selection is not the strongest of stayers but this flat 2m clearly suits and he is 7lbs better off with Jolly’s Cracked It for the 6l he was behind that rival over C&D last time.
At Haydock I hope to see Speed Company (11.50) break his duck over timber for Ian Williams with Tom O’Brien in the saddle. The selection ran his best race yet over hurdles when runner up at Uttoxeter last month when he didn’t jump the last couple of flights as well as the winner. The 5-y-old looks well treated on his flat form and if he can brush up his jumping he will tough to beat from the foot of the weights.
In the listed Novices’ Hurdle Queenohearts (1.00) can go one better than when runner up at Chepstow on her first start over timber last month. The mare was a winner in this grade in a Sandown Bumper last season and she will appreciate underfoot conditions.
A check of the market is advised on the French import Elixir Du Gouet with Bryony Frost a positive booking for Venetia Williams. I feel Kerry Lee’s stable are on the verge of hitting top form, however, and Shear Rock (1.35) gets the vote with Sam Twiston-Davies taking over in the saddle. The selection finished runner up to the exciting Lady Buttons at Newbury last time and is open to further improvement after just three runs over the larger obstacles.
Duel At Dawn (2.40) was a novice chaser I thought would win a big prize this season and I hope it is first time out in the feature Tommy Whittle Chase. I remember the selection losing to Sizing Tennessee at Cheltenham last year and being disappointed he couldn’t give 5lbs to that rival. Colin Tizzard’s horse went on to win the Ladbroke Trophy (formerly Hennessy) at Newbury at the beginning of the month and I will be disappointed if Duel At Dawn – 5/1 with BetVictor doesn’t go very close.
Closing Ceremony (3.15) returns from a 400-day lay-off for Emma Lavelle in the finale but the booking of Brian Hughes for the 9-y-old suggests connections feel he is fit enough to do himself justice. The selection’s course record reads 1116 including a win in the Grade 2 Rendlesham Hurdle, albeit back in 2015. The handicapper has given him a chance and he can reward each way support.
For all your racing odds go to BetVictor.com and may I take this opportunity to wish you a very Happy Christmas.