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    Default Ascot and Haydock - Saturday 23/12/2017

    The next week or so is a busy time for me and I will preview six races from Ascot and Haydock tomorrow before turning my attentions to the Boxing Day fixtures. I will preview four races on Saturday 30 December. I will then preview four races on New Year?s Day at Cheltenham.


    12.40 Ascot ? Foundation Developments Novices? Handicap Hurdle.


    A big field for this three-mile novices? event, but it looks as if there are only a few with genuine chances as plenty in the field just don?t look up to the required standard.

    Heading the market is Alan King?s Forgetthesmalltalk, who has already put in two decent efforts at this kind of level in this kind of race, both at Exeter. His second effort was a little better than the first and he looks a steadily improving type who is pretty deserving of his mark of 118. Soft ground holds no fears and if he?s there at the business end on a very testing track like Exeter, this trip around here shouldn?t either. He?s a very solid proposition and it?s only really the fact that he?s a very short price in a race full of unexposed sorts that stops me from putting him up as the tip.

    Nicky Henderson is going great guns at the moment and he has two in the race, including Comely, who won last time out at Taunton and has gone up just 5lb for that win on her first attempt at three miles. On the face of it, that looks something that shouldn?t do much to stop this improving mare give another good performance, but add in the soft, tacky ground that we?re likely to see at Ascot and there?s a worry that she may not see the race out as well as some. Nico De Boinville also spoke of how she?s best after a break so this, even though it?s three weeks after that win, may come too soon.

    However, Henderson?s other contender, CHRISTMAS IN APRIL, could well provide the master trainer with an appropriately festive winner. Although the bare facts of his 22-length defeat by Huntsman Son on his seasonal reappearance don?t read particularly well, he looks as if he?s begging for this step up in trip and will strip plenty fitter for that Market Rasen run, as he?s always been a big, raw horse. He was held up in that contest for much of the race and only made late headway under pressure, looking as if softer ground and a step up in trip would work the oracle, so the combination of what looks like an ideal trip and ground, better race fitness and a 1lb drop in the weights could make a big difference. Incidentally, the winner of that race, Huntsman Son, proceeded to hack up again under a penalty in his next race and the second, Stick to the Plan, was a good fifth in a race at Cheltenham which was much more competitive than this. Ned Curtis and his 5lb claim also need a mention here as he?s well worth it and it means CHRISTMAS IN APRIL only runs off an effective mark of 108 ? not many Nicky Henderson horses aren?t able to win of that kind of basement number.

    In terms of threats, Nick Williams? One Of Us gets in off a low weight and might just turn the tables on Comely from their Taunton running on this softer ground, while another potential player is This Is It, who was well-beaten in a good handicap hurdle at Newbury last time out, but was a battling winner from a 6lb lower mark at Exeter the run before that, so could revive in this lower grade.

    Advice

    CHRISTMAS IN APRIL ? 1pt e/w @ 8/1 (bet365) (1/4 odds)




    1.50 Ascot ? My Pension Expert Handicap Chase.


    This looks a tricky 2m3f handicap chase and one of the more interesting runners looks to be Gary Moore?s Casse Tete, who runs for the first time since winning at Sandown in March. The five-year-old had been failing to see his races out but won impressively on this occasion in the hands of Joshua Moore, who is aboard today. His victory earned him a 13lb rise in the weights and whilst he may well be up to defying such a rise, on the back of a lengthy absence, it is probably best to watch him on this occasion.

    There are a couple of other last time out winners in the field, including Dream Bolt whose victory meant that he has now won three of his last five starts. David Rees? nine-year-old has been in fine form over the summer and he was seen to good effect once again at Taunton nine days ago. The rise in the weights is compounded by the fact that Sean Bowen takes over from his brother James (effectively making him 9lb higher here) but he is currently in the form of his life so another big run can?t be ruled out.

    Monbeg River also tasted success the last time he visited the racecourse, winning by sixteen lengths at Doncaster earlier this month. The winning margin was exaggerated with the horse in second falling at the last but he was very much in control at this stage and would have won regardless. He took advantage of a drop in the weights there but his new mark means he needs to find a bit of improvement.

    Matt Sheppard?s Rock On Rocky has also been running well of late, his latest effort seeing him finish second behind Overtown Express at Newbury three weeks ago. He was no match for the winner that day but he ran on well in the closing stages to finish ahead of the likes of Theinval at the line and it will be interesting to see how he fares going up to 2m3f.

    One of the least experienced over fences in the field is Theo?s Charm who has yet to get off the mark in four starts over the larger obstacles. However, he has run behind some smart performers including Robinsfirth and Royal Vacation and there is every chance that he will be suited by the run of the race here. His last run over hurdles saw him finish third in the former Fixed Brush Hurdle at Haydock last month and a similar effort here would put him right in the mix.

    However, I think the one to beat here is POKER SCHOOL who bids to win this race for the second time, having triumphed twelve months ago. The seven-year-old was considerably lower in the weights last year but he has been acquitting himself well in recent weeks, losing out by just a nose at Wetherby in November. He unseated at Doncaster last week when it was much too early to tell how well he was going and provided he is none the worse for that, he looks to have a leading chance here. Rising star of the weighing room Mitchell Bastyan also takes a useful 5lb off his back and he looks to have plenty going in his favour here.

    Advice


    POKER SCHOOL ? 1pt win @ 6/1 (bet365)



    2.25 Ascot ? JLT Reve De Sivola Long Walk Hurdle (Grade 1)

    The first two horses from the 2016 edition of the race return again, with last year?s winner Unowhatimeanharry the favourite to defend his crown. He enjoyed a fine season last year for Harry Fry, picking-up where he left off from his novice season. This included victories in two Grade 2?s ? the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury and the Cleeve at Cheltenham, either side of his Ascot win. After extending his winning streak with those victories to eight, he was sent off at odds-on for the Stayers? Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival but could only manage to finish third behind Willie Mullins? Nichols Canyon and Lil Rockerfeller. However, he got back to winning ways on his final start of 16/17, reversing the form with Nichols Canyon to land the Grade 1 Champion Stayers Hurdle at the Punchestown Festival by a head. That confirmed Unowhatimeanharry as being at the top of the stayers? division for the season and he made a winning reappearance in a class 2 at Aintree last month. On his latest run he suffered an upset though as he finished runner-up in the Long Walk to Richard Woollacott?s 40/1 shot Beer Goggles. He seemed to give his running on the day but could not manage to concede 6lb to the winner. It was still a good effort and he looks sure to thereabouts again this Saturday back at level weights with his opponents.

    The Neil King-trained Lil Rockerfeller renews his rivalry with Unowhatimeanharry after finishing runner-up to that rival in this race last year. He was beaten by four and a half lengths that day but reversed the form when second in the Stayers? Hurdle at Cheltenham, only three quarters of a length behind Nichols Canyon. That was a career-best performance and the six-year-old built on his seasonal reappearance this year to win the Grade 2 Ascot Hurdle last month, getting the better of L?Ami Serge by a length and a half. He gave it his all that day as usual over a distance shorter than ideal for him. He enjoys Ascot and can run his race again but may find one or two too strong for him.

    L?AMI SERGE was having his first run of the season here last month and did well to finish close to Lil Rockerfeller giving him 6lb and despite taking a keen hold early in the race. On his previous run, he had gained Grade 1 success in France over three miles, one furlong and half and he will relish the step back up in trip on Saturday. Nicky Henderson confirmed the Long Walk as his next target after the Coral Hurdle and that he will be aimed at the Stayers? Hurdle at Cheltenham. L?AMI SERGE will come on for his seasonal reappearance and can reverse the form with Lil Rockerfeller. The seven-year-old is also open to improvement over the longer distance, so can find extra to gain another Grade 1 success on Saturday.

    Henderson also runs Thomas Campbell in the race who has made a big impression upped to three miles in his two victories at Cheltenham so far this season. Last time out he readily won a Listed handicap and looks well worth the step-up in grade here. He is an improving five-year-old but will need to find more to be involved in the Long Walk. Another promising five-year-old up in grade is Sam Spinner for trainer Jedd O?Keefe. He was an impressive seventeen lengths winner of a Grade 3 handicap at Haydock last time out, but it did come on very heavy ground that day. He has not finished outside of the top two in eight career starts, winning five times, but may find it difficult in this Grade 1 race.

    Advice

    L?AMI SERGE ? 1pt win @ 11/2 (Ladbrokes)



    2.45 Haydock ? Betfred Tommy Whittle Handicap Chase.

    Where better to start in this than with a previous winner of the race, David Pipe?s Broadway Buffalo. He won the race back in 2014 in similarly heavy conditions as he?s going to encounter here but off an 8lb lower mark and combined with a 672-day absence from the racecourse, it looks as if he?ll have his work cut out, even though trip, ground and track are all pretty much ideal ? it would be some effort for him to win the race again.

    At the other end of the scale, the lightly-raced Full Irish is the current favourite having been off the track just three weeks after winning smartly at Lingfield on his last start. The ground that day was pretty soft so there shouldn?t be too much of an issue with this heavy ground, but the bigger issue is that he?s gone up 8lb in the weights and is thrust into what looks a much better race. Despite the fascinating booking of Davy Russell in the saddle, I can?t help but feel that this could be too much of a test so early in this horse?s chasing career (just 2 starts over fences so far) and he may lack the required experience.

    Similar comments could apply to the Nick Alexander-trained Lake View Lad, who, despite having double the amount of starts over fences, is jumping up into a tougher race on the back of a win in a less competitive affair and has been given a hike in the weights for his troubles (4lb in this case). Still, he?ll like the ground, so there?s every chance that this seven-year-old will run a decent race.

    Vic De Touzaine has plenty of experience over fences and Venetia Williams is renowned for winning these big staying chases at this time of year, so he must be afforded plenty of respect despite pulling up when last seen in the Badger Ales Trophy at Wincanton. He won bravely over three miles at Carlisle on his seasonal debut so there will be no worries about staying this trip in soft ground and he?s a multiple heavy-ground winner so there?s plenty going for him there. However, he is 7lb above his highest winning mark so will have that to defy, again in a better race than the one he won at Carlisle.

    Just a five-year-old, Catamaran Du Seuil will have to break the run of horses being either six, seven or eight when they win this race but despite having a lack of chasing experience, he does have the positive that he handles the ground, stays well and looks on a fair mark. It?s just 2lb higher than when he powered home in heavy ground at Ayr to defeat Knockanrawley in the final strides two starts ago. His next start, when fourth at this venue over a 2.5f further trip, may have come too soon and he might just be in much better shape for this. He?s only had four runs over fences and is only five so there is clearly room for some improvement and the 10st 10lb burden on his back is less than most of his rivals, so he?s certainly one to consider at a bigger price.

    However, it is the nine-year-old THREE FACES WEST that he?ll have to beat ? Philip Hobbs? charge looks on a good mark and has been a consistently high-level performer for Hobbs since joining from Donald McCain?s yard in 2015. Last year, he sluiced up in the mud in a race like this at this same venue off a mark of 135 in November and then in a high-quality three-mile Graduation Chase at Newbury a month after that, defeating some very good rivals when racing off the same weight and even giving some away. A reproduction of either effort would put him bang in the mix and after a pipe-opener when finishing a good third at Cheltenham over a trip half a mile further, he should be in great shape here. That race at Cheltenham has also worked out well as Benbens, who finished just behind the selection, went on to win the London National on his next start, so everything looks to be in place for an excellent showing, despite having to carry top weight ? something that has been done in this race in three of the last five years.

    Advice


    THREE FACES WEST ? 1pt win @ 7/2 (Ladbrokes, William Hill)



    3.00 Ascot ? Lavazza Silver Cup Handicap Chase (Listed Race)


    Favourite for this competitive-looking handicap is the Tom George-trained Singlefarmpayment. He was fancied for the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury but fell at the third-last having worked himself into the race. It?s hard to tell how close he would have finished but he remains on the same mark now. Prior to that, he had put up some good efforts in handicaps at Cheltenham. To end last season he finished a short head runner-up in the Grade 3 Ultima Handicap Chase to David Pipe?s Un Temp Pour Tout, before filling the same position on his seasonal reappearance behind the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained Cogry. The seven-year-old also has strong course and distance form from last November, when he finished second to Nicky Henderson?s Beware The Bear, who recently won the Listed Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle. He looks likely to give his running again and be involved at Ascot on Saturday.

    GO CONQUER arrives here looking to make it a hat-trick having won the Grade 3 Sodexo Gold Cup over course and distance last time out. He was an impressive winner that day for Jonjo O?Neill, jumping well as he was always up with the pace and then having too much for his rivals to win by four and a half lengths. He is higher in the weights now but has shown much improved form this season and can make a bold bid to win his third race in succession, as the others may find it difficult to get passed him.

    Nicky Henderson fields two in the race and Gold Present comes here having made a successful start to his 16/17 season. He got back to winning ways in a class 2 at Newbury at the start of the month, enjoying the extra distance as he stayed on well in the closing stages to gain victory by a neck. He is up again in trip this time around, but the soft ground on Saturday may not be to his liking. Henderson also runs O O Seven who put up a good effort on his first run of the season, also in a class 2 at Newbury at the beginning of December. He was only a length and quarter behind Dan Skelton?s Oldgrangewood that day, but may find one or two better handicapped at Ascot.

    Of the rest of the field, Evan Williams-trained On Tour is looking to bounce back after unfortunately unseating his rider when travelling well last time out in the same race that Gold Present won. He was looking a big threat under the talented young jockey Mitchell Bastyan, but was then hampered and lost his jockey. Prior to that the nine-year-old had won at Aintree, but he needs to prove himself at this further distance. Another nine-year-old, Regal Encore is not the easiest to predict for Anthony Honeyball but he returns to Ascot having won the Silver Cup last year. He put up a big effort on his latest run when finishing a very good third in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury and he remains on the same mark now. Although up 6lb from last year?s victory, a repeat of his most recent performance could see him involved again.

    Advice

    GO CONQUER ? 1pt e/w @ 7/1 (Betfair Sportsbook, Paddy Power) (4 places)



    Racing Welfare Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3) { Formerly known as the Ladbroke Hurdle } ? 3.35 Ascot ? Saturday 23rd December


    By far the strongest trend associated with this race is that horses arriving in form have tended to fare best in recent years. In fact, all of the winners of the last ten renewals had finished in the first three on their most recent start, with six last time out winners following up here. Not good news for supporters of the likes of Bleu Et Rouge and Chesterfield who are just two of the field to arrive on the back of below-par performances.

    Another strong pointer has been age and the five-year-olds and six-year-olds have dominated in recent years, having been successful in nine of the last ten runnings. They are well represented again this year with the likes of Elgin, Air horse One and Verdana Blue so perhaps they can continue their fine record. Sternrubin dead-heated for first as a four-year-old in 2015 and with Cause Of Causes having also landed the spoils as a four-year-old, there is hope for the quintet of Divin Bere, Charli Parcs, Silver Streak, Nietzsche and Evening Hush. However, we have to go back to 2002 to find the oldest winner of the race in the shape of the seven-year-old Chauvinist, so I would be happy to put a line through any horses older than that in this year?s lineup namely Fergall, Top Othe Ra, Veinard and Man Of Plenty.

    In terms of weight, seven of the last ten winners had carried 11st or more to victory so don?t be too concerned about taking a chance on one with a big weight on their back. Those who fall on the right side of the trend in this year?s lineup are the top seven as they appear in the racecard, so from Elgin down to Verdana Blue.

    Closely linked to weight is a horse?s official rating and looking at recent renewals, the desired bracket looks to be between 134 and 146, with six of the last ten winners falling into this group. The 149-rated Brain Power is the only horse in the last decade to win off a mark higher than 146, a shred of comfort to supporters of Elgin, Divin Bere and Air horse One, who are all rated higher than 146 this year. Those to miss out at the other end of the scale are the bottom six as they appear on the racecard, so from Silver Streak down to Magic Dancer.

    When considering trainers with strong records, the man to follow is probably Nicky Henderson, who has won four of the last ten renewals. The master of Seven Barrows also saddled the first two home twelve months ago, so it might be worth giving his runners Charli Parcs and Verdana Blue a second look. Gordon Elliott has also won the race twice from relatively few runners so perhaps we should keep an eye on his sole representative Veinard.

    The final factor to consider is the betting and it is fair to say favourites don?t have the best record, winning just two of the last renewals. Having said that, only two winners in that time were sent off bigger than 14/1 so it seems sensible to focus our attention towards the head of the market.


    Shortlist

    VERDANA BLUE ? 6/6

    Charli Parcs ? 5/6

    Elgin ? 4/6


    Conclusion

    Taking all the trends into consideration, only one horse matches all six of our patterns, namely the mare VERDANA BLUE. Nicky Henderson?s five-year-old was fifth over course and distance on her return to action in November but improved for that outing to win impressively here a couple of weeks later. She was given an 8lb rise for that victory but she looks to be on a steep upward curve and having had just the seven starts over hurdles, there should be more to come. Her trainer clearly likes to target this race and having already shown some good form at this track, I think she looks to have a strong chance.

    Just missing out on the top spot is her stablemate Charli Parcs whose only negative is the fact that he is four, one year younger than the desired bracket. He had a massive reputation following his brilliant debut victory at Kempton last December but it is fair to say he has failed to live up to those expectations since then. Having said that, he ran a fine race under a big weight at Newbury last time and considering the yard?s runners have been tending to improve for their first runs of the year, he has to be high on any shortlist.

    The shortlist is completed by Elgin who has already claimed two valuable handicap hurdles this term, the William Hill Handicap Hurdle at Ascot in November and the Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham a couple of weeks later. He has gone up a total of 11lb for those victories which means he carries top weight here but he is another who is improving and another big run can?t be ruled out.

    Advice


    VERDANA BLUE ? 1pt e/w @ 10/1 (William Hill) (4 places 1/4 odds)

    Thanks to ganjaman2

    Bald Bouncer (22nd December 2017) 


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