Paul Nicholls’ Malaya heads the weights for this handicap and brings some pretty strong form to the table, having chased home Redicean in the Adonis Hurdle last time. She also chased home another of today’s rivals City Dreamer earlier in the season, and I don’t expect there to be much between the pair this time around.
Gary Moore has a pretty good strike-rate at Ascot and he saddles Eragon De Chanay who won at Sandown a couple of weeks ago, before turned out under a penalty to finish seventh in the Fred Winter. The ground conditions seemed to come in his favour at Cheltenham but having been raised another 3lb on the back of that effort, life will be a little tougher for him here.
Another who took part in the Fred Winter was Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Turning Gold who finished fifth. He looked to have every chance at the final flight but couldn’t match the finishing burst of those who finished in front of him. This company looks a little less competitive for him so he should go well, especially as he has been dropped 2lb for his Cheltenham run.
However, the one I like the look of is KNIGHT DESTROYER who fell early on in the Fred Winter last week. That early exit may have been a blessing in disguise as long as all is well with him as he was spared a hard race on testing ground. He looked very well beforehand at Cheltenham and his form behind Nube Negra and Apple’s Shakira is as good as any of the runners here. He clearly needs to sharpen his jumping up but if he can bounce back from his latest setback, I think he has a good each-way chance.
These veteran chases give some of the more exposed horses a chance to get their heads in front and although Seeyouatmidnight has been declared here, I don’t expect to see him line up as he looks set to run at Newbury on Saturday.
In his absence, there doesn’t look to be much between the remaining runners. Venetia Williams’ horses tend to run well in testing conditions and it therefore makes sense to have a look at Houblon Des Obeaux who won a similar race in November. He has run well without winning on a couple of occasions since then although he didn’t seem to stay in the Eider last time. The fitting of blinkers could spark some improvement in him and having won over course and distance in his younger days, he looks one of the more likely contenders.
A number of the runners contested a veterans’ chase at Doncaster in February, where Band Of Blood came out on top. Dr Richard Newland’s ten-year-old has returned to form this season but his latest run in the Kim Muir at Cheltenham suggested the handicapper may have caught up with him. Back in third that day was Sego Success who may just have hit the front a little soon as he was run out of things in the closing stages. He gets a 7lb pull with his old rival here, so there is every chance that he could reverse the placings.
At the foot of the weights, Rathlin Rose is an interesting runner, having won the Royal Artillery Gold Cup in February before narrowly failing to follow up in the Grand Military the following month. He returns to handicap company on a mark of 128 and having run well to finish sixth in the Welsh National off 132 in January, he could be well-handicapped.
However, I am going to take a chance on LOOSE CHIPS, who won this race twelve months ago. Charlie Longsdon has a good record in these veterans’ contests and although he is now 12, he has run some fine races in defeat so far this term. The handicapper has given him a chance by dropping him a couple of pounds and back below his last winning mark, he looks worth a small win bet.
LOOSE CHIPS – 1pt win
4.55 Ascot – Iron Stand Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle.
I’ve said it before in these conditional races but I find that narrowing the field down to the four or five best jockeys often reaps rewards and so we’ll start with Sean Houlihan, who rides Onefitzall for Philip Hobbs here. He fell at Newbury on his only start this season, back in November, but he’s been given plenty of time to get over that and looked a promising sort in his defeat of Gibralfaro at Newbury last season. While a mark of 137 is certainly no gift and better ground may be preferred, he is one who could certainly run a decent race.
If you take much notice of my ramblings, you’ll know I have Mitchell Bastyan down as one of the brightest young prospects in the jockey ranks at the moment and he takes the ride on Richard Mitford-Slade’s SAMUEL JACKSON – the horse so good the trainer said he was the reason he took out a rules license. He won his first two starts over hurdles, both impressively, and was certainly not disgraced in third in the Grade 2 River Don Novices’ Hurdle at Doncaster on his last run. There certainly doesn’t look to be many horses of the calibre of Enniscoffey Oscar or Shannon Bridge in this race and that piece of form certainly gives him a huge shout. A mark of 137 looks fair in this company and with Bastyan in the saddle, he must go close.
The conditional whose name is on everyone’s lips at the moment is James Bowen and he rides for his ‘boss’ Nicky Henderson here, getting the leg up on Lough Derg Farmer, who wasn’t beaten too far in fourth in a similar event at Newbury last time out. He does look a tricky ride though and despite the fact that he’ll surely prove better than a mark of 130 in time, he still looks a work in progress at this stage.
Finally, Ciaran Gethings is having a good season and the experienced conditional has been booked to ride Lithic for Jonjo O’Neill. This horse was last seen chasing so it’s interesting to see him back over hurdles after a fall at Sandown – perhaps this is a sighter to boost his confidence before going back over the larger obstacles and if so, he’s probably not the most solid betting proposition. However, this 3m trip could eke out more improvement and if he stays, a mark of 126 is certainly not a prohibitive-looking one. He’s an interesting contender.
Just the fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.