Willie Mullins has a stack of entries at the top of the market for the World Hurdle next March but Unowhatimeanharry can prove he’s England’s number one if he wins the JLT Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot on Saturday.
Harry Fry’s runner looked smart when winning at Newbury, but I’ve a nagging doubt that he was flattered by his six-length victory over Ballyoptic. Let’s not forget Noel Meade’s Snow Falcon was travelling strongly and was going to be competitive at the business end, before falling three out.
Newbury often throws up a wide-margin winner over that kind of trip and it’s fair to say he took us all a little by surprise. Even the handicapper raised him another 16lb win for that win.
He’s won six on the bounce now and is clearly talented. However, I must admit I want to see him do it again on Saturday before I start thinking of him as a World Hurdle winner-in-waiting.
Ballyoptic has struggled a bit since winning at Chepstow in October. Nigel Twiston Davies’s string is flying now. If he reproduces his Newbury run when second to Unowhatimeanharry, he’s still very likely to hit the places and he’s a much bigger price this time.
The old warrior Reve De Sivola is a three-time winner of this contest but at 11-year-old and without his favoured heavy ground could struggle this time.
The one that interests me is French challenger Alex De Larredya. He won a Grade 1 at Auteuil last time, reversing the form of an earlier defeat by another of Saturday’s rival Ptit Zig.
Alex De Larredya beat him nine lengths into third and was previously third to Un De Sceaux in a hurdle race at the same course last May over 2m 5f. He could just be under the radar on his first UK start.
I won the 2m handicap hurdle (2.35pm) on Jack the Giant in 2007. It’s so difficult to make up ground into the straight at Ascot, you really need to be close to the pace all the way, especially on the forecast better ground and I fancy two against the field as Paddy’s paying the first 5 home.
Last year’s ‘joint’ winner Jollys Cracked It has only risen 6lb in the handicap since dead-heating with Sternrubin, but hasn’t run since then. Connections must feel he’s on a fair handicap mark if they’re having another shot.
Super shrewd Irish trainer Tony Martin has three entries including likely favourite, Golden Spear. However, I fancy the 2015 Galway Hurdle winner Quick Jack to go well at almost twice the price.
He likes good ground, is very experienced in big-field handicaps and was second on the Flat in a Chester Cup to Trip to Paris, before going on to finish third in the Cesarewitch last year and third in this season’s Ebor at York.
At a double-digit price, he’s one to keep onside.
The 2m 2f Ascot Chase at 1.50pm has me torn. I am really tempted by Captain Conan who is highly thought of and if fit enough on his seasonal bow has to be a player. However, Dark Flame really caught the eye at Sandown and if he can build on that will be really competitive.
Meanwhile, the 3m handicap chase 3pm could be Le Mercurey’s chance to add to Paul Nicholls recent good run of big Saturday winners.
At Haydock, the Tommy Whittle Chase (2.40pm) is not the race it used to be but that won’t connections of whoever wins it. I love a Sue Smith’s horses at Haydock and De Vous a Moi has had a prep run and looks primed to run a big race. However, Yala Enki was a very good hurdler and won over fences in France and brings a bit of class to this contest. He could be the answer.
The concluding handicap hurdle 3.15pm looks made for El Torremoto.