The cold snap at Ascot could wreak havoc with a few plans and we won’t know until Saturday morning whether the meeting gets the green light.
Trainers pick their targets carefully pre-Cheltenham and if we lose a high-profile fixture like Ascot, it can disrupt the best-laid plans.
One man who has enjoyed a purple patch though is Colin Tizzard and his French import who’ll be making all the headlines up north in the Peter Marsh Chase (3.15pm) at Haydock.
Despite Thistlecrack and Native River carrying all before them this season, Tizzard wasn’t slow in nominating Alary as a potential Gold Cup horse a couple of months ago.
To be considered a live Gold Cup contender, he simply has to go very close in this 3m stamina test on his first run in the UK since arriving from France. If it is a case that he gets run out of it close home because of a lack of a recent run you could argue that, fair enough, he’ll improve for that. But if he’s beaten fair and square, those Gold Cup ambitions may have to be put on ice.
There’s some decent opposition in the field though. You would like Bristol De Mai to have more ‘1s’ rather than ‘2s’ after his name but recent Wetherby winner Definitly Red will handle the ground. I wouldn’t discount dual course winner Virak running a big race for champion trainer Paul Nicholls and he could be the value play against the favourite.
Incidentally, it was brilliant news mid-week that Cue Card is Gold Cup bound and raises the prospect of the Tizzard yard having the first three home in Blue Riband come March 17.
It’s great for racing that Colin Tizzard is prepared to have a go. The media and the racing public love him for it and hopefully his boldness is rewarded with Alary on Saturday again.
Make them pay
Earlier on the Haydock card, the Grade 2 Novice Chase (2.30pm) is a cracker with Politologue who has looked so good in his two chases so far. He was foot perfect at Ascot last time and before that was a winner on soft to heavy ground at Haydock.
I love horses who have winning course form at this track and he gets my vote over Itsafreebee who was third behind Yorkhill and Yanworth last season’s Neptune Novice Hurdle at the Festival.
The smaller field will play into Politologue’ hands – but they can’t give Itsafreebee an easy time up front or he’ll make them pay.
The Grade 2 Novices Hurdle(2.05pm) has been won by future Grade One winners Peddlars Cross and Cinders & Ashes in the past. Saturday’s contest is competitive but possibly lacks a real star in the making.
A lot of the runners are hold-up horses who can run too keenly and that is a recipe for an upset.
I was impressed with Alan King’s Elgin at Kempton where he beat another of today’s rivals Mohaayed. Elgin is proven on bad ground and if he relaxes, can follow up. At slightly longer odds, Neon Wolf should go very well – especially if allowed to dictate things his own way up front.
The New One has won the Champion Hurdle Trial (2.40pm) here before but has to give 8lbs to L’Ami Serge so I’m going to side with Nicky Henderson’s runner.
If Ascot goes ahead, the Grade 1 Clarence House Stakes (3pm) looks a match between Willie Mullins’ Un De Sceaux and Gary Moore’s Ar Mad – but jumping will decide it.
Both will improve from their debut runs in the Tingle Creek Chase. Despite winning, Un De Sceaux’s jumping will need to improve. I was a little disappointed at his lack of fluency at the last two fences and that allowed Sire De Grugy to get into it and Ar Mad to close on him towards the end.
Had Un De Sceaux jumped better, he would have won more authoritatively.
Ruby Walsh will be happy to sit in behind and let Jamie Moore make the running but he’ll have to eliminate those mistakes against a strong running Ar Mad on a right-handed track like Ascot.
It’s a percentage call, but I’m just going to side with Un de Sceaux. He’ll love the soft ground, won this race last year and should improve for his debut run. But if there’s any holes in his armour, Ar Mad will pick up the pieces.
Top Gamble won a Game Spirit Chase at Newbury in the mud and can chase home the market leaders for trainer Kerry Lee.
She saddles Kylemore Lough in the handicap chase (3.35pm) and he was a little unlucky when fifth in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup after belting the second last and getting collared up the hill.
If he has any notions about being a Ryanair Chase contender – he really needs to go close on Saturday.
Nicky Henderson’s Kotkikova looks the best bet on the card to me in the Mares Hurdle (1.50pm). She made her debut at Leopardstown over Christmas where she was a fair fifth to Vroum Vroum Mag in the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle. The ground was unseasonably good in Ireland, but her best form is on soft ground in France. She can gain compensation here.