Another big weekend in the jumps calendar where the Clarence House Chase is the feature race of the day at Ascot and where Haydock hosts a Champion Hurdle trial and a very good novice hurdle.
We start at Ascot with a Grade 2 mares hurdle at 13.50 where I really like Magic of Light for Jessica Harrington. She’s trying to do what she did last season, win over fences at Newbury before winning this contest at Ascot. I’m all in for a repeat performance.
If Thomas Darby is back to his best he will be a player in the Grade 3 handicap hurdle over 2m 3f at 14.25. The worry with backing him is that he’s reverting to the smaller obstacles. His career has not gone to plan over fences, but he was second in the Supreme Novices Hurdle at Cheltenham last year.
The safest option is Evan Williams’ Bold Plan after a very good win at Haydock. He is proven in the likely testing ground conditions and the manner of his victory was impressive, considering the interference he suffered in running.
My heart tells me to go with Kildisart in the 2m 5f Handicap Chase at 15:00 – but I am really worried about the ground. He just didn’t look happy on it, last time at Ascot There is a case to be made for so many of these in here.
One of the most consistent horses in training and this year’s VCBet Gold Cup winner at Cheltenham Happy Diva was narrowly beaten at Doncaster – but is so game she will give you a run for our money.
Espoir De Guye is on a three-timer after his demolition job at this venue last time, but the handicapper has bumped him up 14lbs!
He mightn’t have finished improving and gets the nod.
The feature race of the day is the Grade One Clarence House Chase at 15.35. I went to Philip Hobbs’ yard this week to see Defi Du Seuil and he looked amazing. This race should be run at a good gallop with Un De Sceaux in the line-up and we know he stays really well.
A lot of Willie Mullins’ runners have needed their first run of the season and he was beaten by Defi Du Seuil in the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown last time. Un De Sceaux is trying to win this contest for the third time and won’t go down without a fight.
Defi Du Seuil is on the up now though and should prove hard to beat.
Edwardstone is the likely favourite after two good wins over hurdles but a small field mightn’t be ideal for hi, He has been so keen, that he was on the verge of running away with his jockey at Aintree. The application of a ‘hood’ will need to work the trick in helping him to settle.
Thebannerkingrebel is a very smart horse with his only downfall being that he is not the most fluent of jumpers. He is very talented though and I’ll take him to win.
The Grade 2 Peter Marsh Chase at Haydock 14.40 can be a real slog and Prime Venture ran a belter last time when fitted in first-time cheek-pieces to finish fourth in the Welsh Grand National.
The ground conditions at Chepstow are very similar to what it gets like at Haydock and his jockey, Isabel Williams, takes a valuable 7lb off his back and that helps.
One that also strikes me at a bigger price is Red Indian. He hasn’t any stand-out form over this 3m 2f trip, but runs well fresh and could hit the places at least with Ben Jones taking a valuable 5lbs off his back also.
The Champion Hurdle Trial at 15.15 named after old favourite, The New One, sees last season’s Triumph Hurdle winner Pentland Hills try to get back on track after being beaten at Cheltenham on his seasonal debut. The faster they go the better it will suit him and he ran very well last time, until getting tired after they jumped the last.
He will improve for that run under his belt – but does not want the ground this soft! Cornerstone Lad loves the ground and beat the now sadly injured Buveur D’air in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle.
This will be tougher under a penalty.
Ballyandy is game and backers of the current Champion Hurdle ante-post favourite Epatante will want to see a big run from him as he was well behind the mare at Kempton over Christmas.
Irish challenger Darasso is the interesting runner from Joseph O’Brien’s yard. He is rated 3lbs higher than Pentland, has strong French form on soft ground and won the Red Mills Hurdle at Gowran Park last season, beating Coeur Sublime by 20 lengths into fourth that day, before he ran Pentland Hills to three lengths in the Triumph Hurdle.
It was unlikely that that was Coeur Sublime’s true running, but this will be a tough test for Pentland Hills.
If it turns into a slog – Darasso could be the one to take advantage.
*Prices correct at time of publishing