SEVEN races to get stuck into at Ascot on Saturday where it will be tough mudding.
The Clarence House is the clear highlight as Defi Du Seuil once again takes on Un De Sceaux. Let us take you through the card.
Race 1 – 12.40 Ascot Ijf Ambassador Programme Juvenile Hurdle
The market will be headed by Goshen for Gary Moore, and this is Plan B after their run at Huntingdon last Friday was called off due to the flooding.
He nears the top of the market for the Triumph Hurdle at the Festival and if he is going to close to winning that, he needs to be taking this relatively easily.
He will bowl along in front and it’s simply a case of whether anything has enough petrol to go with him throughout and then enough to take him on at the business end.
But he’ll be no price and it is tempting to take him on with HOMER who runs for Nicky Henderson.
Hendo has had a good week with younger horses and this horse should not be sniffed at. He was rated in the 90s on the flat and was backed for his British debut last time out.
He could only manage third there, but the fourth has since won and he never looked at home at Kempton. He also, perhaps most importantly, gets 10lbs here.
His jumping should improve for that and the emphasis on stamina should come to the fore. If you fancy taking on the red-hot jolly, then have a swing with this youngster.
Nordano has proven he isn’t up to winning a race like this already. He is a decent yardstick but it would be disappointing if he won this.
Manucci can’t be ruled out after his Fontwell win, but it’s impossible to make a case for Kapitaliste.
Race 2 – 1.15 Matchbook Amateur Riders’ Handicap Chase
Another small field with six set to go to post for this amateurs’ handicap.
NEARLY PERFECT is the obvious one to side with here and looks an improver now chasing and front-running.
He relished conditions at Wincanton last time and the handicapper has been kind only throwing him up 5lbs.
He’s only six and is a big old horse and is on the up against older and more exposed runners here.
Neil King loves targeting pots like this and while he won’t make you rich, he has to be the one to side with.
Of the older horses Get On The Yager makes some appeal. He has dropped to a very tempting mark and stays all day.
Conditions are sure to be testing and while he needs to bounce back, you can never rule out a Dan Skelton horse doing just that.
Barbrook Star is unlikely to enjoy the ground and Dawson City is horribly out of form.
Townshend is another that may prefer better conditions and carrying top weight in this may not be to his liking on his comeback run.
Graceful Legend could be the danger to our fancy. She was out-classed in Listed company last time at Newbury, but won on Heavy the run before and is only 5lbs higher here with Charlie Case taking off 7lbs.
SELECTION: Nearly Perfect
DANGER: Graceful Legend
Race 3 – 1.50 bet365 Mares’ Hurdle (Registered As The Warfield) (Grade 2)
Papagana is a smart mare and has improved plenty of late, but it’s a surprise to see her so short up against last year’s winner MAGIC OF LIGHT.
Oliver Sherwood’s mare gets 2lbs off the Grand National runner-up, and is officially only 3lbs lower in the ratings.
But that number looks a tad inflated and she was found out in the Long Walk Hurdle last time. Conditions will be the same again here, and while this is a lesser heat on paper, Magic Of Light is a proper horse and took this before her blinder in the National last year.
At the prices, Jessica Harrington’s horse simply has to be the bet.
That said, Sensulano is another horse on the up and could have been placed nicely here by Noel Williams.
She has been chasing this year, but showed enough over hurdles last season to suggest she should still be as useful over the smaller obstacles as she is fences.
She could be the one to fear here, especially if there is some money for her on the day.
Liberty Bella and Coded Message should be out-classed while Culture De Sivola was well beat by Papagana two starts ago and showed little on her latest outing.
SELECTION: Magic Of Light
Race 4 – 2.25 Matchbook Holloway’s Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3)
A classy handicap here with not much splitting those at the top of the weights.
Last year’s winner Ballymoy is in the lineup. He is only 2lbs higher than when taking this last season, but this looks a tougher renewal and the ground will be plenty more testing.
He would not be top of the shortlist after his failed chasing campaign so far this year, but could not be completely ruled out after a short spell on the sidelines.
PIC D’ORHY was all the rage before the Lanzarote Hurdle at Kempton last weekend but was not declared in the end.
He must be on a workable given his back form from France and the way connections talk about this horse does nothing to dispel that.
It’s a small leap of faith to back him, given his only run on these shores was at last year’s Festival when well beat.
But if there is some decent money for him on the day, he could be very hard to beat in this.
At bigger odds Soul Emotion makes plenty of appeal for Nicky Henderson. He has been on the mend this season after collapsing at this track after finishing fifth in the Long Walk in 2018.
He’s shown enough encouragement the last twice though and this time out won’t have to be conceding heaps of weight to less exposed runners.
The ground is a slight question mark if it is real tough going, but he has to be an each-way candidate. Fingers crossed all eight run.
Thomas Darby is the star name but won’t like the ground here. This will likely set him up for some spring time targets.
One horse that will like the ground is Evan Williams’ Bold Plan. He is on the up but the handicapper hasn’t taken many chances with a 10lbs rise for his Haydock win.
This is tougher but he should be in the mix.
The Knot Is Tied runs from out of the handicap, while Jolly’s Cracked It needs to bounce back.
SELECTION: Pic D’Orhy
EACH-WAY STAB: Soul Emotion
Race 5 – 3.00 bet365 Handicap Chase
A typically competitive Ascot handicap next up and there is £75,000 up for grabs.
Espoir De Guye could not have been more impressive here last time out, but that was off a mark of 130 and he know goes off 144 with the stable having a much quieter time of things.
Conditions will not be a problem, but this is much deeper and proven form tends to be the name of the game in races like this.
You don’t get many horses as consistent and tough as HAPPY DIVA and she ran another blinder when nailed by Lady Buttons last time out.
A repeat of that or a replay of her BetVictor performance and she should go mightily close here.
She always travels well and if she needs to battle late on, there’s normally only one winner.
Domaine De L’Isle and Sam’s Adventure reoppose here. The former was a cosy enough winner last time out, but there is an 8lbs switch in the weights this time around.
That was good form between those two and they both demand respect here, with preference for Sean Curran’s seven-year-old who is on the up at a rate of knots.
Ben Pauling is out from under his cloud now but the ground probably limits Kildisart’s chance. He’ll be one for later in the season.
Allyson Monterg is on a dangerous mark but has been off the track for a year while Kayf Adventure needs a change in form.
Bennys King cannot be ruled out whatsoever back down in trip and still has a big run in him before the season is out.
SELECTION: Happy Diva
DANGER: Domaine De L’Isle
Race 6 – 3.35 Matchbook Clarence House Chase (Grade 1)
The big one up next and many will have this down as a match between UN DE SCEAUX and Defi Du Seuil.
While Janika cannot be ruled out, it is hard to disagree with the ‘match’ and it is a fascinating rematch after their Tingle Creek ding-dong.
It means it’s not much of a betting heat and it is easy to make a case for both of them.
Had the ground not come up heavy it would be Defi Du Seuil’s to lose. But conditions swing it towards Un De Sceaux who hunts an unprecedented fourth Clarence House.
Philip Hobbs’ star looked to have Un De Sceaux beat fairly cosily at Sandown, but a late rally from the veteran meant the winning distance was officially a neck.
That may have flattered Un De Sceaux slightly, but the great thing about today is we will soon find out.
The market has it spot on, and it’s very hard to split them. At the prices, a very slight nod goes to Un De Sceaux. But there are plenty better punting opportunities through the card.
As mentioned Janika is far from a no-hoper. A return to his Haldon Cup form will see him go closer than his Tingle Creek effort where he was well-backed.
He’s versatile and tends to run his race. Don’t give up on him just yet.
Capeland is a different animal back at Ascot, but it’s hard to see him troubling the favourites just yet.
It would be a huge anti-climax if Marracudja figured in this.
PREFERENCE: Un De Sceaux
OBVIOUS DANGER: Defi Du Seuil
Race 7 – 4.05 Matchbook British EBF “National Hunt” Novices’ Hurdle
This finale will revolve around Falco Blitz who really caught the eye in a good Cheltenham race.
He travelled smoothly throughout and only faded out of things late on. The drop in trip is a plus, although the ground is a slight concern.
He also has to lumber a penalty, and while he is the likeliest winner he is far from bomb proof and can be taken on.
It’s worth giving FAUSTINOVICK another chance who came into this season with a big reputation.
It has not gone to plan so far over hurldes, but he has had some time on the sidelines after a wind-op and the tongue-tie goes on here.
That indicates he’s had plenty of problems with his breathing, but he has proper point-to-point form and a good bumper second in the book.
The form to aim at here is not insurmountable and with Robbie Power hanging around to ride him, he must have a sniff.
Blackfinch is another with a shout. Stuart Edmunds is a massively under-rated trainer and his second last time out was encouraging enough.
Again, it’s doubtful he’d need to improve by the bucket load to go close.