Our racing expert gives his verdict on each of the four Ascot races being shown live on ITV4, including the feature Clarence House Chase.
1:50 2m7½f (2m7f118y) olbg.com Mares’ Hurdle (Grade 2) (Registered As The Warfield) (Class 1) (4yo+)
It’s hard to look past LA BAGUE AU ROI as she’s nicely clear of her five rivals on the ratings and proved she stayed this far when digging deep after the last to make it 6-8 over hurdles at Kempton in November. In beating Jer’s Girl, who was getting 4lb and is rated the same amount superior, she posted a career best effort and with further improvement on the cards over this trip, she is going to be tough to beat. She might go off a shade of odds-on, so Ladbrokes’ 11/10 is not to be sniffed at.
Dusky Legend, who is next in the betting, is reverting to hurdles after falling over fences last time and may not want the ground as soft as this, while the hat-trick seeking Midnight Tune is taking a big rise in class.
2:25 2m3½f (2m3f58y) Ascot Spring Garden Show Holloway’s Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3) (Class 1) (4yo+)
It’s tempting to stick with Jenkins now that he has consented to show the ability he was always thought capable of, with a pair of first-time blinkers and front-running tactics doing the trick at Kempton last time. He dominated that class 3 and a subsequent 11lb rise seems fair, with James Bowen’s claim cancelling out some of that, and I’ve no doubt he can rate higher still.
However, this is a more competitive race with potentially more competition for the lead should the excellent Bowen decide to adopt similar tactics to last time, and given he’s plenty short enough in the betting I’m inclined to take him on. There are several decent alternatives but none are more convincing than OXWICH BAY, a 13/2 shot with Coral who is getting a whopping 19lb from the favourite when you take Mitchell Bastyan’s claim into account. I can’t believe Evan Williams’ charge is inferior by that amount and, indeed, some of his previous hurdling form / bumper efforts suggest he’s very well treated on a mark of 124. He was found an easy opening last time, fairly bolting up in a Ffos Las maiden on the heavy ground that suits him so well, and that will have done his confidence the world of good. Connections could have found another small race for him (he missed an engagement at Sedgefield last week), so the fact they are pitching him into this ultra competitive handicap is a sign they think he is capable of exploiting his mark to bag a nice pot. The more rain the better for him.
Others worthy of a mention are Le Breuil who bumped into one at Aintree last time and has always been highly regarded by his trainer Ben Pauling. The stable has been quiet of late, though, and a bigger threat to the selection may come from Irish raider Crossed My Mind, who looked ready for a step up to this sort of trip when third at Sandown last time and benefits from promising conditional Jonjo O’Neill’s 7lb claim.
3:00 2m5f (2m5f8y) bet365 Handicap Chase (Class 2) (5yo+)
Harry Fry’s Acting Lass is on a hat-trick after wins at Market Rasen and Leicester and while this is considerably tougher, he remains a horse with plenty of untapped potential and looks a worthy favourite, albeit bookmakers aren’t exactly giving him away at just 5/2.
He may well win but the value lies elsewhere and double-digit quotes – bet365 go a top price of 11/1 and are also one quarter the odds – about Lucinda Russell’s FOREST DES AIGLES seem generous given his profile. Bought from Guillaume Macaire after winning in France, he was gaining his fourth win over fences from his last five starts (3-3 this season) when upped to 3m on heavy ground at Bangor last month. He simply cruised round on that occasion and while he’s been raised a further 8lb since, he is clearly a chaser going places and remains at the right end of the handicap with just 10st 2lb on his back this afternoon. A low weight will be a big asset in the expected testing conditions, which we know he handles, and he certainly won’t be stopping at the finish. UPDATE – the selection has been switched to the Peter Marsh Chase (Haydock, 3.15) and should go well in that, while the Ascot race can go to GUITAR PETE, who has been revitalised by the switch to Nicky Richards. While the eight-year-old was lucky to win at Cheltenham last month, a subsequent 5lb rise is far from harsh and is mostly taken care of by Ryan Day’s claim.
3:35 2m1f (2m167y) Royal Salute Whisky Clarence House Chase (Grade 1) (Class 1) (5yo+)
The day’s feature race is a big turn off for punters with Willie Mullins’ UN DE SCEAUX no bigger than 4/7 to see off four vastly inferior rivals headed by Brain Power, who has 11lb to find on official figures and didn’t even complete at Sandown last time – he looked held by the winner Sceau Royal when departing company with his rider at the last. A clear round this time should be enough to secure second spot as he was a taking winner on his chase debut at Kempton previously, but it would be a major surprise if Un De Sceaux was unable to land a record third win in this Grade 1 contest, especially as he looked as good as ever when making all at Cork in December.
All odds were correct at time of posting.