A quality jumps card at Ascot and the devilishly difficult Irish Lincolnshire come under scrutiny
It’s the second day of Doncaster’s Lincoln meeting but with most of the races real head-scratchers, I’m turning to the jumps action at Ascot for the day’s best bet.
The feature on the seven-race card is the 2m1f handicap chase for novices (due off 3.40pm) and all nine runners bring winning form to the table. Four of them were in action at the Cheltenham Festival with Alan King’s Turn Over Sivola faring best with his fifth (of 20) in the Grand Annual, while Kim Bailey’s Un Ace was very disappointing in the Festival Plate when fancied. The latter could bounce back here with Tony McCoy up, but I much prefer the chances of the improving CROOKSTOWN.
Ben Case’s charge has been doing all his running at the smaller tracks and has won a couple of handicaps already this season, including last time out at Taunton. That was a three-course race admittedly but he was the outsider of the trio and was good value for his three-length margin of victory. Afterwards, his jockey Kielan Woods said: “We’ve yet to see the best of Crookstown. He needs better ground and a bigger field.” That’s exactly what he’s faced with today.
The going was “good to soft” when he won on his seasonal reappearance at Uttoxeter in October and with ground conditions identical this afternoon, he may well be good enough to defy a further 6lb rise, getting weight from his main rivals. The aforementioned Un Ace has been doing his winning over much further and a bigger danger may be Richard Lee’s Top Gamble, who was last seen chasing home Vibrato Valtat at Warwick. A mark of 153 looks on the high side, though, and this front-runner may set the race up for the strong-travelling selection.
The Irish Flat season gets under way at the Curragh this afternoon and the big betting race is the Irish Lincolnshire (4.55pm). This is as tough as it gets for punters with 26 set to go to post and it makes sense to have a couple of runners on our side. Last year’s winner Stuccodor won’t be one of them as he is 6lb higher than 12 months ago, meaning he has top weight of 10st 1lb to carry, and the drying ground is another negative for this mudlark. With Ger Lyons saying earlier in the week that none of his three runners, including joint favourite Unsinkable, would not be “fully revved up” it could pay to swerve them too.
We’re guessing at the fitness of most of these, admittedly, but Kevin Prendergast normally has his horses well forward and his VASTONEA, one of two stable representatives and the first string on jockey bookings, should go well. Twice a winner over a mile at the Galway Festival, he was staying on all the way to the line in the Irish Cambridgeshire here last August, despite being hampered close home, and runs off the same mark today. He’s a shade of value at Boylesports’ 14/1.
The other one to have a small each-way interest on is SOPHIE’S WORLD at a big-looking 33/1, again with Boylesports. Having shown some smart juvenile form at two, she was always going to struggle in three-year-old handicaps against the boys last season. It was to her credit then that she won a competitive handicap over an extended mile at the Galway Festival, before flying home in the aforementioned Irish Cambridgeshire after being given too much to do. She’s since joined Alan Fleming and may have some more improvement in her this season.