2016 winner Poker School bids to defend his crown despite unseating last time at Doncaster. He is clearly in good heart and should at least hit the frame @ 6/1. There are one or two in this field capable of improvement, most notably Casse Tete, off since March after producing an impressive twenty seven length victory at Sandown and with improvement possible, looks tempting @ 9/1. Gary Moore has a good record at Ascot with his chasers, fitness being the only doubt. Mr Medic, Monbeg River, Dream Bolt and Pougne Bobbi are all capable of better and have to come into calculations in what is a very competitive race, while Un Beau Roman is well handicapped and cannot be ruled out @ 14/1.
Limited Reserve won a competitive handicap over course and distance from some good types last time and is the obvious one at 5/6. Christian Willliams’ improving five year old should have too much for this field though Kk Lexion’s chances should be aided by Noel George’s seven pound claim. The value may lie with Zalvados @ 13/2 who ran an encouraging race at Cheltenham last time and handles these conditions. Doubts surround Blue Hussar on the ground but he has the ability while Bazooka looks out of his depth.
Unowhatimeanharry will again lock horns with old adversary Lil Rockerfeller in a repeat of this race twelve months ago. Unowhatimeanharry won that clash comfortably by four lengths but that form was totally reversed at the Cheltenham Festival in March, then reversed again at Punchestown, which shows how closely matched and beatable both he and Lil Rockerfeller are. To add more doubt into the mix Unowhatimeanharry was defeated by Beer Goggles last time at Newbury, admittedly with a six pound penalty but due to that form, the 2/1 looks short. Lil Rockerfeller is a consistent type who, more often than not gives his best running but prefers a sounder surface and with the ground on the soft side may find this too testing.
L’Ami Serge, on the other hand, will enjoy conditions and is proven at the distance having performed admirably in France earlier in the year. He looked in need of the race last time but travelled well until three out and rates a big danger to the favourite @ 11/2. Top staying novice hurdler The Worlds End will likely appreciate better, Spring like ground and it was always going to be tough ask carrying top weight in heavy conditions at Haydock. He is still one to stay on the right side of @ 10/1. Sam Spinner took apart the field in the same race and looks progressive but will have to step up again on that run which is starting to look a little weak form wise. The same can be said of Thomas Campbell, who has won both starts comfortably this season in the manner of a good horse and represents top connections. He is a contender @ 7/1 if improving again.
Since returning to hurdles last March Taquin Du Seuil has been given a new lease of life achieving a second in the Coral Cup, fourth in the Stayers Hurdle at Aintree and finishing only three lengths behind Unowhatimeanharry last time at Newbury, staying on well. The veteran ten year old is the possible surprise package @ 28/1.
Full Irish, on only his second chase start, hacked up by seven lengths from Two Smokin Barrels and rates the one to beat @ 10/3. This son of Flemensfirth showed real potential as a stayer, handles heavy ground and has the perfect jockey in Davy Russell to guide him. Course and distance winner Three Faces West found the extra distance in a grade three at Cheltenham a little too much last time and should go well @ 7/2 back down to a trip that suits. This is by no means a to horse race with the improving Lake View Lad, fresh from a good win at Newcastle, a definite contender @ 6/1 and Vic De Touzaine, on the shortlist, though he needs to find more for last year’s winning trainer, Venetia Williams. 2014 winner Broadway Buffalo returns to the scene of his victory but unless heavily backed, is best watched after a near two year absence. Captain Redbeard did not get the best of runs at Aintree last time, being hampered before hitting the third out. He is bred for this sort of test, goes well at Haydock and could be over priced @ 14/1. Another who likes Haydock is No Planning, has conditions in his favour and is well handicapped @ 14/1.
An extremely competitive renewal of this race with Regal Encore, third in the Ladbrokes Gold Cup, bidding for back to back wins but will need to find more to win this race again. Another who ran well in the Ladbrokes Gold Cup was Singlefarmpayment coming down three out but he, O O Seven and Go Conquer, like Regal Encore, will have to find more improvement to feature but have to be on the shortlist. Of more interest is Frodon @ 12/1 who looks well weighted with Bryony Frost’s claim, this looking an easier task than recent races he has contested. Paul Nicholls also saddles Ptit Zig who ran well at Taunton behind Top Notch and if the jumping holds up again, could be of interest @ 20/1. Gold Present looks the first choice for Nicky Henderson after a staying on win at Newbury and can go well again stepping up to three miles for the first time though On Tour travelled very well behind Gold Present in that race at Newbury and could reverse the form. Two improving types, Fortunate George, who relished going right handed at Ascot last time and Icing On The Cake, can both go well at 14/1 and 40/1 respectively while Walk In The Mill won well last time and has to come into calculations for Northern raider Robert Walford.
Charli Parcs had promised much, yet failed to deliver last season but took a step back in the right direction when second to High Bridge at Newbury in the Gerry Feilden, a good trial for this race. He should build on that display, improve and is a definite contender @ 11/2 with only the lack of experience of a grade one, right handed testing track, a`la Ascot, Sandown or Fairyhouse, a possible negative. Fellow four year olds Silver Streak, Divin Bere and Nietzsche are all interesting runners though both Silver Streak’s and Divin Bere’s lack of handicap form against older horses is a worry while Brian Ellison’s Nietzsche can go well @ 18/1 after finishing sixth in the Greatwood at Cheltenham. Talented five year old, Magic Dancer @ 14/1, looks well treated on the figures but again lacks experience of these tough handicaps.
The market, with Charli Parcs and Silver Streak @ 11/2, favours potential and has ignored the steadily progressive Elgin, a course and distance winner and already victorious in two competitive handicaps so far this season, including the Greatwood. The 9/1 looks too big a price even though he has the task of shouldering top weight and Alan King’s five year old will surely be in the frame. Nicky Henderson is double handed at the five day stage and with all eyes on Charli Parcs, improving mare Verdana Blue is just sneaking under the radar. She has ran well on both starts at Ascot, on seasonal debut when fifth behind next time out winners Elgin, Limited Reserve and High Bridge and when comfortably taking a class two handicap from Speredek. With more improvement likely she has to be, along with Elgin, value @ 10/1.
The Jumeirah Hotels and Resorts Handicap Hurdle at Sandown, a race won by Brain Power last year en route to success in this race, again looks good, solid handicap form and Caid du lin, who just lost out to A Hare Breath can build on that effort two weeks ago and go close again @ 20/1. Air Horse One is consistent and should be involved at the business end @ 12/1 but is just starting to look a little exposed, Fergall, third in this race twelve months ago can place one more while Chesterfield and Veinard can all go well at big prices but may not quite have the class to win this.
Quickened Clear’s Best Bets:
Casse Tete – 1.50 Ascot – 1pt win @ 9/1
Full Irish – 2.45 Haydock – 2pt win @ 10/3
Captain Redbeard – 2.45 Haydock – 1pt win @ 14/1
Frodon – 3.00 Ascot – 1pt win @ 12/1