The prospect of rain through the morning could make things interesting at Ascot with the ground likely to go at least soft, if not heavy in places. La Bague Au Roi is the pick on the figures and this improving mare has every right to be favourite though she does have a tendency to hit the last hurdle and enjoys getting into a battle at the end of her races. This is not ideal viewing for short price backers and testing conditions will be somewhat of an unknown and she did not overly convince at Wetherby on soft. Dusky Legend comes in search of black type, tries three miles for the first time and on ratings should be second favourite after producing some good form at the back end of last season but the distance is the doubt. Kempton scorer Midnight Tune won well last time, admittedly with a low weight, will find things tougher here and may not get everything her own way with Hitherjacques Lady in the field, who also likes to race to the fore. Graceful Legend has improved for the fitting of cheekpieces and ran well in a competitive hurdle at Cheltenham last time giving the impression that three miles was well worth a try. Having won well at Ascot in November she could be staying on at the finish @ 10/1.
An intriguing Rossington Main Novices’ Hurdle with every runner in with a chance and has produced past winners such as Neon Wolf, Peddler’s Cross and Cinders And Ashes. The latter two were both trained by Donald McCain who saddles favourite Waterlord, a horse with good bumper form before he produced a couple of taking victories in novice hurdles. He has course, distance and ground form, which could be key and rates the one to beat. First Flow’s demolition of Dell Oro at Newbury reads well and this cheaply bought six year old has surprised somewhat and on the figures should give Waterlord plenty to think about @ 5/2. Colin Tizzard has always been fond of Lostintranslation who finished two and a quarter lengths behind the talented Claimintakinforgan on his penultimate start and has to be respected though stable form is still a worry and the fact Robbie Power had previously stated that he had a good action and bottomless ground may not suit. Midnight Shadow was ahead of Waterlord back in November and progressed again when second to Tolworth Hurdle third, Mount Des Avaloirs, he can go well @ 12/1. Mcgowan’s Pass, related to Ellens Way, improved for his debut over hurdles at Newcastle before defeating solid yardstick Cool Mix at Ayr and could spring a surprise @ 25/1 while Charlie Longsdon fairs well with his hurdlers at Haydock and his Wetherby form looks good when winning readily, so cannot be ruled out @ 14/1.
A competitive handicap hurdle with Nicky Henderson, who is always to be feared in these races, saddling two in Burbank and Jenkins. Burbank is fitted with cheekpieces after a couple of disappointing efforts and has questions to answer while Jenkins finally delivered last time at Kempton in a class three handicap but this is much tougher. Crossed My Mind has been consistent in both appearances this season and on breeding will be suited by the extra distance. With Jonjo O’Neill taking a valuable seven pounds off he can go close @ 6/1. Le Breuil boasts some good form, not least his nine length victory over Benetar last March and his most recent effort, a sixth length second to Warwick winner Black Ivory. He has to be respected though Ben Pauling has had a head cold going around his yard so some caution is warranted. Oxwich Bay is open to improvement and his run behind Magic Dancer in November looks fair form aligned with Mitchell Bastyan’s five pound claim, has to be a contender @ 5/1. Jabulani disappointed at Newbury last time but looks well handicapped and with improvement possible, can go well @ 20/1 as can Night Of Sin for Lizzie Kelly and Nick Williams @ 12/1.
Top class and evergreen ten year old, The New One just held off, what was a progressive Clyne last year in this race and the two lock horns again. The New One will attempt to make all and this consistent sort should again have the measure of Clyne @ 5/4, who has not been in as good a form this time around. The New One’s biggest threat is posed by Ch’Tibello @ 7/4, who surprisingly enjoyed heavy conditions when winning over course and distance last season and gave the impression a stamina test would suit when keeping on behind My Tent Or Yours and the aforementioned The New One in the International Hurdle at Cheltenham. Unison has plenty to find and will look to pick up some easy prize money.
A competitive handicap with progressive types Acting Lass and Robinshill alongside Caspian Caviar Gold Cup winner Guitar Pete plus top handicappers Shantou Flyer and Tenor Nivernais. Acting Lass has won both starts over fences well but this is much more of a test in class and of jumping for this big son of King’s Theatre who is fairly short @ 5/2. In a similar vein, Robinshill’s jumping will be tested and this course is not certain to suit as he has jumped and jinked left of late. Guitar Pete won well from Clan Des Obeaux at Cheltenham, still can be competitive off his current mark and looks the solid contender @ 11/2. Shantou Flyer ran right up to his best last time at Cheltenham behind Ballyhill on New Year’s Day and a repeat of that should see him competitive, presuming the cheekpieces work again while Tenor Nivernais can go well fresh and trainer Venetia Williams has a good record at Ascot with any market move worth noting.
Rock The Kasbah and Tintern Theatre have good claims on form but are unproven in what is going to be a stamina sapping test on heavy ground. It will be something of a leap of faith to back either @ 13/2 or 6/1. Hainan, on the other hand, was a revelation when facing these same conditions over a little further at Haydock last time when pushed out to victory beating Courtown Oscar by twelve lengths and looks the one to beat @ 13/2 for Sue Smith and Danny Cook. The progressive Forest des Aigles steps up in class after three facile wins this season and may be on the big side @ 12/1. Walk In The Mill looks interesting stepped up in trip @ 9/1 but both he and Captain Redbeard need to find some improvement from their current marks. The same applies to Yala Enki who still looks held on the figures while Fine Rightly is lurking on a very lenient handicap figure and could be the fly in the ointment @ 25/1.
This looks Un De Sceaux’s to lose rather than any of the other runners to win as he goes for the hat-trick of victories in the Clarence House Chase. This should be a formalitiy given a trouble free passage with only the improving Speredek, also a front runner, possibly causing him a few problems. A scenario where the two pull clear can be envisaged and Speredek could be some value for forecast and without the favourite purposes. San Benedeto and Kylemore Lough cut similar profiles in that they have too high a mark to contest handicaps yet do not have the class for grade one’s, place money is their best hope. Brain Power is the one runner who could have the ability to trouble Un De Sceaux but he will have to improve markedly on his Sandown run and it must be noted that he failed to perform at the top level over hurdles.
Quickened Clear’s Best Bets:
Graceful Legend – 1.50 Ascot – 1pt win @ 10/1
Crossed My Mind – 2.25 Ascot – 1pt win @ 6/1
Guitar Pete – 3.00 Ascot – 1pt win @ 11/2
Hainan – 3.15 Haydock – 1pt win @ 6/1