The opening contest on ITV looks very tough to decipher on paper but in reality I can’t see many being able to overturn Verni. The promising eight year old ticks a plethora of boxes; hails from a big yard, represents top connections, has run well at big meetings, goes well after a break, acts on soft ground and has champion jockey Richard Johnson in the saddle. Now if that isn’t enough to convince you I don’t know what is. He’s lightly raced for his age so has plenty of room for improvement and although cases can obviously be made for some of his opposition, more noticeably Clyne and El Terremoto, I just can’t see Verni being out of the top three at least.
The first of two Grade 2 contests here at Ascot this afternoon where course and distance winner Top Notch looks the one to be on. A disappointing return to action at Aintree was more than likely a prep run for this race. Reverting back to chasing and to a venue he’s unbeaten at he should have things laid out for a solid performance.
There’d be an alright roar if the well loved Smad Place were to win but, despite being victorious last time, Father Time is likely to be catching up and against this much better opposition he’s likely to play second fiddle.
TOP NOTCH (WIN)
This Grade 3 hurdle looks mightily competitive with some potential rising stars at the forefront of the betting.
Alan King’s The Worlds End was a standout performer last term who, in his six completed starts, found victory on five occasions. An unfortunate faller at Cheltenham two starts back when well in contention shows that he can hang with the best in his division and should be the one to beat. The downside however is that if we were to go off trainer form then Harry Fry’s Minella Awards would be a certainty. The trainer has a staggering 43% strike rate in the past two weeks with 12 winners from 28 runners. That sort of form this early on in the season can’t be overlooked and this Punchestown winner should give the favourite a lot to think about if fit and ready.
At a bigger price Ibsen looks an interesting contender. This dual purpose runner has put in decent efforts both over hurdles and on the flat. Nicely bred out of champion flat horse Dubawi, trainer Gordon Elliot won’t be sending him over for a holiday and may be an outsider that’s flown under many peoples radars.
MINELLA AWARDS (E/W)
When a horse has gone off favourite in all nine of their career starts it’s clear that their talents weren’t a secret and with eight victories in a row Defi Du Seuil has the potential to be one of the best. Victories at both Cheltenham and Aintree festivals this precocious talent is hoping to move on to bigger and better things and a seasonal return in a race like this shouldn’t be too hard a task to overcome.
The ultra consistent L’Ami Serge may pose a few questions of the favourite but if Defi Du Seuil is only 80% ready she’ll still have too much for today’s field.
DEFI DU SEUIL (WIN)
The showpiece race of the day is the Grade 1 Lancashire Chase. We have a handful of Cheltenham Gold Cup hopefuls who are looking to showcase their credentials.
The well loved Cue Card sadly made the headlines for all the wrong reasons last time out which prompted the introduction of Harry Cobden into the saddle. Although he’s wiser he’s also getting older and despite the roar he’d receive if he were to make it into the winners enclosure I feel that spot is reserved for the younger legs of Bristol De Mai.
A victory on his seasonal return Nigel Twiston-Davies charge looks to be on an upward curve. He gave the impression that the further he went the better so this slight step up in trip should suit. The six year old is unbeaten here at Haydock and in my opinion will keep that 100% record in tact.
BRISTOL DE MAI (WIN) - NAP
Even if you’re new to racing I’m sure you’ll have come across the phrase “Horses for Courses” and this race is a prime example of such a saying. Between San Benedeto, Sire De Grugy and Quite By Chance all three have never finished outside of the top two every time they’ve raced at this prestigious race course.
The roof would be blown off if former Champion Chase winner Sire De Grugy were to win but sadly with top weight to carry and his ever advancing years he’s a shadow of his former self and although it’s not out of the question to see him put up a great effort it’s likely he’ll be the bridesmaid as opposed to the bride today.
San Benedeto is a very consistent performer and hailing from the top yard of Paul Nicholls demands a tonne of respect. That being said however his battling qualities seem somewhat lacking and although I’m pretty convinced he’ll challenge for a top three finish it’s hard to side with him for win purposes.
This has therefore left me with Quite By Chance. He was thoroughly beaten by Exitas last time out but there’s no doubt he’ll be fitter for that run and with trainer Colin Tizzard in a rich vein of form he’s expected to go closer today. He’s not the most consistent runner but if he hits anything like his best form is going to go well at a decent price.
QUITE BY CHANCE (WIN)
The lightly raced Robinsfirth is yet to finish outside of the top four in all of his completed starts and that level of consistency deserves recognition. A seasonal return at Cheltenham was very promising and there’s no doubt he’ll be able to build upon that effort. This still looks a highly competitive race but it seems Robinsfirth is likely to continue on an upward curve and if the addition of blinkers can bring about further improvement he’s set to go close.
Sir Ivan aims to make it three wins in a row and this talented seven year old certainly hails from a yard who are bang in form. This however looks like a much more competitive race than he’s used to and with an additional 8lbs of weight to carry this may be a step too far.
As with Robisnfirth there’s another runner who employs blinkers for the first time in the form of Henri Parry Morgan who on his day has it within himself to put in a good showing.
written by Rory Paddock
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