Race Time: 2.25pm Meeting: Ascot Day: Saturday 23th January 2016 Full Race Name: “40 Years of Keltbray” Holloway’s Handicap Hurdle (Grade Three) Class One
An interesting mix of in form horses going up the weights and out of form horses heading in the opposite direction makes it a challenge, but one we are confident we can live up to! Gary Moore is having a great season so far and has notched up three wins with the likeable Baron Alco (14/1), but can he make it four in a row off a handicap rating seven pounds higher than last time out at Kempton we wonder. He was all guts to hang on over further that day after making all the running but may find it a little easier to slip his field over this distance, though he is very close to being in the grasp of the handicapper, and this is a serious step up in class.
Trainer Nick Gifford is yet to reach the dizzy heights of father Josh, but has a live contender here in Theo’s Charm (8/1) who is looking to land his hat trick this afternoon. In win form three bumpers was better than expected as he always looked as if he would be better once sent jumping, and so it has proved with two consecutive wins at Plumpton, by seven lengths and then twenty-three lengths in Class Four novice hurdles. Assessing the actual form isn’t easy but he did beat the highly regarded Clayton last time out and is certainly improving race on race, but Class Four to Class One and Plumpton to Ascot is quite a leap of faith.
When Harry Fry pairs up with jockey Noel Fehily they can be a force to reckon with a 27% strike rate and a level stakes profit of 24.25 points in the last five years, and Zulu Oscar (10/1) is an interesting option here having won two of his last three races over hurdles, and falling heavily when in with a good chance in the other one. He may have only scored by a length last time out when seeing off Affaire D’Honneur at Kempton but he cruised throughout the contest before being unleashed with a well time run, and better still running on all the way to the line almost implying he would be even better for this step up in trip. Ten pounds from the handicapper seems harsh at first glance, but he did have some higher rated horses toiling in his wake (even if they were receiving a few pounds), and could even still be a few pounds ahead of his potential mark.
Lambourn handler Nicky Henderson has a very strong looking hand here and he has decided to run three, two of which are of great interest though for very different reasons. Kilcrea Vale (11/1) won a point to point at Bartlemy first time out in May 2014, and made a very impressive hurdling debut at Market Rasen last January when pulling a long way clear of his rivals to post a smooth success and go in to many a note book. Sent off heavily odds on for his next race here (over shorter), he hadn’t even been asked a question when falling two out, suggesting he may remain unbeaten barring that mishap. Stepped up in trip today he is certainly of interest, but we do note Nico De Boinville rides his stable mate and can assume he had the choice.
As alluded to above, Nico rides Sugar Baron (12/1) in the race and he looks a very interesting entry and the eon we want to side with. After winning a bumper here first time out, he scored over hurdles at Newbury on heavy going when he saw off multiple winner Ar Mad by eighteen lengths and then ran well enough in fourth behind Our Kaempfer when stepped up to two miles five, but failed to build on that first time out this season when only sixth to Baron Alco back at Kempton, again over two miles five. We wonder if the ground may have been quick enough for him in both those races as he seemed to struggle to go with the early pace, but dropped back in trip on softer going he could return to his best form, in which case a rating of 131 may be pretty generous and a an each way bet is on the cards at the barest minimum.
Click here to get all our Channel 4 racing tips!