Race Time: 2.50pm Meeting: Ascot Day: Saturday 31st October
Distance: 1m 7f 152yds Full Race Name: William Hill Handicap Hurdle (Listed)
This is going to be a very interesting season for the Nicky Henderson yard since Barry Geraghty took up the retainer with J P McManus, and only time will tell if sticking to his list of jockeys will work – or whether he will look elsewhere for a long term replacement. Andrew Tinkler gets his chance to impress this afternoon on board top weight Sign Of A Victory and we wish him all the best both here and this season – big boots to fill but who knows how good any jockey is until they are given the chances on the very best horses? As for the horse, after stepping out of novice company he has run some great races both in victory and defeat including last time out at Ayr when going down by a neck to the very classy Cheltenian. He cruised up to almost join the leader that day who was only giving a solitary pound away, and almost got there but either way it was a good run in a class race and he deserves top weight – though whether he can give away a stone or more here is a different question and will depend largely on just how fit he is for his seasonal return.
Our money, and our tip for this race, is going on Harry Fry’s Jolly’s Cracked It who started off looking like a world beater last year and gradually faded as the season went on. Two novice hurdles wins at Ascot last November marked him down as one to follow but after that he competed at the highest novice level without any further success. With a summer off to grow and strengthen and returning to the scene of his finest moments he could well run a massive race here. He gets in off a mark of 140 – the handicapper hasn’t been lenient, dropping him just 2lb for three successive defeats at increasing lengths – but we’re hoping the return to track and break will see him in much better light today.
Naturally in a race with £60,000 or more in prize money, all of the 11 runners have realistic chances, and the odds of the favourite at 7/2 reflect that. Five time flat winner Nabucco has had a decent enough start to his new career over obstacles with a two from three record, taking his last pair at Market Rasen and Huntingdon in novice events. Although relatively inexperienced, he does get a massive amount of weight from his better fancied rivals today, and has a fitness advantage. However, he looks underpriced to us, with a lack of experience over hurdles still and we find in these super competitive races it’s often wiser to go for something with more experience as they have the know-how to get out of tricky spots which makes the difference.
Unanimite is one of the raft of Simon Munir & Isaac Souede horses carrying the increasingly familiar green colours, and was a well fancied 8th back in the Fred Winter at Cheltenham Festival off a mark of 132. He’s not managed to follow up that form with anything similar – to be honest, he’s not managed to progress at all since last November when he ran in a Grade 2 Cheltenham hurdle, and we’re not entirely sure why that is. David Pipe tried him up in distance last time out but has dropped him back down again as he didn’t seem to see the trip out. He hung left and still seems a little immature, so we await his return from his summer break to see how he has matured.
To round things off, Dan Skelton will be very glad the top weight runs as it leaves Closest Friend carrying a mere ten stone and right down the bottom of the weights. Only one win over hurdles doesn’t impress at first but when you watch the replays it was by a very easy seventeen lengths. It does need to be added that it wasn’t really much of a race hence his rating of just 127 but he really could be anything off the back of that. He may just be a late developer, in which case more improvement is likely, and he does have the excellent Harry Skelton booked to ride but with so little previous form to go off, a lengthy break and a change of trainer, this is too hot a race for us to be backing him in