Race Time: 3.00pm Meeting: Ascot Day: Saturday 20th February 2016 Full Race Name: Les Ambassadeurs Casino Handicap Hurdle Class Two
One of the most fascinating races of the day as far as we can see with some long awaited horses returning to action, and some in form options moving up in class to take on the big boys. From top weight to bottom we have some decent enough animals headed at the top by Nicky Henderson’s Different Gravey who we know they think a lot of at Seven Barrows, but who hasn’t been seen since winning at Ayr in April 2015. His race record so far sees four wins from five races, starting with a point to point at Loughanmore, and adding in a maiden hurdle at Newbury and two novices at Huntingdon and Ayr. He does look pretty harshly handicapped off of 149 to be honest but may well have a load of room for improvement after so few races though winning this off top weight after 309 days off really ought to be asking too much in this competitive event.
Nigel Twiston-Davies has an interesting runner in the shape of Arctic Gold, a lightly raced five year old who won three in a row at Stratford, Bangor, and Ludlow before coming unstuck last time out at Warwick, weakening over three and a quarter miles and not helped by a bad mistake. His favourite trip seems an unknown quantity with wins at two miles, two and a half, and three, so we can’t say this is or isn’t ideal for him, but we can add that his stamina today is not in question. Given over a month off since his last race he may return refreshed, and with Ryan Hatch taking a useful three pounds off his back, he has each way chances in our view here.
Evan Williams had Roadie Joe on a bit of a roll with four wins in a row at Worcester (twice) Warwick, and Chepstow, though he came unstuck last time out when only fifth to Label Des Obeaux at Sandown. Some think it was the extra ten pounds he had to carry that was his undoing, but we suspect it was the softer going with all his wins on ground with the word Good involved, and if we are correct he needs a bit of drying weather if he is to have any chance of adding to those wins this afternoon and we will not be even thinking of backing him on softer ground.
Once again today we find ourselves drawn to the Jonjo O’Neill string and he may well send Montdragon here as he looks to make it three out of three for the season. A beautiful looking son of Turtle Bowl owned by J P McManus, both his wins have been over this trip on good to soft and then heavy ground, stating on strongly twice suggesting that in the long term he will be better over further. More rain would help as it would slow down his rivals and turn this in to more of a stamina test, and we are wary that this may be too short for him already in this class even at this stage of his still blossoming career.
To end with, Debdebdeb is an interesting one in her first season as a handicapper, and should improve a lot more than her recent rise for the step up in trip. She has plenty in hand at Kempton over two miles on her return late last month when staying on well, and with even more expected over this sort of distance she could yet prove to be the one they all have to beat this afternoon for the Skelton yard. Add the form boost of wins for the second, fourth, and sixth from the Kempton race, and she looks better and better in by the moment, and that is enough for us to make her a bet this afternoon.