Steve Hughes looks ahead to some terrific jump racing on Saturday at both Wetherby and Ascot
We are really into the meat of the jumps season now with both Wetherby and Ascot hosting excellent cards in Britain and Down Royal’s big day of note too. I have selections from three races on the Ascot card, but Wetherby looks to be where the best bet is.
Wetherby 2.0: Aqalim
John Ferguson has been enjoying great success with his jumpers in the early part of the season, the big question will be whether he can maintain that as the competitiveness increases during the winter. However Aqalim could be prove to be a contender for some of the big staying hurdles and can make an immediate impression in the West Yorkshire Hurdle.
He only started hurdling mid-season and progressed dramatically to be third in a Pertemps qualifier at Haydock, was then third in the final itself at the Cheltenham Festival and was then a wide margin winner over 3m at the same track in April.
The sort of horse who is best dropped out for a turn of pace late, he nevertheless possesses bags of stamina to be able to win over 3m at Cheltenham, and he is well capable of picking up the pieces of what could be a fast run race with Rock on Ruby and Closing Ceremony amongst those that like to force the pace.
Ascot 2.15 Sgt Reckless
The least experienced of these over fences, Sgt Reckless nevertheless potentially possesses the most class and can make that tell on his reappearance.
The winner of a beginners chase at Uttoxeter on this weekend last year, we did not see him again over fences due to unsuitably soft ground until the Arkle at Cheltenham. Not surprisingly he made the odd error given his lack of chasing experience but he was a respectable sixth and made use of his novice status to win a weak end of season contest at Carlisle in April.
This will be his first career handicap over jumps but it is possible his mark of 144 could be quite lenient and although we have not seen him over fences for six months, trainer Mick Channon took the opportunity to give him a prep run on the flat at Yarmouth last month to put him spot on for today.
Ascot 2.50: Cloonacool
Trainer Stuart Edmunds has done an excellent job placing Cloonacool and despite a valuable win at Market Rasen last month, he still gets in here off a nice low weight.
A first time out winner in Britain at Stratford last October, he won two handicaps in quick succession last winter, following up a win in a run of the mill event at Huntingdon with a terrific success at Kempton’s Christmas meeting over subsequent Betfair Hurdle winner Violet Dancer.
Given an easy time in the New Year, he reappeared in style at Market Rasen for a listed hurdle and made it two from two on good going when running on strongly to beat Queen Alphabet 2l. He seems at home on galloping right-handed tracks so Ascot should suit and a 4lb rise for that win is not too punitive.
Ascot 3.25: Present View & Ned Stark
A wide open handicap chase, so I am going two against the field.
Present View has been consistently good over fences, winning at the 2014 Cheltenham Festival. Prepared for the Paddy Power Gold Cup last season, he kept on so gamely from the front to be third, despite facing strong competition for the lead throughout. Injury curtailed his season early, but that at least means there is still room for manouevre for his mark. He made a pleasing return at Chepstow earlier this month, but gave the impression he needs 3m when the ground is on the fast side, so comes here in preference to another go in the Paddy Power next month.
Ned Stark still looks very well treated given the high class form he displayed during his novice season. He won his first two chases, both handicaps restricted to novices at Huntingdon and at Newbury, both travelling well and running on gamely for pressure. He also landed the grade 2 Towton Chase at Wetherby in game fashion before flopping when favourite for the William Hill Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. His only other defeat last term also came at Cheltenham so there must be a suspicion he simply does not like that track. In any case this looks like an ideal starting point this season for a horse representing a stable in decent form.
1pt win – Aqalim – Wetherby 2.00 – 5/1 Bet365
1pt win – Sgt Reckless – Ascot 2.15 – 9/2 general
1pt win – Cloonacool – Ascot 2.50 – 7/1 BetVictor, Ladbrokes
1pt win – Present View – Ascot 3.25 – 9/1 general
1pt win – Ned Stark – Ascot 3.25 – 7/1 general