Steve Hughes looks ahead to the first day of jumping at Ascot this winter
Just two weeks after Champions Day at Ascot, the attention turns to the jumpers and there is a cracking card to begin proceedings this winter. I have selections from four excellent handicaps.
Ascot 1.35: Diable de Sivola
It seems incredible that Diable de Sivola is without a win since scoring on his hurdling debut as a 3yo in July 2016. However perhaps a change of scenery and a move to the Gary Moore stable can pay dividends.
This is a card that Moore has been very successful at in recent years and this 6yo looks fairly weighted off a mark of 135 if the new yard can do the trick. He ran some cracking races in defeat, notably when third to Larry on the final day of the season at Sandown.
His best runs have generally come on stiff tracks, so I think he will enjoy this largely uphill finish. He never really got involved around the tight Haydock track last time. Having come off a full season of chasing last year, he will have an edge on experience having already raced seven times over fences.
Ascot 2.10: Ballywood
With high winds forecast and a likely headwind turning for home, I am looking for horses coming from off the pace today. Ballywood fits the bill nicely in this.
He had a very consistent first season chasing last time around, but gave the distinct impression that the faster the pace the better he will be as he will be able to settle better. He won 3-5 last season, but palpably failed to see out the 2m4f trip at Ayr last time.
He is better judge on wins at Doncaster, Taunton and Ludlow over 2m. I expect Tom Cannon to get him covered up early as this horse has a high cruising speed but can do too much too early if he sees daylight. Such tactics could work perfectly on a windy day like today.
Ascot 2.45: Lisp & Jacamar
Two against the field for this fiercely competitive hurdle.
The class act is Lisp who goes well here having placed second in the big pre-Christmas handicap here behind Mohaayed. A fifth place on his final start in the County Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival was a decent effort, and this race does represent a slight drop in grade. He won easily first time out last season, so the absence since March need not be an issue.
Way down the bottom of the handicap, Jacamar could be overpriced. This fin strapping budding chaser is gradually getting the hang of racing. He cantered home to win by 10l at Newton Abbot in September, and though he was well beaten in a listed handicap at Market Rasen, he put in a very promising effort at Chepstow two weeks ago. Coming from way off the pace, he was finishing better than anything when third to Torpillo. He could find this run to suit with Gumball a perennial front-runner and he has fitness on his side having been on the go during the summer.
Ascot 3.20: Vinndication & Mister Malarky
Another two suggestions for the feature.
Vinndication raced over 2m4f last season, but gave the real impression we would see much better from him once he races over this 3m trip. Kim Bailey always has his horses well forward at this time of year and he won first time out last season. Indeed he won his first six races under all codes until two defeats at Grade 1 level in the spring. Considering he was taken out of his comfort zone and jumped badly at Cheltenham he did well to be beaten only 12l by Defi Du Seuil. He has had a wind op since and gets a decent racing weight of 11-0 for his handicap bow.
Mister Malarky is very much on my shortlist of horses to follow this season. I doubt today is his main target (the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury has been mentioned) but he is a fast improving chaser. He jumps beautifully and won the Reynoldstown here back in February before running a cracker to be second at Aintree and fourth in the RSA at Cheltenham. Again he gets in off a decent rating considering his excellent form last season.
0.75pts each-way – Diable de Sivola – 1.35 Ascot – 8/1 Bet365
1pt each-way – Ballywood – 2.10 Ascot – 8/1 BetVictor, Coral
0.75pts each-way – Lisp – 2.45 Ascot – 15/2 Paddy Power (1/5 odds 1st 5)
0.5pts each-way – Jacamar – 2.45 Ascot – 33/1 general
1pt win – Vinndication – 3.20 Ascot – 7/2 general
0.75pts each-way – Mister Malarky – 3.20 Ascot – 7/1 general (most bookies 1/5 odds 1st 5)