Pre-Crimbo racing centres on the two-day Ascot meeting, with small fields the order of the day at the Berkshire track, apart from the closing ‘Bumper’, which we are not covering.
Joint most valuable race of the day is the Mitie Noel Novices’ Chase at 2.30, with just three going to post.
Favourite at 5-4 is Colin Tizzard trained Finian’s Oscar and regular readers will know that we took dead against this horse last time out, running at Sandown over 2 miles, opining that trip and course were totally wrong for this long striding, athletic animal. The 61 lengths it was beaten would appear to vindicate our assessment, but today is a completely different boiler of trout, with a proper trip and more time between obstacles. There is also a different jockey, with Brian Cooper back in the plate, replacing Robbie Power, who was quite rude about Finian’s after Sandown.
Although its two opponents are talented in their own right, Tizzy’s charge could be different class and should be backed accordingly.
Two other ‘shorties’ also catch the eye, earlier on the card, starting with the Stella Artois Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase at 1.20. Nicky Henderson’s Divine Spear is the favourite at 11-10 after comfortably beating the 136-rated Alzammaar on chasing debut at the end of November. Looking likely to be a better chaser than a hurdler, off an opening mark of 133, Divine Spear should also be backed.
The Sky Bet Supreme Trial Novices’ Hurdle at 1.55 has a massive field of six and Mr Henderson again has the favourite in Claimantakinforgan (easy for you to say) at 5-4. This horse was third and fifth in the Cheltenham & Aintree champion Bumpers last season and was backed as if there were no tomorrow on hurdles debut at the trainer’s beloved Newbury at the beginning of November. Connections certainly knew what they had as, despite clearly needing the run, this 5-y-o powered away from a decent rival which has won easily since. Getting 5 lbs from the second-in and prominent in the ante-post Festival markets, this’ll do for me.
So that’s 6-5, 11-10 & 5-4 – ‘what about a Trixie?’ I hear you cry – I couldn’t possibly comment.
The two other ‘proper’ races have an each way shape to them, so that’s what we’ll do.
The eventmasters.co.uk Maiden Hurdle (honestly, there’s no capital ‘E’) at 12.45 has a field of ten, with the favourite at 100-30 being the Dan Skelton trained Robin Waters. Winner of its only ‘Point’, this 4-y-o made a satisfactory start to its hurdle career with a third placing behind two Henderson debutants at Newbury and will probably run well. However, at the prices, we prefer to concentrate on a race that took place on this course at the end of November, won by Kildisart. Finishing 3rd that day was Oakley Hall, trained by Jonjo O’Neill, its hurdle and stable debut and first run since winning a Punchestown Bumper in February. Looking as if it would come on bundles for the run and be suited by today’s extra 2 furlongs, this is an attractive each way bet at 9-1.
Further back in 8th that day was the Henderson trained Settie Hill, given a poor ride and showing immense promise for next time – which is today. Significantly, this horse is shorter in the betting, so we also recommend an each way investment at 11-2.
And finally – the Mitie Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle at 3.05 has the ‘dead eight’, so hold your breath and slam into The Mighty Don each way at 4-1.
After you’ve done that, also have a few ackers each way on dear old Invicta Lake at an artisan 10-1. Showed the fire is still burning last time out, after a long lay-off and is now insultingly well handicapped.
Back tomorrow with a festive summation.
Finian’s Oscar 2.30 Ascot (win @ 5-4 BetVictor)
Divine Spear 1.20 Ascot (win @ 11-10 Ladbrokes)
Claimantakinforgan 1.55 Ascot (win @ 5-4 Coral)
Oakley Hall 12.45 Ascot (each way @ 9-1 William Hill)
Settie Hill 12.45 Ascot (each way @ 11-2 Boylesports)
The Mighty Don 3.05 Ascot (each way @ 4-1 10Bet)
Invicta Lake 3.05 Ascot (each way @ 10-1 Betbright)