For the second year running Ascot’s Long Walk Hurdle went the way of Reve De Sivola.
Nick Williams’ 8 year old became only the third horse to complete the double following champions Barracuda and Big Bucks. In truth, he had a soft lead throughout and was able to dictate, with jockey Richard Johnson gradually applying more and more pressure while the favourite At Fishers Cross continued to make a series of mistakes.
Reve De Sivola was far from fluent at a couple of hurdles but the rain softened ground played to his strengths and turning for home he looked in control.
Time For Rupert, who had run second for much of the way but looked big and burly on his racecourse return from a long lay-off, blew up on the home turn and eventually came home last in his own time.
The race was fully put to bed at the second last when Salubrious, who appeared the only slight danger to the leader, seemed to stumble badly after taking the flight. That put At Fishers Cross back into second place but he in turn guessed at the last flight and came to a standstill on landing, which threw AP McCoy over his neck. With Time For Rupert all but pulled up, Tweedledrum ploughed on for third place prize money, while up front, Reve De Sivola sauntered home.
Was this World Hurdle form? Course-specialist have our doubts, this race was run to suit Reve De Sivola as were conditions – even then he made mistakes which would cost lengths in a fast-run World Hurdle on a faster surface. Only if it came up really soft would we consider him a serious contender but he has strong place claims next March.
At Fishers Cross at this stage simply does not seem good enough. We feel that the World Hurdle is another step up on this level and he has failed twice this season. He would be rated too highly to have a competitive handicap mark and we wonder if his future might lie over fences this season.
Salubrious ran well but looked unlikely to throw down a serious challenge when making his bad blunder and that is probably as good as he is. His run suggests that More Of That has more improvement to find if that horse is to figure in the World Hurdle.
Solwhit makes his return next week, while Celestial Halo had already beaten a couple of these at Newbury. At present, last season’s ruling regime appear the most likely contenders along with the returning Big Bucks if he retains all of his ability.
In the Mappin & Webb Silver Cup, the deteriorating conditions meant that Nicky Henderson withdrew Hennessy Gold Cup winner Triolo D’alene. However, the ground did not prevent a tremendous tussle in the finishing stages, with recent Ascot winner Houblon Des Obeaux, up several pounds, battling bravely to deny Cedre Bleu as the two horses fought all the way to the line from the final fence. In truth, Houblon Des Obeaux did not jump at his best but he was a willing partner for Aidan Coleman when asked.
Whilst Paul Nicholls had to settle for second place in that race, his progressive Easter Day ran out a good winner of the David Johnson Memorial Shawbrook Graduation Chase. In the event, he had to find guts to beat O’Faolains Boy, making his seasonal and chasing debut – and Rebecca Curtis’s 6 year old, who had run fourth in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle last season, put in a performance of immense promise here.
Ascot’s card finished with 20 runners in The Ladbroke Handicap Hurdle. As the gathering gloom descended on a bleak Berkshire setting, the runners set off with many exciting young horses, aiming to boost their credentials.
Dan Breen, one of 5 David Pipe runners set off in front at the first flight along with stable mates Ronaldo Des Motte and Shotavodka, while AP McCoy on the Willie Mullins’ trained favourite City Slicker was also prominent on the inside.
The order did not change very much as the mud flew, but three hurdles from home Recession Proof fell and Dell’Arca lost his jockey.
Turning for home Dan Breen had dropped back and Willow’s Saviour took up the running from Ptit Zig, the two drawing clear of Flaxen Flare. The order did not change as Dan Skelton’s Willow Saviour maintained his advantage over the last, the field strung out behind. This was Dan Skelton’s biggest training victory by a long way, made all the sweeter as his brother Harry rode him! Willow’s Saviour was the bottom weight and great credit must be given to the runner-up in these heavy conditions, as he is only a 4 year old and shouldered top weight and really franked the form of Diakali.
Up at Haydock Park, the Tommy Whittle Handicap Chase went to Dr Richard Newland’s Night Alliance, who jumped well having fallen on his previous run. He took advantage of a favourable weight today and could be interesting again if he is not penalised too harshly.
There is no Sunday preview this weekend as the racing programme winds down for Christmas, before exploding into life on Boxing/St Stephen’s Day. However, Course-specialist will have one eye on the 1.20pm race from Thurles, the Horse & Jockey Hotel Hurdle, which sees the seasonal return of Un De Sceaux. Willie Mullins’ 5 year old gelding is unbeaten in two hurdles races at Punchestown and has even been given quotes for the Champion Hurdle; however his form to date is a million miles from that level and tomorrow’s return is against what looks like two vastly inferior rivals. Never the less, this is the first stepping stone for what could be an interesting season for Un De Sceaux and we will watch his progress with interest.
Course-specialist was particularly saddened to learn that David Coleman, a bastion of BBC sports coverage and the Grand National for so many years, has passed away. He had a unique voice that we are sure many readers will recall with fondness; his tone, depth of voice and choice of words adding drama to any sporting situation and instantly recognisable. We extend our condolences to his family and friends.
We are also sorry to report that the popular staying grey Silver By Nature broke a leg and had to be destroyed this morning. Our thoughts are with Lucinda Russell and all the connections of a brave horse that excelled at Haydock Park, where in 2010 and 2011 he won what became the Grand National Trial – he had also jumped round in his only attempt at the Aintree Grand National and finished second in the Welsh National and will be sadly missed in those wonderful, muddy staying chases.