The big news story from Ascot this afternoon has been the announcement from Nicky Henderson that Simonsig is set to miss the entire campaign.
Earlier in the autumn it was reported that the grey Arkle Chase winner would miss his intended early season target the King George VI Chase after a splint injury had been detected. At the time, Henderson said that a review would be undertaken around Christmas time to determine Simonsig’s plans for the 2013/14 season.
Sadly Henderson has announced that the decision taken is to miss the rest of the season with a view to coming back in the autumn of 2014, with the King George the target in a year’s time.
Henderson indicated that whilst the initial fracture has healed, with consensus among leading veterinarians was that the risk was too high and whilst the horse will continue to rehabilitate in light exercise, he will then be turned out in the summer.
This is particularly frustrating given Simonsig was surely likely to play a major role in big races this season. Let us hope he comes back fully fit and capable of showing his best form in 2014.
Meanwhile, Ascot’s big race of the day was the often informative Mitie Kennel Gate Novices’ Hurdle and the race was won impressively by the still unbeaten Paul Nicholls’ recruit Irving. As the field turned for home it was evident that the highly touted Henderson horse Volnay De Thaix was under pressure, as the smart Flat horse Prince Siegfried set sail for home. However, up his inside came Irving, travelling strongly for Nick Schofield and he appeared to have matters well in hand as Prince Siegfried took a fall at pace at the final flight.
Irving galloped on to record an easy victory with Volnay De Thaix just staying on for second place. The winner is now three from three but it remains to see how he copes with the hustle and bustle of a likely large field, let alone the undulations of Cheltenham. This was however a performance of real promise and the horse cannot have done any more at this stage of his blossoming career.
Earlier on the card, Royal Boy proved himself a youngster of real promise as he won the maiden hurdle from Big Hands Harry, giving the Henderson team a one-two. The winner looks likely to progress and Michael Buckley’s horse has the scope to make a really nice chaser in the future.
The novice chase was won in imperious fashion by Fox Appeal, who looks set to win a really big race before the season is out.
The first half of the race saw outsider Up To Something and the favourite Fox Appeal cut out the running with Raya Star a couple of lengths behind and Mr Mole giving the field several lengths advantage. About a mile out Fox Appeal took a slender advantage, with Mr Mole having made a bad error and all but jettisoning AP McCoy from the saddle.
As Up To Something gave way Raya Star closed in and so too did Mr Mole, who continued to make errors.
At the home turn, Fox Appeal kicked on with Raya Star working hard to keep in touch. Mr Mole galloped on in third place but between the final two fences Fox Appeal went a long way clear and a super jump at the final fence sealed a dominant victory. Raya Star ran second but was a long way behind.
This was a terrific performance and the Emma Lavelle team remains in great form. This horse deserves his place in the Jewson field on this performance although post-race, Lavelle suggested that jockey Aidan Coleman had recommended dropping down in distance for a crack at the Arkle Chase.
Whichever route they choose to go, Fox Appeal is likely to be on offer at reasonable odds simply because he does not hail from one of the so-called leading yards. However, talent is talent and the Lavelle yard is more than holding its own this season and if the team continues in this form come March, Fox Appeal has a big chance on this running.