On Saturday, Ascot stages its big pre-Christmas afternoon of racing, with the highlight being the Grade 1 JLT Long Walk Hurdle over three miles, where Reve De Sivola bids to emulate Barracouda with a fourth win in the race.

As previously eluded to France has had its moments in this race, thanks to the remarkable Barracouda, and it is good to see French representation in the big British jumps races once again, courtesy of the talented Alex De Larredya. The Francois Nicolle trained 6 year old is one of France’s leading hurdlers and finished 2 lengths second to Ptit Zig in the Grade 1 Grand Course de Haies d’Auteuil (French Champion Hurdle) over just under three miles in June. In September he returned with an impressive 7 lengths defeat of Ballotin in an Auteuil Grade 3 contest, before running 2 lengths second of 10 to Ultraji (conceding 6 pounds to the winner) in another Grade 3 at the same track in early October. A month later he put up a brilliant performance to win the Grade 1Grand Prix d’Automne with a 7 lengths defeat of Solway.

Ballyoptic (left) gets the better of Bellshill at Aintree Image by www.healyracing.ie

Ballyoptic (left) gets the better of Bellshill at Aintree
Image by www.healyracing.ie

After a promising point to point career and one bumper effort, Ballyoptic joined Nigel Twiston-Davies around the turn of the year and remains unbeaten in four hurdles starts. The 6 year old landed minor novice hurdle contests at Ffos Las and Uttoxeter in February and March before winning the Grade 1 Sefton Novices’ Hurdle by a battling neck from Bellshill at Aintree in April. He returned to action in the valuable and always competitive Grade 3 Silver Trophy Handicap Hurdle at Chepstow in early October, defying plenty of weight to beat Crimson Ark by 1 ¼ lengths. He took a crashing fall in a Wetherby Grade 2 in late October and a month later ran into a rampant opponent when 6 lengths second of 9 to Unowhatimeanharry in the Grade 2 bet365 Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury.

Lil Rockerfeller Image reproduced with the kind permission of Sandown Park Racecourse

Lil Rockerfeller
Image reproduced with the kind permission of Sandown Park Racecourse

Lil Rockerfeller took huge leaps forward last term, and the decision was taken to supplement this game little horse for the Champion Hurdle. The Neil King trained 5 year old ran 2 ¼ lengths third of 8 to Devilment on his return at Cheltenham in October and was far from disgraced the following month when 2 lengths third of 7 to Bivouac at Huntingdon. He showed plenty of tenacity in early December to land a Sandown Park handicap hurdle, beating his old rival Devilment by 2 lengths. On New Year’s Day he stepped up to Grade 2 level for the Relkeel Hurdle at Cheltenham, running well to finish 11 lengths second of 8 to Camping Ground. Later that month his consistency again shone through when he ran 3 ½ lengths third of 17 to Rock The Kasbah in a competitive Ascot handicap hurdle. Towards the end of February Lil Rockerfeller gained a well-earned big race win as he ran away with the Grade 2 National Spirit Hurdle at Fontwell Park, beating Ubak and a decent field by an impressive 9 lengths. He then ran in the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March, finishing 20 lengths 7th of 12 to Annie Power. He returned to action over three miles in the West Yorkshire Hurdle at Wetherby in late October, running a solid race to finish 3 ¼ lengths third of 6 to Silsol. He ran a game race at Ascot in November in the Grade 2 Ascot Hurdle. He was the first to come under pressure but battled on gamely to finish ¾ of a length second of 5 to Yanworth.

Ptit Zig  Image reproduced with the kind permission of Sandown Park Racecourse

Ptit Zig
Image reproduced with the kind permission of Sandown Park Racecourse

Ptit Zig has his first start in England since last April, but in between has made his mark in France. The Paul Nicholls trained 7 year old had a tough time of things over fences last term before reverting to hurdles, running 12 lengths second of 7 to Thistlecrack in the Grade 2 Cleve Hurdle at Cheltenham in late January and winning a Listed contest at Sandown Park 3 months later by 1 ¾ lengths from Silsol. After finishing 12 ½ lengths fourth of 13 to Un De Sceaux in the Grade 2 Prix La Barka at Auteuil in May, he reversed those placings as he won the Grade 1 Grand Course de Haies d’Auteuil (French Champion Hurdle) by 2 lengths from Alex De Larredya in June. He returned to Auteuil for the Grade 1 Grand Prix d’Automne in early November, finishing 9 lengths third of 12 to his old rival Alex De Larredya. He should strip fitter for that run.

Reve De Sivola won his third Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot in December Image reproduced with the kind permission of Cheltenham Racecourse

Reve De Sivola won his third Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot in December 2014
Image reproduced with the kind permission of Cheltenham Racecourse

Two years ago Reve De Sivola emulated Big Buck’s with three successive victories in this race, as he fought back to inch out Zarkandar in a thrilling race. His run was ended by the mighty Thistlecrack last season. The Nick Williams trained 11 year old ran 8 lengths second to the subsequent Champion Stayer, and after an surprising run out over fences (his first in over four years) resulted in a tailed off run behind Cloudy Too in the Peter Marsh Chase, he landed the Grade 2 Rendlesham Hurdle at Haydock Park in February by ¾ of a length from One Track Mind. He returned to action in the Grade 1 Grand Prix d’Automne at Auteuil in November, but ran a disappointing race to come home 27 lengths 7th of 12 behind Alex De Larredya. Later that month he headed to Newbury for the Grade 2 stayers hurdle, but was again below par, coming home 29 lengths fifth of 9 to Unowhatimeanharry. This course, soft ground and this time of year somehow seem to bring the best out of Reve De Sivola and a fourth victory here would guarantee emotional scenes.

Shelford in the cheek pieces leads the Martin Pipe field Image reproduced with the kind permission of Cheltenham Racecourse

Shelford in the cheek pieces leads the Martin Pipe field
Image reproduced with the kind permission of Cheltenham Racecourse

Shelford has his first start in the UK since March 2015, having been campaigned in France in recent starts. The Dan Skelton trained 7 year old was a useful novice hurdler two years ago, landing back to back victories at Chepstow in the autumn of 2014, including a ¾ of a length defeat of Aubusson in the Grade 3 Silver Trophy Handicap Hurdle. After running a fine fourth to Bayan in the valuable Ladbroke Hurdle at Ascot, just before Christmas 2014, he took a fall in the Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown in January of last year. A couple of months later he ran well to finish 11 ½ lengths fifth of 21 to Killultagh Vic in the Martin Pipe Hurdle at Cheltenham, but was not seen out for a year. He returned to action at Enghien in March, winning by 20 lengths, before adding a Listed contest at the same track in April by 1 ½ lengths from Comas Sola. In late June he contested a Listed race at Auteuil, coming home a nose second of 11 to Kada Rique. Shelford returned to France for a Grade 3 contest at Enghien in late November, running 6 ¼ lengths fifth of 12 to Miss De Champdoux. He will need more here and steps notably up in trip.

Unowhatimeanharry impresses at Newbury Image supplied by Newbury Racecourse

Unowhatimeanharry impresses at Newbury
Image supplied by Newbury Racecourse

The Unowhatimeanharry success story rolls on and if the staying division in recent seasons have thrown up a progressive young horse destined for championship status (think Cole Harden and Thistlecrack), then this year’s obvious candidate is the Harry Fry trained 8 year old. Granted he has to prove as much going forwards, but proved a revelation last term, recording an impressive 3 lengths success from Shadarpour in a competitive handicap hurdle at Cheltenham in mid-November and following-up a couple of weeks later a Newbury, where he got the better of Millanisi Boy by 4 lengths. He continued his good run of form when landing a Cheltenham Grade 2 over 3 miles in December, beating Final Nudge by 1 ½ lengths. After a break he returned to action at Exeter in mid-February, beating West Approach by 4 ½ lengths in a Pertemps Qualifier to complete his four-timer. The coup de grace came at the Cheltenham Festival though, where he beat Fagan by 1 ¼ lengths in the Group 1 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle. He returned to action in the Grade 2 Bet365 Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury in November, putting up a sparkling performance to beat Ballyoptic by 6 lengths.

Un Temps Pour Tout Image reproduced with the kind permission of Newbury Racecourse

Un Temps Pour Tout
Image reproduced with the kind permission of Newbury Racecourse

Un Temps Pour Tout was a top class hurdler in France before joining the David Pipe yard for a large sum and slamming subsequent World Hurdle winner Cole Harden by 16 lengths at Ascot in February 2014. The 7 year old landed the 2015 French Champion Hurdle by 10 lengths from Thousand Stars at Auteuil. Un Temps Pour Tout ran well on his chasing debut at Cheltenham in mid-November over last year, weakening late on to finish 2 ¾ lengths second of 6 to the far more experienced Vicente and perhaps tiring late on in the rain-softened ground on his first start of the campaign.  A couple of weeks later he contested the Grade 2 Worcester Novices’ Chase at Newbury but again found one too good for him in the latter stages, eventually finishing 3 ¾ lengths second of 7 to Native River. He returned to Cheltenham at the end of January in a competitive novices’ handicap chase, when he disappointed and finished 17 lengths fourth of 12 to King’s Odyssey. At that stage, Un Temps Pour Tout remained a real enigma over fences. That all changed in some style at the Cheltenham Festival, as the gelding came of age with a 7 lengths defeat of Holywell in the Ultima Handicap Chase. He returned to action as good as ever when landing an Aintree hurdle race by 2 lengths from Mister Miyagi in early November. Later that month he put up a rare disappointing run in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury, finishing 19 ½ lengths 10th of 19 to Native River. He now reverts to hurdling and is an interesting runner here.

West Approach landed a Newbury bumper on his first racecourse appearance in January, before later running fourth to Wait For Me at Ascot in February. The Colin Tizzard trained 6 year old was disappointing on his hurdles debut at Newbury in late November, finishing 54 lengths 9th of 12 to Buveur D’Air. The following month he ran much better in a Grade 2 contest at Cheltenham, finishing 10 ½ lengths third of 7 to Unowhatimeanharry. He then disappointed on his return to Prestbury Park on New Year’s Day when only 27 lengths fifth of 10 to Champers On Ice. Last time out he again came off worst against Unowhatimeanharry when running a much better race to finish 4 ½ lengths second of 10 in a Pertemps Qualifier at Exeter in February. However, he was 50 lengths behind that horse when 11th of 19 in the Grade 1 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in mid-March. In early May he dropped severely in class and won a minor novice hurdle at Newton Abbot by 3 ¾ lengths from Ozzie The Oscar. He returned to action at Cheltenham in late October, running with promise to finish ½ a length second of 7 to Wholestone. The following month he headed to Cheltenham for a Grade 2 contest, running 4 ½ lengths third of 9 to Peregrine Run. Last Saturday he stepped up in trip for a Cheltenham Grade 2 novice hurdle, but made a dreadful mistake racing downhill for the final time, which sealed his fate as he finished 7 ¾ lengths fifth of 6 to Wholestone. This half brother to Thistlecrack takes a big step up in class here as he tackles seasoned staying hurdlers.

Zarkandar ran third at Cheltenham after a bad blunder Image reproduced with the kind permission of Cheltenham Racecourse

Zarkandar 
Image reproduced with the kind permission of Cheltenham Racecourse

Zarkandar is a former top class hurdler who has won a Triumph Hurdle and finished fourth in a Champion Hurdle and a World Hurdle, although his resolve has at times been questioned by some. The Paul Nicholls trained 9 year old perhaps does not deserve those questions, having landed a Grade 1 contest at Auteuil in November 2014 by 5 lengths from the outstanding French Champion Hurdle winner Gemix. He looked booked for victory in the Grade 1 Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot in December 2014 but was caught on the run-in by Reve De Sivola, finishing a head second. In March 2015 he improved on his previous run in the Grade World Hurdle to finish 6 ½ lengths third to Cole Harden and the following month he was 21 lengths fourth of 9 behind Whisper in the Grade 1 Liverpool Hurdle at Aintree. Zarkandar then returned to Auteuil for the Grade 1 French Champion Hurdle in June of 2015, running a super race to finish 13 lengths third of 15 to Un Temps Pour Tout. After a summer off he suffered a setback last autumn and missed all of last season. He returned in a hurdle contest at Aintree and was still in contention when blundering and unseating his rider in October. However, the following month he was disappointing in the Grade 2 Ascot Hurdle, finishing 15 lengths last of 5 to Yanworth.

Kotkikova is an absolutely fascinating runner as she makes her debut for Nicky Henderson, after a brilliant early career in France. The 5 year old mare won 11 of her 14 starts, including the Grade 1 Prix Ferdinand Dufaure Chase at Auteuil in May 2015, part of an unbeaten sequence of six wins, broken only by her fall at the same track in September 2015. After a break she won twice at Auteuil in April, beating Tara River by 2 ½ lengths on her most recent start. She was then bought by JP McManus and makes her debut here for new connections over a much longer trip than she has previously contested.

Surtee Du Berlais takes a big step up in class here but is in the form of her life. The Oliver Sherwood trained 6 year old proved a useful novice hurdler with two victories last term, but disappointed in a valuable Listed novices’ handicap hurdle at Newbury in early April, won by the smart Briery Queen. She signed off for the campaign on a winning note when beating Via Volupta by a neck in a mares novices’ hurdle at Kempton Park, later that month. Surtee Du Berlais put up a really gutsy performance on her seasonal reappearance at the same track in late November. She was really not travelling for much of the contest but kept on persistently in the mud, staying on stoutly and picking off her toiling rivals as the going got tough. In the end she outstayed them all to beat Rons Dream by 3 ¼ lengths and gain a first Listed success. This is a very different test.

 

The Listed Lavazza Jolie Silver Cup Handicap Chase over three miles, used to be known as the SGB Chase and has been won by the likes of Arkle, Glencaraig Lady, Spanish Steps, Midnight Court, Grand Canyon, Captain John, The Mighty Mac, Door Latch, Cavvies Clown, Young Hustler, Go Ballistic, Cool Dawn and The Young Master in a glorious past.

Annacotty Image by Eric Belshaw

Annacotty
Image by Eric Belshaw

Annacotty is a three-time winner at Cheltenham and landed the 2015 Paddy Power Gold Cup when beating Buywise by ½ a length. The 8 year old transferred to the stable of Alan King in 2015 and made the perfect start with his win in November of last year. Annacotty returned to Cheltenham the following month in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup, finishing 23 lengths sixth of 14 to Village Vic. He got back to winning ways with another terrific performance at Cheltenham in late January, beating Tenor Nivernais by 1 ¼ lengths in a competitive Grade 3 handicap chase. He was next seen in the Grade 1 Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in March, but was no match for the sadly ill-fated Vautour, coming home 44 lengths 11th of 15. He returned to action attempting to defend his crown in the newly-named BetVictor Gold Cup last month, but struggled and was pulled up. Annacotty now steps up in trip, but is a former winner of the Grade 1 Feltham Novices’ Chase over this trip and racing right-handed. Even so, he has plenty of weight here.

Holywell and Native River Image reproduced with the kind permission of Newbury Racecourse

Holywell and Native River
Image reproduced with the kind permission of Newbury Racecourse

Jonjo O’Neill’s 9 year old Holywell, fourth in the 2015 Cheltenham Gold Cup, has seemed out of sorts of late. As a novice chaser Holywell eventually completed a four-timer which included a 1 ¾ lengths defeat of Ma Filleule in the Baylis & Harding Affordable Luxury Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, before he impressively defeated Don Cossack by 10 lengths in the Grade 1 Mildmay Novices’ Chase at Aintree in April 2014. He took his time to find form the following season but showed his wellbeing in a low key contest at Kelso in February 2015, when he outclassed Fentara by 25 lengths as he was entitled to do. Holywell then put in a terrific effort in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March, finishing 9 ½ lengths fourth of 16 to Coneygree on arguably unsuitable ground. The following month he put up a gutsy display to finish 2 ½ lengths third of 7 to Silviniaco Conti and Ballynagour in the Grade 1 Betfred Bowl Chase. He ran a lack lustre race on his return in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby in late October, finishing 23 lengths fifth to Cue Card.  He then failed to get competitive in the Betfair Chase at Haydock Park in late November, finishing 33 lengths fourth of 5 to that same rival. It was more than two months before Holywell reappeared and he was disappointing in the Sky Bet Chase, albeit carrying plenty of weight and eventually pulling up. He came back to something like his best at the Cheltenham Festival last month, finishing 7 lengths second of 23 to Un Temps Pour Tout in the Ultima Handicap Chase. He was a faller in the Grand National on his final start of last season and ran poorly on his return, when tailed off in a handicap hurdle won by Caid Du Berlais at Aintree in early November. Later that month he contested the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury, but finished a disappointing tailed off 13th of 19 to Native River.

 

Le Mercurey wins at Ascot Image by www.racehorsephotos.co.uk

Le Mercurey wins at Ascot
Image by www.racehorsephotos.co.uk

Le Mercurey was a hugely promising young horse in France, winning his two completed starts. The Paul Nicholls trained 6 year old failed to make too much mark in 3 starts over hurdles last season though, running his best race when 6 ¼ lengths third of 8 to Baradari in a Grade 2 contest at Ascot in January. However, he looked a very different proposition when making his chasing debut at Plumpton in mid-November, beating the useful Violet Dancer by 6 lengths. He made it two from two when benefitting from the last fence blunder of Amore Alato, going on to beat Thomas Brown by 6 lengths in the Grade 2 Mitie Novices’ Chase at Ascot just before Christmas. On New Year’s Day Le Mercurey headed to Cheltenham for a good renewal of the Grade 2 Dipper Chase, running 23 lengths third of 7 to the smart Seeyouatmidnight. At the end of January he stepped up and took on seasoned chasers in the Sky Bet Chase, but struggled and eventually pulled up. He reverted to novice company in the Grade 2 Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase at Ascot in February, running 4 lengths third of 6 to Vyta Du Roc and the following month finished 35 lengths last of 8 to Blaklion in the Grade 1 RSA Chase at Cheltenham. In April he headed to Ayr for a Grade 2 novice chase and put up his best performance to date, beating Bristol De Mai by 7 lengths. He returned to action in a Down Royal Grade 2 contest in early November, finishing 11 lengths third of 7 behind Sub Lieutenant. A month later he ran well in a Listed race at Aintree, coming home 3 ½ lengths second of 5 to Many Clouds. He has a progressive profile and one that suggests he is capable of winning a valuable prize at some point.

The talented Eduard recently returned from a lengthy absence having not raced since the 2015 Cheltenham Festival. The Nicky Richards trained 8 year old proved a most progressive novice chaser winning three times and brilliantly defeating Valdez by 20 lengths in the valuable and prestigious Future Champion Novices’ Chase on Scottish Grand National day at Ayr in April 2014. He again demonstrated plenty of class on his seasonal return when he got within 1 ¼ lengths of leading Gold Cup hope Many Clouds at Carlisle in November of that year. A month later he was a staying on 1 ½ lengths second to Wishfull Thinking in the Peterborough Chase. He had just one more start in the Grade 1 Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham in March 2015, finishing 11 lengths fourth of 14 behind Uxizandre. Injury kept Eduard off the track until his return in a Grade 2 Chase at Ascot last month, when he ran a hugely encouraging race to finish 2 ¾ lengths fourth of 7 to Royal Regatta. He now tackles three miles for the first time.

Annacotty (left)  Image by Tattersalls Ireland

Tenor Nivernais (right) with Annacotty, at Cheltenham
Image by Tattersalls Ireland

Tenor Nivernais enjoyed a fine season last time around and showed good form at Cheltenham. The Venetia Williams trained 9 year old made a winning return to action when beating Garrahalish by a spectacular 27 lengths at Ascot in November and followed-up with three fine placed efforts at Cheltenham. He ran 5 ½ lengths third of 14 to Village Vic in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup in early December and on New Year’s Day finished 3 lengths second of 11 to the same horse. On Cheltenham Trials Day he again put up a bold show and came 1 ¼ lengths second of 12 to Annacotty. The following month he stepped up to three miles at Kempton Park in the BetBright Cup, but was pulled up behind Theatre Guide. In mid-April he returned to Cheltenham for a valuable handicap chase, coming home 28 lengths fifth of 8 to Voix D’Eau. The jury remains out on whether he truly stays this trip.

Irish Saint was impressive in the Pendil Novices' Chase Image reproduced with the kind permission of Sandown Park Racecourse

Irish Saint was impressive in the Pendil Novices’ Chase
Image reproduced with the kind permission of Sandown Park Racecourse

Irish Saint was a talented novice chaser two seasons ago, winning the Grade 2 Pendil Novices’ Chase at Kempton Park and finishing 15 lengths third of 9 to Saphir Du Rheu in the Grade 1 Mildmay Novices’ Chase at Aintree in April of 2015. The Paul Nicholls trained 7 year old missed all of last season, but shaped with promise on his return over hurdles at Cheltenham last month, coming home 23 lengths fifth of 13 to Anteros.

The Druids Nephew Image reproduced with the kind permission of Sandown Park Racecourse

The Druids Nephew
Image reproduced with the kind permission of Sandown Park Racecourse

If there was a ‘what might have been’ story to the 2015 Grand National it was The Druids Nephew, who was travelling strongly when coming down. He had come firmly into many people’s calculations for the race after his Cheltenham Festival triumph in March. The 9 year old moved to the yard of Neil Mulholland and he was most impressive in landing the 2015 Ultima Business Solutions Handicap Chase by 3 ¾ lengths from Grand Jesture. Then came that Grand National fall when he looked like a major contender. He returned to action in a Grade 2 stayers’ hurdle race at Wetherby in late October last season, finishing a tailed off sixth of 9 to Kilcooley. He then headed to Cheltenham for a handicap chase in December, but ran poorly, finishing 41 lengths 6th of 8 to Aachen. In early March he ran a much better race in the Grimthorpe Chase, finishing 10 lengths second of 6 to The Last Samuri at Doncaster. He then returned to Aintree for this year’s Crabbie’s Grand National, but the ground was too soft for him and he pulled up early on the second circuit without ever getting competitive. Later in April he ran well in the Grade 3 bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown Park, finishing 7 ½ lengths fifth of 20 behind The Young Master. He makes his return to action here.

Triolo D'Alene and Double Ross Image reproduced with the kind permission of Newbury Racecourse

Triolo D’Alene at Newbury
Image reproduced with the kind permission of Newbury Racecourse

Former Hennessy Gold Cup winner Triolo D’Alene has had more than his fair share of problems over the last couple of years, but at his best retains plenty of ability. The Nicky Henderson trained 9 year old won the Hennessy Gold Cup in November 2013 but has had only a handful of runs since then. He disappointed in the 2014 Cheltenham Gold Cup and pulled up in that year’s Grand National just before second Becher’s Brook. He again pulled up in the 2014 Hennessy Gold Cup but in January 2015, put up a really eye-catching display under a big weight at Sandown Park, when running on to finish 13 lengths third of 11 to Unioniste. It looked like another Grand National bid might be on the cards but injury prevented him from running until this January, when he took full advantage of Ptit Zig’s poor jumping to slam Wishfull Thinking by 49 lengths with a round of sparkling jumping at Kempton Park. In late February he headed to the Grade 1 Ascot Chase and ran a remote fifth of 8 to Silviniaco Conti over a shorter trip once again. He then contested the Grand National at Aintree in early April, coming home a remote 14th to Rule The World. Triolo D’Alene returned to action in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury in late November, finishing 27 lengths 12th of 19 behind Native River.

Having been a smart novice hurdler, last season proved a little frustrating for Fletchers Flyer, who ran OK over fences without winning, but in the spring came good in a big way. The Harry Fry trained 8 year old ran 1 ¼ lengths second of 7 to Onenightinvienna on his chasing debut at Exeter in November 2015 and the following month was 8 ½ lengths third of 6 to Blaklion at Cheltenham. In early January he headed to Huntingdon but was no match for Drumacoo, finishing 38 lengths second of 5. Fletchers Flyer had one more start and came back to his best form, winning a handicap chase at the Punchestown Festival by 2 ½ lengths from Forever Gold in late April.

Regal Encore went novice chasing last season with mixed results but put up a decent performance on his final start of the campaign. The Anthony Honeyball trained 8 year old ran fifth to Cocktails At Dawn at Chepstow in early October and later that month finished 28 lengths third of 5 to the smart Garde La Victoire at Uttoxeter. He fell at Kempton Park in November but the following month got off the mark with a 5 lengths defeat of Cloonacool at Plumpton Park. However, Regal Encore was pulled up when taking on experienced handicappers at Ascot in January and at the end of that month pulled up again in a novices’ handicap chase at Cheltenham. He completed his hat-trick of pulled up efforts in the Grade 3 Ultima Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in March, but then ran a cracker in a competitive handicap chase at the Punchestown Festival in late April, finishing ¾ of a length second of 15 to Pleasant Company. He pulled up in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury in late November and pulled up again at Cheltenham last Friday. At present there are very big question marks against Regal Encore.

Minella Daddy was a fair hurdler, although his form would not have compared to several of these. However, the Peter Bowen trained 6 year old has looked a much better chaser so far, having shown promise in three point to points earlier in his career. He made his novice chase debut at Worcester in late September, finishing 2 ½ lengths second of 7 to Southfield Vic. The following month he impressed as he got off the mark with a 6 lengths defeat of Whataknight at Ffos Las and he made it back to back victories with an impressive display at Ascot in November, landing a novices’ handicap chase by 7 lengths from Tinker Time.

 

Fourth Act struggled on his chasing debut last spring but looked a much better prospect when winning at Carlisle in early November, beating Rocking Blues by 13 lengths, with that horse going on to win the Eider Chase in February. The Colin Tizzard trained 7 year old fell at Newbury in November but shaped well to finish ¾ of a length second of 9 to Double Shuffle in a novices’ handicap chase at Ludlow in mid-December. In January he finished 37 lengths third of 7 to Otago Trail at Chepstow, but he got back to winning ways at Wincanton in late February, beating Cresswell Breeze by 11 lengths. A month later he pulled up in a competitive novices’ handicap chase behind Ballyalton, but he ran a lot better at Newton Abbot in April, finishing 10 lengths second of 4 to Aso. He returned to action in the Grade 3 Sodexo Gold Cup at Ascot in late October, running well to finish 7 ½ lengths fourth of 12 to Antony. A couple of weeks later he again put up a solid performance in a competitive Grade 3 handicap chase at Cheltenham, finishing 5 ¾ lengths fourth of 17 to Viconte Du Noyer.

 

Go Conquer struggled in point to points and was well beaten in his first two novice chases last season, before getting off the mark on his third run. The Jonjo O’Neill trained 7 year old beat Ducky Lark by 7 lengths in a Wincanton handicap chase in April. He looked to have improved again on his seasonal return, finishing ¼ of a length second of 7 to Present Man at Ascot in November. He meets that rival on 8 pounds better terms now.

Another Hero was a smart bumper horse and was a useful hurdler two years ago, but after running 3 ¾ lengths second of 14 to Brother Brian in a Cheltenham handicap hurdle, in April 2014, he was not seen out again until last November. The Jonjo O’Neill trained 7 year old returned victorious in a novice chase at Ascot, defeating Delgany Demon by 1 ½ lengths. He made it two from two over fences when beating Still Believing by 4 ½ lengths in a Ludlow novices’ handicap chase in early February. Another Hero then headed to Fairyhouse for the Irish Grand National in late March but was a faller. He made his seasonal return in a Chepstow handicap chase in early October finishing 17 ½ lengths 6th of 16 to Potters Cross.

 

The other big race on the Ascot card is the valuable Grade 3 Wessex Youth Trust Handicap Hurdle over two miles.

Hargam ran a fine third in the JCB Triumph Hurdle Image reproduced with the kind permission of Eric Belshaw

Hargam ran a fine third in the JCB Triumph Hurdle
Image reproduced with the kind permission of Eric Belshaw

Hargam heads the weights and won’t be lacking race fitness here. The Nicky Henderson trained 5 year old struggled to make his mark in Grade 1 competition last season, but ran a reasonable race on his return at Tipperary in early October, finishing 16 lengths third of 5 to Ivan Grozny in a Grade 2 contest. Later that month he gained a Listed hurdle success at Kempton Park when he beat Court Minstrel by a neck. He shouldered top weight in the Greatwood Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham in November, but struggled and came home a tailed off 12th of 16 to North Hill Harvey.

Who Dares Wins at Newbury Image reproduced with the kind permission of Newbury Racecourse

Who Dares Wins at Newbury
Image reproduced with the kind permission of Newbury Racecourse

Who Dares Wins was a very accomplished performer on the Flat and joined Alan King last season, making a winning hurdles debut, defeating Fouburg by ¾ of a length at Ludlow in November 2015. The following month he stepped up to Grade 2 level at Doncaster and was a hugely impressive 20 lengths winner from Robertstown. His burgeoning reputation then suffered a blow in a Grade 2 trial for the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham in late January, as he finished a disappointing 3 ¼ lengths fourth of 6 to Protek Des Flos. In the big race itself, he was a tailed off 14th of 15 to Ivanovich Gorbatov in March. Three runs on the flat in the summer yielded a Chester victory and Nottingham third and he ran a promising race on his return to hurdling when finishing 1 ¾ lengths fourth of 14 to Ballyoptic in a valuable Grade 3 handicap hurdle at Chepstow in October. The following month he unseated his rider in a Cheltenham handicap hurdle, but in late November he came back to form with an impressive victory at Newbury, beating Theligny by 9 lengths in the Listed Gerry Feilden Limited Handicap Hurdle.

Brain Power wins from Consul De Thaix Image reproduced with the kind permission of Sandown Park Racecourse

Brain Power wins from Consul De Thaix
Image reproduced with the kind permission of Sandown Park Racecourse

Brain Power was a very useful novice hurdler last season, with two successes at Kempton Park and running 5 lengths third of 6 to Don’t Touch It in the Grade 1 Herald Champion Novice Hurdle at the Punchestown Festival in late April. The fact that Nicky Henderson even considered sending the 5 year old on the latter mission, speaks volumes for the regard in which he is held. With that in mind, Brain Power’s return in the Greatwood Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham last month was bitterly disappointing, as he trailed in 20 lengths 8th of 16 behind North Hill Harvey. In early December he looked a different proposition as he won a valuable Listed handicap hurdle at Sandown Park by ¾ of a length from stable mate Consul De Thaix.

Waxies Dargle Image reproduced with the kind permission of Newbury Racecourse

Waxies Dargle
Image reproduced with the kind permission of Newbury Racecourse

Waxies Dargle has been a decent competitor in handicap hurdles of this type for some time now. The Noel Meade trained 7 year old came back to form at Killarney in May 2015, defeating Mrs Mac Veale by 2 ½ lengths. He returned to action in the Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham in November, running well to finish 6 lengths third of 17 to the smart Old Guard, but pulled up in this corresponding race last December. In January he contested the Coral.ie Handicap Hurdle at Leopardstown, but finished in the mix, 27 lengths 16th of 23 to Henry Higgins. He ran a much better race when 13 lengths fifth of 22 to Agrapart in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury in February and was a respectable 2 ½ lengths 6th of 26 to Diamond King in the Coral Cup at the Cheltenham Festival the following month. Waxies Dargle failed to fire in a competitive handicap hurdle at the Punchestown Festival in late April, running 19th of 27 to Anibale Fly. He returned to action in a valuable handicap hurdle at Fairyhouse in early December – and beat Morga by ¾ of a length.

Quick Jack has been in super form Image reproduced with the kind permission of Cheltenham Racecourse

Quick Jack 
Image reproduced with the kind permission of Cheltenham Racecourse

Quick Jack remains a horse of great ability but carries inconsistency in equal measure. The Tony Martin trained 7 year old won the 2015 Galway Handicap Hurdle by 2 ¼ lengths form Max Dynamite, but was not seen out over hurdles again until running 7 ¼ lengths 8th of 20 to Clondaw Warrior in the same race this July. In between he had three unplaced efforts on the flat and ran a length third of 34 to Grumeti in the 2015 Cesarewitch at Newmarket. After his Galway Hurdle run, he was a fine 4 ¼ lengths third of 20 to Heartbreak City in a valuable handicap on the flat at York in August. The following month he won a valuable Premier handicap at Leopardstown on Irish Champions Weekend, beating Pyromaniac by a neck. His latest start came in October in the Group 1 Prix Royal-Oak at Saint-Cloud, where he ran 3 ¼ lengths 6th of 15 to Vazirabad. It is anyone’s guess which version of Quick Jack will show up here and as usual with Martin runners in valuable handicaps, certain punters always seem to know, which affects his starting price.

Sternrubin (left) and Jolly's Cracked It on their way to a memorable dead-heat Image by www.racehorsephotos.co.uk

Sternrubin (left) and Jolly’s Cracked It on their way to a memorable dead-heat
Image by www.racehorsephotos.co.uk

Jolly’s Cracked It returns to the scene of his biggest success, one day short of a year on, having not raced since. He proved a most progressive novice two seasons ago.  Harry Fry’s 7 year old won his first two starts over hurdles last autumn, both at Ascot, where he beat Jebril by a length on the latter occasion. He then stepped up to Grade 1 company for a tactical 4-runner Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown Park in early January, but was no match for L’Ami Serge, eventually finishing 14 lengths second. Last time out he took on experienced runners in the Betfair Hurdle and met all kinds of trouble in running, before staying on in eye catching fashion to finish 14 lengths fifth of 23 to Violet Dancer. However, he was well beaten behind Killultagh Vic in the Martin Pipe at the Cheltenham Festival in March and then ran a disappointing 53 lengths sixth of 11 to Cyrus Darius in an Aintree Grade 2 novice hurdle in April. He shaped with promise on his return when ¾ of a length third of 11 to Nabucco in a Listed handicap hurdle at Ascot in late October 2015 and then dead-heated with Sternrubin in a thrilling finish to this race 12 months ago.

Modus Image reproduced with the kind permission of Newbury Racecourse

Modus
Image reproduced with the kind permission of Newbury Racecourse

Modus won his first two races in bumpers before running down the field in the 2014 Cheltenham Champion Bumper won by Silver Concorde. The following season he made a stunning return in the same race, after 11 months off the track, staying on well to finish 1 ½ lengths second of 23 to Moon Racer, before running 4 lengths third of 13 to Bellshill in a Punchestown Grade 1 the following month. After that he was snapped up by owner JP McManus and sent to Paul Nicholls, making the perfect start with back to back victories at Taunton and Newbury last November, beating Charmix by a neck on the latter occasion. The 6 year old then struggled in heavy ground to finish 5 ½ lengths third of 13 to Miles To Milan back at Taunton, although the stable form took a dip around the end of last year. He was considered a leading contender for the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury in February but faded in the home straight to finish a well beaten 13th of 22 to Agrapart. He then ran poorly in the County Hurdle to finish a tailed off 23rd of 26 to Superb Story at Cheltenham in March. Modus returned to action and shaped with promise in a Listed handicap hurdle at Ascot in late October, coming home ¾ of a length third of 12 behind Sternrubin. He ran another super race in the always competitive Greatwood Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham last month, finishing ½ a length second of 16 to North Hill Harvey.

Rayvin Black is developing a real following as a front runner who wears his heart on his sleeve and recorded a career best effort last time out. The Oliver Sherwood trained 7 year old ran really well in an Ascot handicap hurdle when 2 ½ lengths second of 11 to Winner Massagot in November 2015, but he disappointed at the same venue in this corresponding race last December. Rayvin Black was back to his bold best at Sandown Park in early January though, handling the desperately heavy ground with another front-running display and guts aplenty to get back up, having seemed headed, and beat Sirop De Menthe by 5 lengths. Later that month he gave The New One a real race of things in the Champion Hurdle Trial at Haydock Park, refusing to lie down when passed and eventually finishing 2 ¼ lengths second to the Champion Hurdle hope. Rayvin Black returned to Sandown Park in early February and ran another gallant race, finishing ¼ of a length second to the smart juvenile hurdler Connetable. A couple of weeks later he forced the pace and simply refused to give up, landing the Grade 2 Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton by 5 lengths from Melodic Rendezvous. He ws a little disappointing in the Imperial Cup at Sandown Park in March, coming home 29 lengths 6th of 14 to Flying Angel. He then had a couple of spins on the flat at Goodwood, wining a handicap by 5 lengths in April and running second there the following month. Rayvin Black returned to action in a Listed hurdle at Kempton Park in October, shaping as though in need of the run when 23 lengths fourth of 5 to Hargam. He plugged on gamely in the Grade 2 Elite Hurdle at Wincanton in early November, finishing 9 lengths second of 5 to Sceau Royal.

Sternrubin Image reproduced with the kind permission of Newbury Racecourse

Sternrubin
Image reproduced with the kind permission of Newbury Racecourse

Sternrubin was a very consistent and tough juvenile hurdler and added strength and stubbornness to his armoury last term, dead-heating with Jolly’s Cracked It in this corresponding race. The Philip Hobbs trained 5 year old was second on 4 successive occasions last term, notably when twice finishing behind Lil Rockerfeller at Ascot and Sandown Park last spring. He finally got off the mark when winning a maiden hurdle at Exeter in early May and returned to action looking an improved performer as he again made all to beat John Constable by 4 lengths in the Listed Gerry Feilden Hurdle in late November. On that occasion he opened up a wide margin lead and ground it out, digging really deep to repel his rivals in the home straight. He attempted similar tactics in the valuable Ladbroke Handicap Hurdle at Ascot just before Christmas, but appeared to have met his match as Jolly’s Cracked It headed him on the run-in. However, Sternrubin’s tenacity then kicked in and he fought back magnificently to force a dead-heat. His run of good form came to an end in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury in mid-February as he petered out at a relatively early stage and was eventually pulled-up. However, he performed well in the County Hurdle at Cheltenham in March when finishing 6 lengths third of 26 to Superb Story. The following month he was a disappointing 10th of 13 to Ch’Tibello in the Grade 2 Scottish Champion Hurdle. Sternrubin returned to action in a valuable Listed handicap hurdle at Ascot in late October and was back to form, beating Instant Karma by ½ a length. He ran well in the Greatwood Handicap Hurdle to finish 10 ½ lengths fifth of 16 to North Hill Harvey in mid-November.

Diego Du Charmil (centre) leads at the last in the Fred WInter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle Image by www.healyracing.ie

Diego Du Charmil (centre) leads at the last in the Fred WInter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle
Image by www.healyracing.ie

Paul Nicholls introduced a really smart horse at the Cheltenham Festival, as Diego Du Charmil won the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle on his first start in this country. The French recruit, who showed promise with three placed runs in France, beat stable mate Romain De Senam by a diminishing head. In April he headed to Aintree for the Grade 1 Anniversary Hurdle, finishing 46 lengths fourth of 9 behind the runaway winner Apple’s Jade. He returned to action in a Chepstow handicap hurdle in early October, defeating Furiously Fast by 1 ¼ lengths. Later the month he contested a valuable Listed handicap hurdle at Ascot and was a disappointing 15 ½ lengths 9th of 12 behind Sternrubin. He remains a very interesting prospect off this mark if he replicates his best form.

Pyromaniac comes here having shown real talent and real inconsistency and consequently races off a competitive mark on his best form. The 6 year old is trained by Tony Martin and hasn’t won over hurdles since landing a Limerick contest in May 2015. He ran 4 ¼ lengths third of 16 behind Ancient Sands in a Killarney handicap hurdle in May and after a spin on the flat, finished 7 lengths 7th of 20 to Clondaw Warrior in the Galway Handicap Hurdle in late July. He has had two spins on the flat since then.

Meet The Legend beats Emerging Talent Image reproduced with the kind permission of Newbury Racecourse

Meet The Legend beats Emerging Talent at Newbury
Image reproduced with the kind permission of Newbury Racecourse

Meet The Legend won a Kelso bumper on his racecourse debut last September and later ran second to the smart Fagan in an Ayr bumper in October. The 5 year old then joined Dan Skelton and in hindsight faced a stiff task on his hurdles debut at Kempton Park on Boxing Day, coming home 21 lengths fifth of 10 to the top class Altior. He impressed in a Newbury novice hurdle in mid-February when finishing strongly to beat Emerging Talent by 3 ½ lengths. The following month he finished 4 ½ lengths third of 6 to Le Prezien in the Grade 2 Kelso Premier Hurdle. He races here off an interesting mark and the Skelton team has won this race before.

Willows Saviour Image reproduced with the kind permission of Sandown Park Racecourse

Willow’s Saviour
Image reproduced with the kind permission of Sandown Park Racecourse

Willow’s Saviour won this race back in 2013 but has had only four starts in the intervening three years. The Dan Skelton trained 9 year old was still a maiden racehorse after 11 starts, before landing a novice handicap hurdle at Ascot in early November 2013. Just 6 days later he added a handicap hurdle at Musselburgh, before landing this corresponding race, when he beat Ptit Zig by 4 lengths. However, injury then struck and he was not seen out again until early November of 2015, when he went chasing and beat the useful Aso by a neck at Warwick. The following month he stepped up to Grade 1 level in the Henry VIII Novices’ Chase at Sandown Park, finishing 25 lengths fourth of 6 to Ar Mad. After a break he returned to action and was flawless in beating Larteta by 12 lengths in a minor contest at Fakenham in February. He ws last seen falling in a competitive novices’ handicap chase at the Cheltenham Festival in March and returns to action over timber now.

Wolf Of Windlesham Image reproduced with the kind permission of Sandown Park Racecourse

Wolf Of Windlesham
Image reproduced with the kind permission of Sandown Park Racecourse

Wolf Of Windlesham was pretty moderate on the Flat but made a winning debut over hurdles. The Stuart Edmunds trained gelding slammed Fast Scat by 17 lengths at Ludlow in October. He showed that to be no flash in the pan when landing a Grade 2 contest at Cheltenham the following month, beating Coo Star Sivola by ½ a length. He returned to Prestbury Park in late January for another Grade 2 Triumph Hurdle trial but ran poorly and was a tailed off last of 6 behind Protek Des Flos. He was not seen again until late March when he won a Kempton Park flat race, before landing a valuable handicap hurdle at Sandown Park by ½ a length from Voix Du Reve, a month later. He had another spin on the flat at Goodwood in May and returned to hurdling at the October meeting at Cheltenham, finishing 22 lengths fifth of 6 to Sceau Royal. The following month he was a faller in the Greatwood Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham. He has since had a run on the flat at Kempton Park, finishing second of 12 to Beltor.

Fergall was a useful hurdler in the 2013/14 season, winning three times, including a valuable prize at Plumpton, in May 2014, his last victory. The Seamus Mullins trained 9 year old struggled the following season and even had a try at novice chasing, before winning a flat maiden at Lingfield Park in February 2015. In May 2015 he finished 13 lengths 7th of 16 behind War Sound in the valuable Grade 3 Swinton Hurdle at Haydock Park, and was not seen out again until this September. He returned on the flat at Kempton Park, running a fine third of 8 to Lord George. In late October he ran a cracker in a Listed handicap hurdle at Ascot, coming home a lengths fourth of 12 to Sternrubin.

Consul De Thaix Image reproduced with the kind permission of Sandown Park Racecourse

Consul De Thaix
Image reproduced with the kind permission of Sandown Park Racecourse

Consul De Thaix is now starting to make his mark over hurdles having been a really raw talent last season – and he is exciting off this mark. He made a really promising English debut for Nicky Henderson, having shown plenty of promise when ½ a length second of 14 to Crin Au Vent at Auteuil in September 2015 and made his first start in England at Cheltenham in late January, running 3 lengths third of 6 to Protek Des Flos. His second start in England came in the Grade 1 JSB Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, where he finished 24 lengths 10th of 15 behind Ivanovich Gorbatov. That race perhaps came too early in his career to see his best, but he looked to have strengthened up on his return when pushing stable mate Brain Power very hard to finish ¾ of a length second of 10 at Sandown Park in early December.

Chesterfield proved a useful novice hurdler for John Ferguson, but has been absent for almost two years. The 6 year old is now trained by Seamus Mullins and makes his debut for new connections here. He won back to back races at Huntingdon and Cheltenham in the autumn of 2014, but fell at Kempton Park that Christmas and has not raced since.

Unison had fairly moderate form but has progressed really well in recent months, winning four of this last five starts. The Jeremy Scott trained 6 year old won back to back races on the flat at Sandown Park in August, before running unplaced at Goodwood in early October. A month later he ran away with a handicap hurdle at Exeter, slamming Swincombe Toby by 15 lengths. In late November he added a Doncaster handicap hurdle with a 1 ¼ lengths defeat of Cornborough. This is a lot tougher but he is climbing the ranks.

Golden Spear Image reproduced with the kind permission of Newmarket Racecourse

Golden Spear
Image reproduced with the kind permission of Newmarket Racecourse

Golden Spear was last seen over hurdles in September 2015, when he won a valuable handicap hurdle at Listowel by 1 ½ lengths from Tigris River. The Tony Martin trained 5 year old has raced on the flat since then, winning a valuable handicap at the Galway Festival in late July and running well in a competitive Leopardstown handicap in September before finishing 6 ¾ lengths fifth of 33 to Sweet Selection in the Cesarewitch at Newmarket in early October. He was last seen winning the valuable November Handicap at Leopardstown in October, beating Nakeeta by ½ a length.