Ascot stages the first of its two-day pre-Christmas meeting on Friday, with a pair of Grade 2 contests topping the bill.
The Grade 2 Sky Bet Supreme Trial Novices’ Hurdle (Registered as The Kennel Gate) over two miles, often throws up a smart horse and has been won by the likes of Make A Stand, Monsignor, Medermit, Puffin Billy, Irving and Yanworth.
Capitaine was a useful bumper horse, winning once and finishing second in his other start. This scopey grey 4 year old was a runaway winner of a Wincanton novice hurdle in early November, beating Tell The Tale by 20 lengths. Paul Nicholls then sent him up to Haydock Park for a Listed contest later that month, where he ran well to finish 2 ¼ lengths second of 5 to Tahira. He looks to be biding his time before he jumps a fence in public.
Thomas Campbell showed very little in his first bumper race last January, but looked a different proposition in May when winning a Kelso bumper by 14 lengths. The Nicky Henderson trained 4 year old impressed on his debut over hurdles, when landing a Cheltenham novice hurdle by 2 ¼ lengths from Khezerabad in late October. The following month he impressed as he completed his hat-trick with a 4 lengths defeat of Criq Rock at Ascot.
Keep In Line comes here having lost his unbeaten record last time out. The Alan King trained 4 year old was fairly modest on the flat but made a winning start over hurdles, with a 2 ½ lengths defeat of Adrrastos at Huntingdon in October. A fortnight later he impressed at Bangor when beating Excellent Result by 6 lengths. In mid-November he stepped up to Grade 2 level at Cheltenham, but was 3 ¼ lengths fourth of 6 to Moon Racer.
Lough Derg Spirit showed plenty of aptitude for jumping in two point to point starts, finishing third and then winning the second of them. The 4 year old then joined Nicky Henderson and made a winning start over hurdles with a 3 ½ lengths defeat of Coup De Pinceau at Kempton Park in late November.
The useful flat handicapper Blue Surf has made a very encouraging start over hurdles. The Amanda Perrett trained 7 year old ran well on his hurdles debut at Huntingdon in early October, finishing ¾ of a length second of 8 to Excellent Result. Just over a fortnight later he won a Plumpton maiden hurdle by 2 lengths from Djarkalin. This is a big step up in class.
Captain Forez ran with promise when second on his only start in France. The 4 year old then joined Dan Skelton and ran a decent race on his English debut to finish 6 lengths third of 13 to the highly-regarded Jenkins.
The other big race on the card is the Grade 2 Mitie Noel Novices’ Chase over two miles and five furlongs, a race with a real heritage, having been won by the likes of: Bonanza Boy, Remittance Man, Senor El Betrutti, Simply Dashing, Seebald, Simonsig and Ptit Zig.
Politologue was a useful novice hurdler last season but the manner of his novice chase debut victory was exciting and suggested there is an enormous mount more to come. The Paul Nicholls trained 5 year old grey came over from France last term and won once from four starts, disappointing in the Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, on his last run of the campaign. He returned over fences at Haydock Park in November, putting up a cracking display to beat Vintage Clouds by 10 lengths.
Rock The Kasbah was a talented handicap hurdle and won a valuable Grade 3 prize at Ascot last January, but looked smart on his chasing debut. The Philip Hobbs trained 6 year old beat Our Kaempfer by 2 lengths at Chepstow in early October. The following month he headed to Cheltenham and ran a lack lustre race to finish 17 lengths third of 7 to O O Seven.
Royal Vacation proved a decent hurdler last season, with a good degree of consistency that saw him win three races at a lower grade, although he was soundly beaten by McKinley in a handicap hurdle at Sandown Park in late April. The Colin Tizzard trained 6 year old has run well on all three starts over fences this autumn, finishing 8 lengths second of 6 to As De Mee in a Fontwell Park chase on his debut in October. Ten days later he ws second again, beaten 11 lengths by Zeroeshadesofgrey at Wetherby. He got off the mark in a Lingfield Park handicap chase in late November, beating Delgany Demon by 3 ½ lengths.
Captain Chaos makes his chasing debut here, having been a useful novice hurdler. The Dan Skelton trained 5 year old won twice over timber last term and was second to Label Des Obeaux in a Sandown Park Grade 2 contest last December. He was last seen running 1 ½ lengths second of 6 to Ozamo in France in late March.