Call me old fashioned, but I always enjoy a prawn cocktail before my turkey dinner at Christmas. It’s a tasty little starter but ensures that there’s plenty of room for the main course, which always leaves you feeling satisfied yet stuffed to the brim.
Ascot became my prawn cocktail as we enter this festive period, and certainly delivered its fair share of tasty performances.
Reve De Sivola took top honours when winning his third Long Walk Hurdle. With the ground just soft enough, he managed to battle his way to victory when Zarkandar appeared to idle with the race at his mercy. Nick Williams’ horse is a true warrior when conditions suit and clearly loves the track. His connections were understandably thrilled, with owner Paul Duffy saying: “That was the most satisfying of the three wins. He is something else; though I don’t think he’s really been seen as a top grade horse. He’s won six Grade 1’s and doesn’t necessarily get the publicity he deserves. He might get it now.”
The Young Master continued his steep upward curve with a win in the listed chase, giving trainer Neil Mulholland some compensation after the unfortunate Wincanton incident. Ridden with great confidence by regular pilot Barry Geraghty, the horse was sent to the front three from home and quickly put the race to bed. Still only a five-year-old, there’s clearly room for further improvement. Already a winner at Cheltenham over fences, it will be interesting to see what end of season targets are set.
Houblon Des Obeaux ran another terrific race, staying on well at the death to take second place off top-weight. Another crack at the Argento Chase would likely be his next target. The race is usually run on soft ground which appears essential for Venetia Williams’ horse to give his best. Le Reve ran another race full of promise. He clearly enjoys going right-handed, and has a particular fondness for Sandown. It would be no surprise to see him run well in the Bet365 Gold Cup (formerly the Whitbread) in April.
The Ladbroke Hurdle was the most valuable race of the day and it was Gordon Elliott that stole the pot when Bayan got a deserved victory. He’d run a cracker in the Galway Hurdle back in July, and seemingly had been trained especially for this. Not big in stature, the horse clearly has a huge heart. He fought off the persistent challenge of Pine Creek, giving the runner-up 10lbs. Third in the Coral Cup at Cheltenham in March, Bayan looks sure to be competitive in whichever handicap his trainer next targets.
Activial ran a promising race, especially as this was his seasonal reappearance. Still a four-year-old, this was only his fifth career start and he is sure to improve during the winter. A step up in trip though not essential would certainly not inconvenience him. Shelford kept on well for fourth place. Dan Skelton’s horse appeared to be slightly outpaced at the crucial stage and will probably go back up in trip.
Garde La Victoire was always going to find it tough off top-weight. He ran well to finish fifth, but the season looks set to be a tough one from now on. He’s certainly not good enough to make into a Champion Hurdle contender, and he may need to go up in trip to become competitive in handicaps. He will make a lovely chaser next winter, and his trainer will be happy enough that he already has the Greatwood Hurdle to his name.
The graduation chase proved dramatic when Irish Saint, rather surprisingly, became the sole Saturday winner for champion trainer Paul Nicholls. He looked to have got the better of Puffin Billy before his opponent took a horrible fall at the last. Thankfully Oliver Sherwood’s horse got to his feet and received a rousing ovation from the crowd. I’m not convinced that the step up in trip brought about a great deal of improvement from the winner. I sense that the horse, though talented, will prove to be a level or two below the very best novice chasers. Chances are that he will be aimed at the JLT in March though the stable have a better looking contender in Ptit Zig.
And so with the prawns gleefully tucked away, we take aim at the main course. Boxing Day cannot come soon enough. Bring on the Turkey!