Ascot’s Christmas Meeting

Skeltons

Ladbroke Success for Skeltons

Ascot’s Christmas Meeting is the highlight of tomorrow’s Jump racing action. The Grade 3 Ladbroke Hurdle is the main event, though it is ably supported by the Long Walk Hurdle and the Silver Cup Handicap Chase.

The two day meeting actually starts today with an intriguing Supreme Trial Novices’ Hurdle which unfortunately has somewhat ‘cut up’, leaving us with only four runners. The sport’s most powerful yards are represented, with Willie Mullins sending over Killultagh Vic to oppose Nicky Henderson’s L’Ami Serge and the Paul Nicholls trained Emerging Talent. Fergal O’Brien’s Gunner Fifteen completes the line-up.

Ruby comes over to ride for the Mullins team, and his mount posted terrific bumper form last season. Impressive on his hurdling debut at Clonmel last month, that win came over two and a half miles. He’s bred to stay being a son of Old Vic, and this shorter trip looks plenty sharp enough. Emerging Talent has looked another that would probably be suited by further. Out of an Insan mare, he is a beautiful looking horse, with the size and scope to potentially make an exciting chaser. He receives weight all-round and is sure to go close here.

Nicky Henderson’s French import opened his account at Newbury. His jumping was a little sticky at times and the four-year-old is certain to improve as the season progresses. He had decent form in France, but to my eyes also looks one that will likely be stepped-up in trip in the near future. If I’m starting to sound like a broken record I apologise, but the final contender is also certain to be better over further. Gunner Fifteen is a son of Westerner out of a Saddlers’ Hall mare. He will love the soft ground, but may lack the gears to win this.

The highlight of today’s racing looks sure to be the Mitie Novices’ Chase which has Josses Hill opposing Ptit Zig. The latter was second as this meeting last year in the Ladbroke Hurdle. He could well prove to be Paul Nicholls’ main Arkle hope for the season. Twice a winner over fences already this winter, his chasing experience could be crucial.

The return of Nicky Henderson’s Supreme Novice Hurdle runner-up has been much anticipated. Built for jumping fences, he is expected to make a thrilling chaser. It is hoped by many that he will become a serious Arkle contender himself, and today’s race will give clues to such end of season targets. He has every right to be a little rusty after a lay-off and over the larger obstacles for the first time. Nevertheless, the race could still develop into a cracker.

The inclusion of Dunraven Storm adds further spice. He’s a no-nonsense front runner who is sure to take them along at a decent clip. Tom O’Brien takes the ride from the suspended Richard Johnson.

As already mentioned, tomorrow’s action features the Ladbroke Hurdle. Last year’s race became an early highlight in the fledgling careers of the Skeltons. Trainer Dan and jockey Harry won the valuable feature with Willow’s Saviour. They have another live contender in this year’s race with talented novice Shelford. His first outing this season saw him beat the aforementioned Emerging Talent, before he then went on to beat Haydock’s Fixed Brush Hurdle winner Aubusson. The drop back in trip has to be a slight concern, but the soft ground will certainly aid his chances.

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Ptit Zig carried top weight to a second place finish last year, and this time round it’s the Greatwood Hurdle winner Garde La Victoire who attempts to win under the hefty burden. A more testing surface proved no issue at Cheltenham and the form received a boost when Vaniteux ran well last weekend behind The New One. His odds make him a nice each-way proposition, and it would be no surprise to see him go close.

Activial has been all the rage from a betting prospective during the week. The four-year-old may have found the ground a little lively back in April at Aintree. He’d previously run with credit behind Calipto at Newbury. A big field handicap will be a huge test for such an inexperienced horse, but he looks to be on a fair mark, and certainly has talent.

Pyromaniac travels over from Ireland for Tony Martin and will be ridden by the hugely talented Shane Shortall who takes off 5lbs. The horse was third behind Emerging Talent at Cheltenham last month and therefore looks closely matched with Shelford. Another four-year-old, he has far more experience having run eight times on the flat. His trainer loves these handicaps and his price looks a generous one.

The main supporting event on Saturday is the Long Walk Hurdle. On the face of it a rather sub-standard renewal lacks a ‘star’ contender. Aubusson steps up in grade and will have to improve again if he is to be competitive. Reve De Sivola seems to save his best for this race, and will again have conditions in his favour.

Alan King’s Medinas arrives here after his surprising win at Newbury in the Long Distance Hurdle. He too will appreciate the testing conditions, and should again run a big race. Champion trainer Paul Nicholls runs Zarkandar, and the World Hurdle fourth appears to possess the best from. He comfortably defeated Reve de Sivola in a French Grade 1 last time out, and has rightly been placed at the head of the betting.

Dell’ Arca reverts to hurdles after a less than impressive two runs over fences. He lacks the size for the larger obstacles but cannot be discounted from this. He is a son of Sholokhov, a sire that has produced numerous top quality hurdlers that love soft ground. He is also out of a Acatenango mare, as was the wonderfully talented staying hurdler Fair Along.

It’s yet another terrific weekend of racing action, as we build towards a thrilling Christmas period.

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