In its short history, the Ascot Chase has been won by numerous outstanding chasers.
Martha’s Son took the first during a sparkling campaign in 1995. He suffered an injury the following season which kept him off the track for 15 months. Returning to the track at the age 10, he produced two stunning performances to win the Champion Chase and then the Melling at Aintree.
One Man won the renewal of 1998 and a month later he too landed the Champion Chase at Cheltenham. A truly wonderful chaser, he’d already won a string of prestigious races including the Hennessy Gold Cup, the King George and the Charlie Hall. Tragically, One Man was to die that season, after a shocking fall in the Melling at Aintree.
The following year another grey, Teeton Mill, took the Ascot Chase. Like One Man, he won this after success in the Hennessy and the King George. Those three victories were scintillating, as he tore the fields apart in devastating fashion. Sadly, he suffered an injury during the Gold Cup later that campaign and never returned to the track.
Monet’s Garden (yes, another grey) and Kauto Star won in 2007 and 2008, with Monet’s winning again in 2010. Cue Card captured the race for the second-time last year, and will look to surpass Tiutchev, Monet’s and Riverside Theatre in becoming the first to win the prestigious event on three occasions.
Tizzard’s stable star returns to Ascot having had a decent break since a slightly disappointing display behind Bristol De Mai in the Betfair Chase. Stable talk suggests he’s working as well as ever, though it’s inevitably a concern that the old warrior is now 12. Trip and track look ideal, but the odds are stacked against the old favourite as he takes on several talented youngsters.
Top Notch heads the betting following a strong winter campaign. He was impressive at the track in November when easily accounting for Double Shuffle and Frodon. That form has been boosted since. In December he landed the Grade Two Peterborough Chase, defeating stable companion Josses Hill. The diminutive chaser is neat at his fences and is not short of speed. He’s reliable rather than spectacular, though is without doubt progressive.
Waiting Patiently is five from five over fences and put in a career best performance last time at Kempton, when thrashing a decent field which included God’s Own and Josses Hill. He’s arguably the horse in the field with star potential. Thought to need soft or heavy ground to perform at his best (by Flemensfirth), he had no problem with good to soft last time. Ascot looks sure to suit and the trip is ideal. This is another step up the ladder for the young chaser, but he looks capable of handling it.
Also towards the head of the betting is the Irish raider Coney Island. Another son of Flemensfirth, this fella is touted as a serious Gold Cup contender. Trainer Eddie Harty remains undecided as to the Cheltenham target and this race should tell us whether he has the speed for a tilt at the Ryanair. He impressed on his return from injury when winning at Ascot in December and should strip fitter this time. His profile suggests he’ll be finishing the race strongly. The question is whether he can keep tabs on quicker horses like Top Notch and Waiting Patiently?
Frodon deserves a shot at this after a demolition job at Cheltenham last time. The softer the better for this six-year-old, though it’s hard to see him reversing the 10-length thumping that Top Notch served up back in November. That race followed on quickly from a terrific run behind Might Bite and his trainer, Paul Nicholls, will be hopeful that the youngster can get closer this time.
Speredek put in a huge performance from the front last time in the Clarence House, before finally giving way to the outstanding Un De Sceaux. That was at two miles and it’s hard to imagine this free-running sort will be suited by a step-up in trip. He’s likely to put in another solid round, but I can only see him setting the race up for the top three in the betting.
Of those, I’m siding with Waiting Patiently. I’m a huge fan of Top Notch, but my Dad always told me to take ‘a good big-un over a good little-un every time’. Coney Island will be doing his best work late-on, but I fancy the other pair have the gears to give him the slip.
Best of luck to those having a punt. It should prove a cracker.