There have been a couple of rocky spells in the career of Defi Du Seuil (3.35) but he is fancied to get back to winning ways in Ascot’s Clarence House Chase, the highlight of eight Saturday races on ITV4. He looked really classy when beating Un De Sceaux in this race a year ago and it is hard to believe he hasn’t won since.
He’d had a few hard races before throwing in a poor effort at the last Festival and presumably needed his return to action in November. It seems significant that the Philip Hobbs stable hit form some weeks later and the trainer reports he is “back to his very best” in his home work.
Politologue needs lots of respect after back-to-back Grade One wins but it is a pity his successful partnership with Harry Skelton has been broken up. With a decent-sized field encouraging him forward, he risks setting this up for his main rival.
1.15 Ascot Roksana ran well to be third in the Long Walk but her reluctance to settle means this distance is always going to be a risk. Magic Of Light may outstay her but Eglantine Du Seuil looks a threat to both, having repeatedly suggested that three miles could be her thing. She was giving plenty of weight to the winner when second in a Cheltenham handicap last month.
1.30 Haydock Giving weight away to four last-time-out winners means this will be a serious task for Llandinabo Lad, from the Tom Symonds yard that is arguably cooling off after a hot streak. But he earned his 5lb penalty with a strong-staying success here in November and his second place at Ascot last month was probably even better form. He’s the one to beat.
1.50 Ascot This looks like a good spot for Janika, who was rated 11lb higher in his only previous hurdle race in Britain, a year ago. His steeplechase mark was a stone and a half higher after he won a Grade Two last term and it looks well worth giving him this chance in a handicap over the smaller obstacles, having had a wind op since he was last seen. Danny Kirwan is feared, having been a non-stayer last time.
2.10 Taunton The ultra-game Yala Enki will give his all once more but he has had only a fortnight to recover from the delayed Welsh National. Preference is for If The Cap Fits, who has become disappointing but might perk up for this test of stamina and step down in class.
2.40 Haydock As a successful horse rockets up the ratings and shortens in price from one win to the next, there must come a time when the smart thing is to jump ship. But sticking with Royal Pagaille looks the right call for a Peter Marsh in which the others have questions to answer. Venetia Williams’s runner looks made for this sort of test but his jumping is not flawless.
3.00 Ascot Any horse has a bit to prove after pulling up twice in a row but excuses can be made for Acting Lass, who surely needed his reappearance run in November and has since had a wind op. A strong traveller, he may be suited by this step back in trip. He was narrowly beaten here by the course specialist Regal Encore last term.
3.15 Haydock A betting angle is extremely hard to find in this Champion Hurdle Trial, with Buveur D’Air a very short price for a horse returning from a serious injury, whose most recent win was 20 months ago. But this small field seems unlikely to go a strong pace in the conditions and that ought to help, as there seems little doubt he will have more pace than either of his rivals in the closing stages. Ballyandy won this last year but must give 6lb to the favourite.