The pre-Christmas action focuses on Ascot this weekend, with a cracking Supreme Trial Novices’ Hurdle (1.55) the Friday highlight.
Claimantakinforgan and Slate House both set a decent standard based on their wins at Newbury and Cheltenham respectively this term, but the one I really like at the prices is Stuart Edmunds’ Theclockisticking.
This talented five-year-old took apart a novice hurdle at Fakenham in October – beating a well-fancied Dan Skelton runner – before proving that strong visual impression to be no fluke when demolishing a decent field at Huntington last time out, giving Cause Toujours a 10-length beating.
Trainer Edmunds and jockey Ciaran Gethings both spoke in glowing terms about Theclockisticking following that success and the time recorded in the run-in backed up the favourable impression the gelding has created. I’m hopeful he can complete the hat-trick here and want to be with him at 11/2.
In Saturday’s Sodexo Graduation Chase (1.15), Dolos looks really interesting getting weight all-round off his rivals and can back up his recent course success for trainer Paul Nicholls.
Last time out, albeit in a four-runner field which saw Sizing Tennesse unseat at the second fence, it was hard not to be impressed by the manner of victory from Dolos, who cruised into the lead four out and soon had Sternrubin – a fair yardstick – well beaten as he bolted up under Harry Cobden.
This will be a damn sight tougher stepping up in class, but the four-year-old gets a decent weight allowance and may well be able to improve past several exposed rivals.
The feature is the Reve De Sivola Long Walk Hurdle (2.25) where Unowhatimeanharry can prove he remains the toughest customer in the stayers’ division.
Harry Fry’s terrific nine-year-old is 7lb clear of his nearest rival Lil Rockerfeller here on official ratings and gets the soft ground he loves so much here.
Granted, conditions were in his favour three weeks ago at Newbury when beaten fair and square by Beer Goggles, but I’m sure Barry Geraghty would’ve made more use of his mount if able to ride that race again and will surely leave nothing to chance here.
He still appeals as the most likely winner of the Stayers’ Hurdle in three months time, can firmly get his season back on track this weekend and rates a bet at 7/4.
At Haydock on Saturday, I’m willing to take another chance with Verni in the Betfred Supports Jack Berry House Handicap Hurdle (2.10), who was better than the bare result at the Lancashire venue last month.
Having his first run since a very good second in the Martin Pipe at Cheltenham back in March, the eight-year-old travelled strongly under Richard Johnson before weakening after hitting three out, with the tack also appearing to slip, with Johnson clearly troubled up the home straight.
Needing the run after a long break, Verni should be fully wound up for tomorrow’s task and is now 10lb better off with the winner that day, Limited Reserve, who looks set to reoppose here. At the prices, I’d much rather back Phillip Hobbs’ charge at the 9/1 available at the time of writing.
Finally, Cap Du Nord can make light of a 9lb rise in the Betfred Shops Handicap Hurdle (3.20) over two miles for trainer Christian Williams.
This four-year-old bolted up at Sandown a fortnight ago off a lenient opening mark of 100, leading on the bit two out, idling in front but always holding runner-up Phoenix Dawn.
Underfoot conditions tomorrow are very much a step into the unknown but Williams’ horses have gone well in the mud since he took out his training licence last season and, with Denis O’Regan booked to ride, he can be delivered a bit later than at Sandown to win this pot.