Since its inception in 2001 there have been only nine renewals of this highly competitive race at its Ascot venue. It was abandoned in 2009 and 2010 due to snow, and was run elsewhere in 2004 and 2005 due to course redevelopment. Nicky Henderson has been the most successful trainer with three wins. Five year olds have been the winning most age group with five successes. Two six year olds, one seven year old, and one four year old have also hit the back of the net. This stat may be a little misleading as four year olds have been very much to the fore in recent runnings. The market hasn’t been a great guide with only one favourite (Henderson’s Jack The Giant 2007) obliging, and two 25/1 shots winning.
Harry Fry’s 4yo Activial leads the market at 5/1 having been backed in from twice these odds since last weekend. He was a convincing winner of the Adonis hurdle at Newbury last Febuary, but then disappointed in his next engagement at Aintree in April where he was probably unsuited by the sharp track. However the Newbury form has worked out well with the runner up Commissioned ( beaten 3 1/2L ) winning twice this season, achieving a rating of 140, making Activial’s Mark of 137 on Saturday, look rather generous. His lack of a recent pipe opener and indeed experience ( has had only 3 hurdle races), may count against him, but with the very talented Mr Fry in charge and carrying the nice racing weight of 10st10lbs he is short listed.
With his three previous winners Nicky Henderson certainly knows what is required, so his very promising 5yo Sign of a Victory is worth serious consideration. In only his fifth race over hurdles ( Ascot 2ml. Nov1 ) he came home on the bridle in what was a truly run race,of a mark of 139. He has been raised what appears a quite harsh 11lbs to 150 but it will be no surprise if he ends the season racing off a considerably higher mark. Ground conditions on Saturday are a concern as he had been an intended runner in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle but was taken out because of the soft ground. However I can’t see Saturday’s likely gd/sft being a problem for this son of Kayf Tara out of a Bob Back mare, and unless conditions really deteriorate should have every chance.
Having performed with credit in a number of top handicaps Gordon Elliott’s 5yo Bayan is already a seasoned campaigner. He ran a great race to be third in the Coral Cup at the Festival, and improved again,coming second in the Galway Hurdle. However the handicapper has had his say and he is now 8lbs higher than Cheltenham. He probably needs testing conditions at two miles so if it does come up soft he is well worth a second look.
Dan Skelton’s 5yo Galileo gelding Shelford has won his last two races and is another who wouldn’t mind it testing on Saturday. Rated 89 on the flat he has made a highly successful transition to the winter game and was quite impressive in his first handicap ( 2 1/2 mls sft Chepstow ) at the end of October, where off a mark of 127 he made all and kept on very gamely to beat Aubusson by 3/4L. As the runner up went on to win the £80,000. Fixed Brush Hurdle at Haydock, Shelford’s 7lbs rise seems more than fair. He travels well in his races so it would be no surprise to see him leading the field over the last on Saturday.
Garde La Victoire and Clondaw Warrior are closely matched on Cheltenham form in November and the progressive Hobbs horse is fancied to come out on top again. Clondaw Warrior is 3lb better of for the 2L he was beaten but Garde La Victoire has the more progressive profile and indeed must have every chance of being involved at the business end.
Tony Martins 4yo Pyromaniac finished a well beaten 3rd at Cheltenham in November but had shown considerable potential in his previous two runs at Listowel and Killarney. Coming from this stable, this very lightly raced and unexposed animal could easily spring a surprise.
Jonjo O’Neill’s good flat horse Goodwood Mirage showed he was getting his act together when winning at Wetherby in October. Quietly fancied for the Triumph hurdle, he was brought down at the second and is definitely one to note if there is any market confidence.
Selection. Sign of a Victory.