The Ladbroke Handicap Hurdle Ascot

Despite Richard Johnson’s late defection to the eventual winner, Village Vic, I thought last weeks selection, Champagne West, ran a great race to come second. Despite a serious blunder at the seventh fence, he chased the winner throughout, and stayed on really well up that punishing hill. Considering it was his first run since coming back from injury, and he was conceding 14lbs to his talented stablemate, this was a performance full of merit, and he is one to keep in mind for the Ryan Air in March. Saturday’s Ladbroke may also contain some Festival pointers, as being one of the most important handicaps in the calendar it always attracts runners from the top yards. Irish trainer Gordon Elliott, who has won two of the last three renewals, has three possibles at the time of writing, and while it would be foolish to dismiss any of this superb trainers runners, none of them would seem to hold particularly strong chances.

A trainer with more obvious prospects at the weekend is man of the moment, Dan Skelton. He won this two years ago with the 6yo Willows Saviour, and has two interesting candidates for this years contest, the 5yo Hurricane Hollow, and 4yo Zarib. The former ran well following a three month break in the 2m3 1/2f Silver Trophy at Chepstow, where patently not getting home over the trip, he finished third. The form of the race has worked out exceptionally well with the runner up winning a £25,000 contest next time by 8L, and the fifth, Rons Dream, winning next time, and finishing second to hat trick scorer, Lilly’s Waugh at Cheltenham last Saturday. A winner of three of his six hurdle starts, all around 2m, Hurricane Hollow looks nicely handicapped off a mark of 139 giving him a nice racing weight of 10st11lbs. One for the shortlist!

Stablemate, Zarib, was a good sixth in the Fred Winter at the Festival where he led briefly at the last. He was made favourite for the Elite Hurdle at Wincanton on his reappearance, but unsuited by the steady pace, finished third. The run was not without merit however, and bound to be better suited by Saturday’s contest, racing off the same mark as in the Fred Winter, he is worth considering. The one caveat would be the poor record of four year olds in the Ladbroke, with only one coming home in front in the ten runnings since it’s inception.

As his superb record at the track bears witness to, no trainer enjoys success at the Berkshire course more than the very talented young handler, Harry Fry (pictured above), so expect his dual course winner, Jollys Cracked It, to turn up with all guns blazing. He ran another fine race at the track on his reappearance in a very steadily run affair in October, a Cl1 handicap.

Despite finishing strongly, he was beaten three quarters of a length, and a nose by Nabucco, and Saturday’s opponent, Unanimite. He meets the runner up on a pound better terms, will have come on for the run, and in a race likely to be taking place, both on a more suitable easy surface, and at a truer pace, it isn’t difficult to envisage the Fry horse taking his revenge. With Noel Fehilly, who has never ridden better, in the plate, he is another for the shortlist, and might just be the one to help with those Christmas expenses.

The all conquering Alan King runs the 4yo, Winner Massagot, and he showed what a useful animal he is when, despite running too freely, won a Class2 handicap on soft ground at the course three weeks ago off a mark of 123. His trainer hopes that the run will have taken some of the”fizz” out of him, and that Wayne Hutchinson will have a more tractable mount under him at the weekend. However the Handicapper has had his say, raising him 12lbs, and with the poor record of four year olds, the King horse may just find himself up against it.

Gordon Elliott may be the only successful Irish Trainer in the race to date, but Noel Mead certainly has prospects of improving the record with his talented six year old Waxies Dargle. He demonstrated his liking for the hurly burly of these large field handicaps, when taking a very competitive one at Killarney’s tight course last May. He ran a fine race on his reappearance in the Greatwood handicap at Cheltenham four weeks ago when, running off the same mark as Old Guard, he got to within six lengths of the Nicholls horse. In the light of Old Guard’s subsequent performance and his prominence in the Champion Hurdle market, this has to be considered a decent performance and a rise of only 4lbs seems more than fair.

Selection: Jollys Cracked It.

E.W. : Waxies Dargle.

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