Wessex Youth Trust Handicap Hurdle 2m Ascot Saturday – Sponsored by the Ladbroke organisation since it’s inception in 2001, it is to be run this year as the Wessex Youth Trust Handicap. Due to weather, and the rebuilding of Ascot, there have only been twelve renewals of the contest, and the most successful trainers have been Nicky Henderson, with three winners, and Irish handler, Gordon Elliott with two,( both in the last four years). Inexperience has been no bar to success, with seven of the last eleven winners having raced only seven times or less over hurdles in Britain or Ireland. Good recent form has been important, as seven of the last eight first past the post, had managed a top three finish in their previous race. Last year, Oddsguru followers, while celebrating, had to put up with a reduced dividend, when the Philip Hobbs trained 4yo Sternrubin, under an inspired ride from R.Johnson, got up in the shadow of the post to force a dead heat with our selection, the Harry Fry trained 6yo Jollys Cracked It. They meet again on Saturday and there seems to be plenty of confidence in the market that the Fry runner can stage a repeat.
Jolly’s Cracked It sustained a minor injury after last year’s race which has kept him on the sidelines since, but his top trainer, reports him fit and ready to run. He has had four races over the Berkshire track winning three of them and being placed on the other occasion so from a mark only 6lbs higher than last year he looks to have a serious chance at the weekend, particularly if we get some rain.
Last year’s co-winner, Sternrubin gained his victory off a mark of 134, and won on his reappearance over course and distance in October, racing off an 8lbs higher mark. He had Saturday’s opponent, Modus, 1/2L and a neck behind in third, but two weeks later in a Cheltenham handicap Sternrubin was a disappointing 5th, finishing ten lengths behind Modus, who finished 2nd, and despite a 6lbs swing the Nicholls contender now looks the more likely of the two to come out on top.
Despite having had fourteen runners in the contest, a win has eluded the Master of Ditcheat but Modus does look just the type to fill in this gap in the Nicholls CV. A winner of two of his seven starts over hurdles the tough and consistent 6yo ran another solid race last time when only failing by 1/2L to better the well handicapped North Hill Harvey at Cheltenham five weeks ago. He has been put up, rather harshly in my opinion, another 5lbs for Saturday’s contest, but strikes me as the type from whom there is plenty more to come.
Two of Nicky Henderson’s entries, the 5yo, Brain Power, and the 4yo Consul De Thaix met in a Sandown handicap two weeks ago, with the 5yo prevailing by 3/4L. There are sound reasons to think that positions can be reversed at the weekend as the winner had the benefit of a run three weeks earlier, while the very inexperienced runner up was having his first run since finishing 10th in the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham in March. He also meets his stable companion on 4lbs better terms so this clearly progressive animal looks nicely handicapped on a mark of 135 giving him a nice racing weight of 10st10lbs and has to be on the shortlist.
Without a winner in the contest prior to 2012, Irish Stables had a particularly poor record until Gordon Elliott won with Cause of Causes, and as he repeated the dose two years later with Bayan, his 5yo Mick Jazz demands a second look. Previously trained by Harry Fry for whom he failed to hit the back of the net, he made a winning debut for his new yard in a Clonmel Maiden at the end of October. He finished 2nd in a Navan Grade 3 seventeen days later, and despite not getting the run of the race, continued to progress when finishing third in a valuable Fairyhouse Handicap thirteen days ago. Not badly treated on a mark of 141 he is worth considering.
Alan King won this with Raya Star in 2011 and will be hoping for a repeat with his progressive 4yo Who Dares Wins. He was only having his fourth race over hurdles when finishing out the back in the Triumph Hurdle, but his three runs this term have been much more positive. He made a good start to the present campaign when finishing 4th to Ballyoptic in a valuable Chepstow Grade3 in October, and was going ok when unseating at Cheltenham five weeks later. However it was last time that he really showed what he could do, when coming home 9L clear of the field in a Class1 Newbury handicap off a mark of 140. He is set to carry 11st10lbs on Saturday and will have to put up a weight carrying record to win, but that Newbury performance was impressive.
Selection: Consul De Thaix (if abs. Who Dares Wins)
E.W. : Modus