There were further showers – some heavy – forecast to hit Ascot overnight ahead of today’s feature meeting. It seems safe to assume that conditions will be nearer heavy than soft come post time.
The feature contest is the Long Walk Hurdle and I hope to see Thyme Hill (2.25) confirm recent Newbury form with former Stayers’ Hurdle winner Paisley Park despite being 3lbs worse off for the length-and-a-half he had in hand of Emma Lavelle’s stable star last month.
The selection is, arguably, unlucky not to be unbeaten over timber having won his first three hurdle starts before meeting trouble in running when a close fourth in the Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham back in March. Do note the 6-year-old has yet to race right-handed in his career although there seems no reason why he should not be at least as effective on a clockwise course. Paisley Park will not want the race to turn into a sprint, which Lavelle suggested was the case at Newbury, but I believe the younger horse will prevail in a top-class renewal of this Grade 1 prize.
The Conditional finished third in the 3m 2f Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury last time on ground quicker than ideal and he has been, surprisingly, dropped 1lb for that effort. He looks sure to run a big race in the handicap chase, but the each way vote goes to Ardlethen (3.00) who failed to get home behind The Conditional at Newbury, but who travelled well to two out and this return to 3m should suit.
Nicky Henderson saddles a couple in the concluding valuable handicap hurdle with antepost favourite top-weight Buzz and Time Flies By (3.35) and it is the latter who gets the each way vote.
The selection was too keen and failed to get home – also jumped the last couple of flights poorly – over further here on his return and he makes his handicap debut from near the foot of the weights. The 5-y-o remains a maiden after three starts over timber and he may find the hurly burly of this 17-runner field too much, but last month’s comeback effort will have blown the cobwebs away.
Not So Sleepy should ensure a decent gallop although he blotted his copybook somewhat when unseating Paddy Brennan at the first in the Grade 1 Fighting Fifth last time. Jonjo O’Neill has been plundering a number of big Saturday handicaps in recent weeks and his Arrivederci was travelling like the winner when coming down two out at Haydock last time. His stamina will be an asset dropping down to the minimum trip.
The Tommy Whittle Chase is the feature at Haydock, and I am going to give Highest Son (2.40) another chance despite finishing weakly over 2m 6f at Newbury last time when he looked sure to play a part in the finish jumping the cross fence. His sole win over fences came on heavy ground over today’s extended 3m 1f trip at Plumpton and he has been eased 4lbs from the start of the season. The form of the Tizzard stable remains a cause for concern, but he gets the each way vote.
Earlier on in the card I expect to see Venetia Williams’s French import Frero Banbou (1.30) build on a promising chase debut at Exeter when he travelled well but made a mistake four out and was beaten 13L into third. That was over an extended 2m 1f and a return to the minimum should suit.
Maurice Barnes has his string in great form, and I shall be keeping a close eye on the market at Newcastle regarding Knockoura who makes a belated seasonal reappearance in the 2m 4f handicap chase. He must go close but Catamaran Du Seuil (1.40) is entitled to come on for his first start of the campaign at Ffos Las where he was weak in the market and ran as if in need of the outing. I hope to see him strip a lot fitter this afternoon.