It’s another Grade 1 weekend as the Clarence House Chase provides us with top-class action in its own right, as well as some very important Cheltenham clues.
Haydock too hosts a fantastic card, though races there will take some getting in the heavy conditions, while we also have a fancy at Newcastle on the all-weather track as one of last season’s best jockeys makes the journey to ride.
We’re kicking off at Ascot though with an underrated mare who could be good value to get the day off to a good start for the Paul Nicholls team.
1.15 Ascot (Warfield Mares’ Hurdle – Grade 2) – EGLANTINE DU SEUIL
We have just the five runners for the Mares’ Hurdle this year. Roksana should go off odds-on favourite and all eyes will be on Magic Of Light as the former winner of this race prepares for Cheltenham and/or Aintree, however the other one of the big three has been a little overlooked.
Eglantine Du Seuil, the former Willie Mullins mare and Cheltenham Festival winner now with Paul Nicholls, is overpriced in the overnight market.
Arguably she has not kicked on as many would have thought and the jury’s out as to why that is, but it seems there is more to come from her and in truth her form this season has been fine in the main.
She’s been raised 3lbs for a handicap second at Cheltenham, but I think that’s fair as it represents an upturn and I reckon she reaches a new career peak in this race given the conditions.
She’ll most likely need to beat Roksana to win so I’ll be keeping a sharp eye on Dan Skelton’s runner, while Magic Of Light may not be at her very best right now but will hopefully be seen once again in the Grand National in April.
1.30 Haydock (Supreme Trial Novices’ Hurdle – Grade 2) – MINELLA DRAMA
Llandinabo Lad is a good one and it appears he is on target for the Cheltenham Festival, though he doesn’t look a firm favourite to me.
He won over the course and distance a couple of runs ago and that reads well, however he was turned over at Ascot in this grade when favourite back in December and is not infallible.
Based purely on his own form, Minella Drama has a top chance here. However, his opportunity becomes starker when you consider that he was beaten 5 lengths by Llandinabo Lad on his hurdling debut when giving away 5lbs.
Level weights would put them close now, so considering he actually gets another 5lbs from his main rival and has himself improved massively since they last met and is just too good a proposition to ignore.
The only other one in contention was Faivoir, but he should be falling a little way behind the big two and its Donald McCain and Sam Twiston-Davies who are backed to score.
3.35 Ascot (Clarence House Chase – Grade 1) – WAITING PATIENTLY
It would appear by my reckoning that the bookies have done a fair job getting the weekend’s biggest race right, at least in terms of separating the big three from the others.
Politologue, Waiting Patiently and Defi Du Seuil are the class acts in the contest and while I have all the respect in the world for Champion Chase and Tingle Creek winner Politologue, one of his rivals looks overpriced for this.
The horse in question is Ruth Jefferson’s Waiting Patiently. There have been some unkind things said about both the horse and the trainer recently, but the truth is the ten-year-old has always been a little fragile, needs this soft ground and in fact has been consistent at the top level overall.
Once thought of as a staying type, he won the 2018 Ascot Chase in great style and was second in this season’s King George at Kempton.
Second however in the Tingle Creek last season, this should be perfect for him and the fact that he was supplemented for the race shows the confidence connections have in his ability against the best two-milers.
Conditions are ideal for him here and now that he is fully ready to go, we can see a new career high, one that would have him challenging Politologue on a level playing field at least while Paul Nicholls’ charge is half the price.
Defi Du Seuil has been on the drift, and while at his very best he’d take close order as well, he didn’t finish last season brilliantly at Cheltenham and was pulled-up on his seasonal return at the same venue back in November so he may at least need this run.
5.40 Newcastle (Handicap) – TINTORETTO
Flat racing’s dream couple flies north from Chelmsford and Lingfield to ride at Newcastle on Saturday before heading back down south to ride again on Sunday. While Hollie Doyle has a chance on a skinny one, it’s Tom Marquand who can be backed at reasonable odds with this Tintoretto.
Lambourn’s Tom Ward sends this six-year-old gelding as his only runner on the card for the seven-furlong handicap. It’s a race which should prove to be perfect for a horse who has been the epitome of consistency and has already gone close on a similar surface at Wolverhampton.
Despite hardly putting a foot wrong on turf, Polytrack and Tapeta, he has gradually gone down the handicap (although back up 2lbs from last time) and after his latest effort at Wolverhampton he looks primed.
At a bigger price Seas Of Elzaam has a lot going for him in the context of this race, in fact if we could only guarantee he’d be back to his best he would have come right into the reckoning but that’s far from certain. Danielsflyer also made the shortlist for Michael Dods and Tom Eaves.