Alex Hammond has three to follow over the Christmas period and backs Sam Spinner to come roaring back to his best at Ascot this weekend.
Frodon. Is he now a Grade One horse?
Well, the improvement he has made has been extraordinary since winning this Cheltenham race two years ago as a four-year-old.
He certainly has a Grade One attitude and is a pleasure to watch with his aggressive style and impressive jumping. To win a handicap off a mark of 164, particularly in tough conditions like he experienced on Saturday, deserves plenty of credit and the glint in trainer Paul Nicholls’ eye when he was interviewed in the immediate aftermath of his gutsy win said plenty.
As an improving young horse, it’s not beyond probability that he can make his mark in something like the Ascot Chase, or the Ryanair at the Festival in March.
Sky Bet have him as an 8/1 shot for Cheltenham, fourth in the market behind Min, Footpad and Un De Sceaux, which looks to be a fair reflection of his chance.
It will be interesting to see what route Nicholls takes with him this season. Last term he finished third in the Ascot Chase before disappointing in the Ryanair. There’s no doubt he is a better horse this campaign, so maybe those two races will be on the agenda again, rather than just aiming him at Cheltenham.
Bryony Frost and Frodon have struck up an effective partnership and it would be great to see the dynamic duo make their mark at the highest level.
Frodon motors home to win again at Cheltenham
The general consensus seems to be that Brain Power took advantage of a soft race in the International Hurdle. Are we in danger of underestimating him around 16/1 in the Champion Hurdle betting?
I think he won a reasonably soft International Hurdle, but my ears pricked up when owner Michael Buckley said afterwards that Brain Power is one of Nicky Henderson’s three best work horses, along with Altior and Buveur D’Air.
The race on Saturday saw The New One fail to show his old sparkle and he was subsequently retired after an admirable career for the Twiston-Davies team.
Something appears to be out of sorts with Summerville Boy, who disappointed for the second race in succession, so Brain Power did what you’d have expected him to do on official ratings and nothing more. That aside, he clearly has appreciated reverting from fences to hurdles, but that price is probably fair.
He was well beaten in the Champion Hurdle won by Buveur D’Air two years ago and he’ll do well to frighten his stablemate on current evidence in three months’ time.
Brain Power jumps to victory in the Unibet International Hurdle
What was your biggest eyecatcher of the two-day International Meeting?
The World’s End was one of my horses to follow last season, but unfortunately he failed to win a race. It looks like I was 12 months premature as he should be capable of winning some very nice races now he has gone chasing.
It was pleasing to see Tom George’s seven-year-old put a disappointing effort at Cheltenham last month behind him with a convincing win in Saturday’s staying novices’ chase, which took his record to two wins from three since tackling fences.
He’s still as big as 16/1 with Sky Bet for the RSA Chase at the Festival in March and I think that looks attractive enough for a horse that appreciates the decent ground we will hopefully have in the spring.
It was a real shame that Lil Rockerfeller unseated Wayne Hutchinson after a bad blunder at the second fence, as it would have been interesting to see how much of a threat he was to the eventual winner, and he has some questions to answer about his jumping now.
The Worlds End impresses at Cheltenham
Good stuff coming up later this week at Ascot – who should we be noting?
I’m really looking forward to Ascot’s two day meeting on Friday and Saturday, with a couple of graded races on day one and the feature JLT Hurdle (Long Walk) as part of a quality card on Saturday.
There are some classy young horses entered for Friday’s Sky Bet Supreme Trial, which could have a bearing on the market for the big race itself, the Sky Bet Supreme at the Cheltenham Festival in March.
Angels Breath and Thomas Darby are both current 20/1 shots for the Festival race with the sponsors and that is sure to change if either can put in an impressive display on Friday.
Nicky Henderson is responsible for Angels Breath, who if he runs here will be having his first start under Rules having won a four-year-old maiden point-to-point in Ireland back in April.
Talented young trainer Olly Murphy trains Thomas Darby and it would be a boost for his handler were he to win as it would be his first victory at Grade Two level.
Thomas Darby could just do with settling better than he did at Ascot last month, when touched off by Didtheyleaveuoutto in a steadily-run race.
Murphy holds this Diana Whateley-owned horse in high regard and if he does run here, that could be it until the spring, so it would be nice for him to go into a mid-winter break having made a good impression.
Let’s hope the ground isn’t too testing for him as he doesn’t want proper winter ground, which bodes well for a possible tilt at the Sky Bet Supreme come March time.
If the ground does come up too soft for Thomas Darby, I wouldn’t be against having 16/1 shot Éclair D’Ainay on my side.
Dan Skelton’s French import is from the family of Crystal D’Ainay and wasn’t disgraced on his British debut at Newbury last month when fourth, having finished second over hurdles on his only start in France. He could be each-way value, but is sure to do better over further in time.
The horse who could give them the most to think about is the Warren Greatrex-trained Encore Champs.
Click on the image below for the latest Warren Greatrex column…
He’s is another exciting young prospect who has already won over hurdles. He’s an 11/2 shot for Friday’s race and shouldn’t be overlooked after beating smart Flat horse Lord Yeats on his hurdles debut at Wetherby at the end of last month.
He was possibly slightly lucky when left in front at the last when a couple of lengths down, but his trainer said after that win that he thought he would be a better horse in a better race and he has the chance to prove that here.
It has the makings of a cracking little race and I’m very much looking forward to seeing how these young hurdlers get on.
On to Saturday’s card at Ascot then where the feature is the JLT Hurdle (registered as the Long Walk Hurdle).
The Grade One has attracted a smart entry with the market headed by Nicky Henderson’s five-year-old Call Me Lord, who is Sky Bet’s 2/1 favourite for the three mile contest on his seasonal reappearance.
Unowhatimeanharry is almost set to celebrate his 11th birthday, but he’s still a potent force and this former winner is next best in the market at 100/30.
Bryony Frost may have been stealing the headlines of late, but Lizzie Kelly has the chance to ride another Grade One winner on Agrapart (6/1) and Sam Spinner is 7/1 to repeat last year’s winning performance for Jedd O’Keeffe.
If The Cap Fits has a bit to find on ratings, but is held in high regard by connections and could be a good each-way shout at 12/1 on his first foray into Grade One company.
It’s shaping up to be a top-quality Christmas cracker, but I’m hoping that Sam Spinner can bounce back from a lacklustre reappearance to win for Jedd O’Keeffe.
Whatever happens, it should be the perfect aperitif for Christmas and hopefully give us some funds for the exciting racing to come in the days following the festivities.
Any chance of a long-range tip for the Christmas period?
All eyes turn to Kempton on Boxing Day and I’m keen on Might Bite to bounce back from his disappointing reappearance in the Betfair Chase and win a second King George.
He’s plenty short enough to do so at 11/4, but you can forgive a horse a bad run at Haydock as it doesn’t suit every animal.
There has been plenty of support for Thistlecrack, who’s now into 6/1 and Melling Chase winner Politologue is interesting for Paul Nicholls on his first try at this trip (he’s 11/2).
Throw into the mix a Gold Cup winner in Native River (6/1), recent Betfair Chase winner Bristol De Mai at 7s and rising star Waiting Patiently (5/1 second favourite), who ensures his trainer Ruth Jefferson will spend part of her Christmas Day on the A1; and it will feel like Christmas Day is coming 24 hours late for racing fans!
If Nicky Henderson suffers from his self-confessed 3am inspiration and decides to run Altior, we will be thoroughly spoiled. Enjoy folks.
The Coral Welsh National is another of the big betting races I’m looking forward to getting stuck into over the Christmas period and wouldn’t it be marvellous to see soon to be 14-year-old Raz De Maree come back and win the marathon handicap chase for a second time.
He gained compensation for a narrow defeat by subsequent Gold Cup winner Native River two years ago by winning last year’s renewal and is 25/1 to repeat the performance.
David Pipe’s Welsh National Trial winner Ramses De Teillee is one of the runners to keep on side. He picks up a 4lb penalty for his win earlier this month and he won’t mind what the weather chucks at the Welsh track, in fact the more rain that falls the better.
He acts really well at the track with three wins and one runner up spot from four starts there and with just eight starts over fences to his name, he should have more to give. He’s a 7/1 shot with Sky Bet and will do for me.
Presenting Percy is brilliant in the RSA Chase
Leopardstown also stages top quality racing over the Christmas period and I’m hoping to see something special from RSA Chase winner Presenting Percy in the Savills Chase on the 28th.
He’s 3/1 to lift the Grade One contest, but I think he’s got a great chance to prove he’s up to Gold Cup standard by beating some serious horses in this three-mile affair.
Anyway, that’s it from me for now. Just time to wish you all the very best for a peaceful and enjoyable Christmas and I’m looking forward to welcoming you all on New Year’s Day to channel 415 for the launch of Sky Sports Racing. Hopefully we’ll see you there.
The new Sky Sports Racing team