Ace in the pack at Ascot
Our Will Hayler looks forward to Saturday’s exciting racing action over jumps at Wetherby and Ascot, but fancies one final hurrah on the Flat first.
Un Ace: Course winner knows what's required at Ascot
Plenty of meetings now lay claim to be the true start of the jumps season, which in itself is almost ridiculous given the fact that Richard Johnson is already only a couple of winners shy of his century, having mopped up races worth nearly three-quarters of a million pounds of prize money.
Chepstow have done their best to re-establish their October fixture, which for those of us a certain vintage who grew up watching the likes of Cavvies Clown, Playschool, Broadheath et al on the BBC in the late-1980s, is a most welcome development.
There's also an argument that Cheltenham's Showcase meeting, now relocated to a weekend slot, marks a shift in gear – certainly it's a first chance to watch a number of legitimate Cheltenham Festival contenders in action.
But for me it's the Charlie Hall Chase meeting at Wetherby and the accompanying excellent card at Ascot that has always marked the first weekend of the year where I have to look at the results of the Flat meeting at Newmarket once I get home, rather than the other way around.
The Charlie Hall isn't always a great race by any means (Ballybough Rasher anyone?), but it has played host to some outstanding steeplechasers throughout its history, and it's invariably a proper challenge – it's far from unusual to see good horses toiling it out for fourth or fifth approaching the final fence by the time the winner has already passed the winning post.
As a punter rather than a racing fan, I have always tended to find taking a sceptical view pays a richer dividend than being a believer and I would not recommend a bet on Cue Card.
Like the rest of us, he has shown that he is fallible on several occasions, despite a host of outstanding performances across very many seasons. Ideally, I'd like to see him wing the last two fences as well as Wayward Lad did in 1983 (watch the Youtube video here) and win going away, but Blaklion is not the sort to lie down, and Virak is capable of a big run if the cheekpieces work as well as they did when sported for the first time at Aintree in the spring.
He can win without the extra burden of my cash on his shoulders, no matter what tempting carrots certain bookmakers may care to wave under my nose on Saturday morning.
Yorkist catches the eye at Ascot on his first start for Dan Skelton in the Byrne Group Chase but the 3/1 available early on Friday morning dried up quickly enough and he can't be recommended as a bet. The fact is that all of us, including the bookies, are already well aware of Skelton's ability to rejuvenate a horse from another yard and it's not as if he's 2st lower than he should be in the weights – he starts with Skelton off a mark of 132 and was only rated 139 when at his very peak for Brian Ellison. Indeed, it's a bit of an insult to an admirable horse like Pearls Legend (second in the race last year), who has stacks of high-quality handicap form in similar contests, that he's more than twice the price.
Stepping in for Ben Linfoot's Value Bet column is not the easiest job. I might not always agree with his methodology or his tips, but you simply can't knock his results and his profits. I wish they were mine.
I will have a couple of modest bites at the cherry though, with a couple of less-obvious horses than Yorkist representing potentially better value.
Two of Kim Bailey's eight runners in the last fortnight have won and another couple have finished second, which makes him a trainer in pretty decent form at present, and I like the look of his Un Ace on his first start back from a summer break in the big Sodexo Gold Cup Handicap at Ascot (3.35).
He hasn't got his head in front for a while but posted some pretty decent efforts over hurdles last season, twice beaten less than a dozen lengths in big fields at Cheltenham, including at the Festival, and is much more at home on this sort of good going than on the soft encountered when unseating at Uttoxeter when last seen.
A couple of tidy victories in novice chases saw him sent off at just 6/1 to win the Plate at the Festival in 2015 off the same mark as this, and considering that he seems to run particularly well when fresh and has possibly his optimum conditions here, it seems ridiculous that he is available at twice those odds and more, even if his career has so far generated fewer column inches than Tea For Two and Saphir Du Rheu.
While I tend to turn my back on the Flat from this point forwards, I can't resist a final flourish on Shady McCoy in the one-mile newmarketracecourses.co.uk Handicap five minutes earlier at 3.30.
His stamina isn't fully proven for a mile yet, but he was unlucky to get caught on the heels of a rapidly-backpedalling rival when mid-division at York last time, losing valuable lengths in the process. Having been drawn wide and switched off in the early stages, he'd actually made significant ground to get into a challenging position between the three-furlong and two-furlong poles, and I liked the way he was keeping on again steadily in the final stages.
I was also impressed with his previous effort at this track when he chased home Salateen, making his move against the far rail when virtually all of the action was taking place towards the centre of the course. Decent ground is essential, as is a fair pace to aim at, but he ought to get both here as I can see Makzeem being ridden prominently as he drops back in distance from a mile and a quarter and the blinkered-first-time Mikmak could also go from the front.
Shady McCoy has his quirks and can hang around a bit under pressure, but he also has a mean turn of foot when things go right and remains very realistically handicapped just 4lb higher than when taking a big handicap at Glorious Goodwood in the summer.
An each-way bet ought to yield a small profit, with the potential for a nice return if James Doyle can get him switched off in the early stages and time his challenge right.
Posted 1705 BST on 28/10/2016
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