Alex Hammond: Let’s Dancealot!
Sky Sports HQ's Alex Hammond hopes her good form continues this weekend as she looks ahead to Doncaster and Cheltenham.
David Elsworth, trainer of Alex's each-way fancy Sir Dancealot
As we've seen in the past, the cream rose to the top at Ascot on Champions Day – what were your personal highlights?
I thought Champions Day was an unreserved success. It has really grown over the six years since its inception and with the drier autumn we have enjoyed so far, conditions were superb too. I think my highlight was probably the same as almost everyone else's.
Almanzor was superb in the Champion Stakes and justified trainer Jean-Claude Rouget's decision to bypass the Arc. He franked the form with runner-up Found from the Irish Champion Stakes beating her comprehensively again and stamping his authority on the three-year-old colt's division this season. Taking nothing away from the Arc winner, she put up another gutsy performance but she was beaten by an exceptional horse in Almanzor over the mile and a quarter trip.
There is plenty of stamina on the dam's side of his pedigree so there is the option to step up to a mile and a half next season, with the Arc his ultimate aim. He has now won eight of his 10 starts and I can't wait to see him as a four-year-old; he's already 4/1 favourite with Sky Bet to win the 2017 Arc which is at Chantilly again which will suit this year's French Derby winner.
I have to give a 'nb' to Minding who proved her versatility and exceptional talent in winning the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes. She was dropping back to a mile for the first time since finishing runner up in the Irish 2000 Guineas in May, one of just two defeats for her this season for which there were well documented reasons (she banged her head in the stalls resulting in a nasty cut). She is another true champion to have lit up the Berkshire track on Saturday.
How do you weigh up Saturday's Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster? Can anyone muscle in on Aidan O'Brien's remarkable Group One dominance?
It's not looking likely. O'Brien has three of the 10 runners in a bid to keep up his marvellous record in this race and as rumours suggested in the week Yucatan is Ballydoyle's number one hope. Ryan Moore rides and in the absence of stablemate Capri (who beat him in the Beresford Stakes last time out) this colt and could go off odds-on favourite on the day.
Pedigrees don't come much better than Yucatan's. He's by supersire Galileo out of the top class mare Six Perfections, which makes him a full/half brother to two group/graded winners. All three of his starts to date have come over Saturday's trip of a mile and everything points towards another Group One victory for O'Brien, who will no doubt have Bobby Frankel's record of 25 top level winners in a year, in his sights. He has sent out 21 Group One winners so far and the Grade One win of Ivanovich Gorbatov in the Triumph Hurdle is also credited to him as Joseph O'Brien wasn't officially licensed at that point.
He's going to be short though (even money favourite with Sky Bet at the time of writing). David Elsworth may not have the horses he once trained, but he is worthy of respect when he says he fancies one (remember Arabian Queen winning at 50/1 in the Juddmonte?!). He has been talking up the chances of Sir Dancealot who is now 9/1 with Sky Bet for Saturday's race.
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He has something to find on his previous efforts, but comes here off the back of a Listed win at York over 6 furlongs and has plenty of stamina on the female side of his pedigree. With 10 runners it gives us reasonable each-way betting opportunities and he could be one to finish in the frame. I've been a fan of Rivet this campaign too, but he was only fifth in the Dewhurst over 7 furlongs. He looked to be crying out for this extra furlong though and should run a better race.
Cheltenham is back! Is this weekend's Showcase a meeting that interests you from a punting perspective, or are you purely on the lookout for future clues?
Cheltenham interests me from every perspective! I love the place and I'm delighted we are back jumping there after a quality Flat season. It is very much a case of feeling your way at the moment, but there are certain stables that have started the season strongly and they will be hoping to get some early season Cheltenham winners on the board.
The obvious trainer that springs to mind is Paul Nicholls who has 46 winners already this campaign and behind him in the seasonal standings is former assistant Dan Skelton who also has a few entries and 26 winners at this early stage of the season.
"Almanzor was superb in the Champion Stakes and has now won eight of his 10 starts and I can't wait to see him as a four-year-old; he's already 4/1 favourite with Sky Bet to win the 2017 Arc which is at Chantilly again."
On the subject of exciting pointers, we could see Thistlecrack and Barters Hill in action next week. How do you rate their prospects for the upcoming campaign?
Followers of this blog will know I'm a big fan of Thistlecrack and had backed him to win the 2017 Gold Cup before he'd even stopped blowing after the World Hurdle. So, I hope he wins the Gold Cup! He could make his chasing debut at Chepstow on Tuesday if the ground doesn't dry out too much. At this stage I'd just like to see him put in a safe clear round without any heroics.
Ben Pauling's Barters Hill holds an entry at Bangor on the same day and could also make his chasing debut. Once again, no fireworks please, just a nice clear round and a good experience for this smart novice hurdler. With the right start over fences there is no reason they can't both hit the same heights that they did over hurdles.
Give us your best bet(s) for the weekend's action.
Okay, to the important stuff now then, the matter of finding some winners. The two day fixture at Cheltenham gets underway on Friday and on day one I like the look of the Paul Nicholls trained El Bandit in the opening novices' hurdle at 2.10pm, but he'll be favourite and not the most generous price, so could be one to add into doubles/trebles. He is bidding to follow up his impressive Persian War Novices' Hurdle win at Chepstow and Nicholls is making the most of the horse's novice status over hurdles which only lasts until the end of this month.
There's also an excellent 3 mile novices' chase (3.55pm) and Tiger Roll will be popular in that for Gordon Elliott who is having an exceptional month with his runners. Khezerabad should be capable of winning a maiden hurdle and goes in the 4.30pm for Nicky Henderson and Daryl Jacob. He made his British debut in the Adonis in February and can be excused for his Grade One defeat at Aintree after that. Dropped in class I'd imagine Henderson is keen to get a win into the four-year-old before making any bigger plans.
The Philip Hobbs trained Wishfull Dreaming could be my main selection in the closing Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle at 5.40pm. As his name suggests he is a full brother to Wishfull Thinking and he has shown promise himself. He is five years old, but has only had five starts as he suffered from back problems last season and hadn't run for 11 months when reappearing at Chepstow a couple of weeks ago. He won easily there and hopefully has come out of the race well and can defy his 7lb penalty.
On to Saturday and I hope Holywell runs well in the opener (1.50pm). He faces his easiest task since winning at Kelso in February 2015 and whilst he will have top weight to carry in this 3m 1f handicap chase, his class should see him through on his first run since the Grand National. He goes particularly well here and Jonjo O'Neill has been sending out plenty of winners recently too.
At the time of writing final declarations have yet to be made, but there is some excellent racing in prospect on Saturday including a smashing looking four-year-old hurdle and some exciting novices in action too. I'm keen to see how Kalinisi Circle fares in the bumper (5.15pm) for Ben Pauling. The four-year-old is a full brother to Barters Hill and made a promising debut in a Southwell bumper back in April. He looked in need of the experience that day and with the summer to mature I'd like to hope there is much to look forward to with him. So, a few to be going on with then, let's hope my recent good form continues over the weekend!
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