Alex Hammond: You’ve got to be Mad

Alex Hammond looks ahead to the action at Ascot this weekend and fancies Ar Mad to come out on top in the Grade One feature.

Ar Mad looks the one to be on in the big race at Ascot

We've got Grade One action this weekend with the Berkshire Community Foundation Clarence House Chase at Ascot which is more or less priced up as a match bythe layers. Is that how you see it?

What a race we have in prospect. At the prices, there is no doubt in my mind that I'll be backing Ar Mad. You may remember after his run behind Un De Sceaux in the Tingle Creek I hoped that Gary Moore would stick to two miles with his electrifying young chaser, rather than trying to stretch him out over further. He shows tremendous speed and usually jumps well up front in his races. However, at Sandown he absolutely belted one of the Railway Fences and I felt that was his race over. However, he stayed on again; which may have prompted plenty of observers to feel he wants further. He has won over two and a half miles, but I feel he excels when allowed to bowl along up front to take advantage of his incredible cruising speed. It's worth remembering that was only his sixth start over fences (he's won four of them) and he is still learning the game. The run at Sandown was his first since February and he's entitled to improve for the outing too. Okay, so there's no doubt Un De Sceaux is a formidable opponent and he brings the best form to the table, but I'm not afraid to take on a horse that can chuck in an error or bad run now and again, despite his obvious talent.

There's a cracking undercard at the Berkshire track too with a couple of other races priced up ante-post; has anything caught your eye?

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I'm hoping that JP McManus' Protek Des Flos turns up in the Kelbray Holloway's Handicap Hurdle as I put the Nicky Henderson-trained gelding up as one to follow at the start of this season. So far he hasn't given us anything to shout about as he has only run once, when a bad mistake cost him in the Berkshire Novices' Chase at Newbury back in November. This is a horse I wrote about in last week's blog as I hoped he would be running in the Lanzarote Hurdle (won by another JP McManus-owned horse in Modus) but he bypassed that and hopefully will be seen at Ascot on Saturday. He will be back on familiar territory over hurdles and may not be too harshly treated by the handicapper.

We could get to see Gold Cup entrant Alary in action at Haydock on the same day, will he be carrying your cash in the Peter Marsh Chase?

Oh I've been totally sucked in by the hype surrounding this French import! What's not to like? He's joined the red-hot Colin Tizzard stable and has been bought by owners Ann and Alan Potts as a Cheltenham Gold Cup prospect. His regular rider in France, Regis Schmidlin, has spoken incredibly highly of the seven-year-old and is no doubt gutted that the horse has been sold. In fact, he said the horse is "out of the ordinary" and very good at what he does, which sounds like high praise. He has only won two races in France from 20 starts, so he's hardly prolific, but he is consistently placed in very good contests including at Grade One level. He stays very well and won't mind if the ground gets testing at Haydock. He's a great addition to the Tizzard team this season and is another string to his bow for a Gold Cup dominated by his horses. It will be interesting to see how he adapts to British racing as some French imports take a while to acclimatise, but he has been given plenty of time and is in safe hands. His presence means that some of the field are likely to be running from out of the handicap but there are still a fair number that could run off their proper mark so it should be competitive enough. One of those that will run off his true mark is Sausalito Sunrise and although he has shortened a bit in the market, he still offers some value for each-way punters. He's rated 7lb lower than the favourite and has some decent form off a higher mark than he races off on Saturday. He finished third in the Bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown back in April off 159 carrying top weight and he is now rated 155. He isn't out of it and can run well for Philip Hobbs.

Is there a live Cheltenham Festival candidate among the entrants for the Sky Bet Supreme Trial Rossington Main Novices' Hurdle?

Well there is room for something to state its case for Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle glory with the Cheltenham curtain raiser still looking pretty open. The ante-post market for Saturday's trial is dominated by horses from in-form yards. We have Elgin for Alan King, Neon Wolf for Harry Fry and Nicky Henderson's River Wylde. Elgin has to give weight away to his rivals as he carries a 7lb penalty thanks to his win in a decent novices' event at Kempton on Boxing Day. Things could be very different for him on Saturday as the ground looks set to be more testing and going left handed is a minor worry as his trainer pointed out after the Kempton win he seemed to prefer going right-handed, even though he has won left-handed (including at this track). However, he hung right handed when winning at Newcastle and taking his penalty into account I'm happy to take him on. Neon Wolf will relish conditions at Haydock as he most definitely needs the word soft to figure in the going description. He won his only point-to-point in Ireland and has since won a bumper at Uttoxeter and a National Hunt novices' hurdle at Exeter on New Year's Day. He will excel over further than Saturday's two-mile trip, his win at Exeter was over 2m2f and I don't expect we will see the best of him until he goes chasing. So, that leaves River Wylde of the trio. It was good to see him back on track at Ludlow last time out in a much lower grade than this but it was a timely confidence boost on his hurdles debut and whilst he has to step up from there, he is improving all the time. He is jumping bred and could make up into a smart performer now tackling obstacles. Henderson said in a stable tour earlier in the season that he is a very talented individual, he schools very well and has a bright future. Like the other protagonists he has multiple entries but he's the one for me at this stage, although declarations have yet to be made.

Looking further ahead and the entries are in for the Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster – do you have a long term fancy?

The horse that catches my eye at this early stage is the Neil Mulholland-trained Southfield Royale, who is on course to make his seasonal reappearance on Town Moor. He was a high-class novice chaser last season and ran well in, or won, some decent races. One piece of form that leaps off the page was his fourth place in the National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. Minella Rocco won it, Hennessy and Welsh National winner Native River was second and subsequent Becher Chase winner Vieux Lion Rouge was in behind in sixth place. It's fair to say the form is strong! This horse has apparently had one or two little niggles according to his trainer, who also thinks he's "something of a forgotten horse". The stable are excited about him and I don't think he'll be forgotten for long. I just hope he is fit enough to do himself justice after his lay-off but whatever he does at Donny he'll improve and should acquit himself well in some smart races this season. At the time of writing he's 14/1 with the sponsors and that looks good each-way value to me.

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