Antepost Angle: Spear mint!
Matt Brocklebank is tipping two well-treated Irish horses in his Antepost Angle ahead of the Wessex Youth Trust Handicap Hurdle.
Golden Spear (right): Galway Festival winner looks a good bet on his return to hurdling at Ascot
Gordon Elliott appeared to develop a real affinity for the Wessex Youth Trust Handicap Hurdle in the race's former guise as The Ladbroke and he's clearly gunning for more Ascot glory with three equally interesting contenders entered up for December 17.
"…it's nice to win a high-profile race like that," featured among Elliott's post-race comments following Cause Of Causes' Ladbroke success in 2012, which may sound like an odd thing to hear from a trainer who had saddled the Grand National hero five years prior to that, but Elliott was clearly more than aware that winning big Saturday handicaps in Britain was one of the best ways to raise his profile.
The impact of such victories cannot be underestimated in terms of Elliott's overall career trajectory and, having sent out Bayan to win the race in 2014, plus the third and seventh home in 2013 and last season respectively, he goes into this year's renewal as a Cheltenham Gold Cup-winning trainer.
His most obvious candidate according to the layers is JP McManus-owned Campeador and he's desperately short all things considered.
Talented and well-handicapped, of that there is little doubt, but the fact he's crashed out at the last hurdle in his two most recent starts is just as important when approaching a race of this nature.
His Fred Winter fall when just about to tackle Diego Du Charmil came courtesy of him trying to put in a short stride just before take-off and he was buffeted around further on his way down by the passing Kasakh Noir for his troubles.
He wasn't seen again last season, perhaps unsurprisingly, but roll on nearly 10 months to last weekend's Bar One Racing Handicap Hurdle at Fairyhouse and there was Elliott's grey cantering into the lead approaching the final flight only to slow slightly, meet the obstacle all wrong and throw Barry Geraghty into the earth. Once more, the nasty experience was compounded by Sir Scorpion appearing to deal him a nasty kick on being brought down.
Accidents happen daily in jumps racing and it's obviously unclear whether we're dealing with a mere coincidence, or something a little more worrying regarding Campeador's jumping technique or even his mentality, but the bookmaker decision across the board to cut him to no bigger than 5/1 is baffling and gives the market an enticing look to it.
Elliott's other potential runners are MICK JAZZ, who was an eyecatching third in Sunday's Fairyhouse race in which Campeador came down, and the quirky ex-Hamdan Al Maktoum-owned Labaik, who reverted to type by refusing to race in the Grade One novice event won by Airlie Beach on the same card.
Mick Jazz has some previous with one of Britain's top handicap hurdles having been sent off 6/1 joint-favourite for last year's Greatwood on his final start for Harry Fry, where he was pulled-up after suffering an injury.
He's obviously been coaxed back to full health and, together with the fitting of a hood, looks have got his act together on the evidence of that latest run.
It came on the back of a maiden hurdle triumph at Clonmel and creditable second to Labaik in a Navan Grade Three so he's obviously building some consistency and could easily have gone close to winning at Fairyhouse had he enjoyed a bit more luck.
He was hampered three out, made a mistake two out and then got caught up in the Campeador melee at the last before running on quite strongly.
He already looks a major County Hurdle player further down the line and, given Elliott's Ascot record, is worth an interest here at 16/1 as he may have to climb the ratings further if he's to end up making the final field at Cheltenham.
Dan Skelton is another trainer who presumably holds this race close to his heart after Willow's Saviour gave him one of his breakthrough wins in 2013 and Skelton has since made a habit of targeting such events.
He's been at it again already this season with North Hill Harvey in the Greatwood and has made no secret of the fact Meet The Legend has been prepared for this since being ruled out of Cheltenham's Open meeting with a slight setback.
Tony Martin has enjoyed a great time of things with this five-year-old, who has only run twice over hurdles since joining from Noel Quinlan's yard, winning once.
That victory came at Listowel last September so he lacks a bit of match practice in terms of jumping but he beat some nice horses that day including dual subsequent winner Copy That and Galway Hurdle fifth Tigris River, while his progress on the Flat this autumn makes him impossible to ignore.
He's competed really well in some of the biggest staying handicaps on the level since scoring over a mile and a half at the Galway Festival, including a good fifth in the Cesarewitch at Newmarket, and regained the winning thread in Leopardstown's Tote November Handicap when last seen at the end of October.
It's a race with a rich history of producing quality hurdlers, with Silver Concorde, Clondaw Warrior, Hidden Universe and Solwhit among the past winners and Martin has a lot to look forward to when Golden Spear goes back over timber.
There's no guarantee he will take up his engagement, with three stablemates also in the picture, but the unseasonably dry ground is very much in favour of this five-time Flat winner, who looks to possess the perfect blend of speed and stamina for the task at Ascot and has seemingly been dealt a very lenient mark for his return to British action.
Posted at 1232 GMT on 07/12/16.
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