Ascot prepare for House party
View from connections ahead of the Berkshire Community Clarence House Chase at Ascot on Saturday.
Un De Sceaux is in good form ahead of Ascot
Un De Sceaux and Ar Mad engage in what promises to be a fascinating rematch in the Berkshire Community Clarence House Chase at Ascot.
The Willie Mullins-trained Un De Sceaux was a red-hot favourite for the Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival off the back of a superb victory in this Grade One contest 12 months ago, but proved no match for a resurgent Sprinter Sacre at Prestbury Park nor in the Celebration Chase at Sandown.
But with Sprinter Sacre retired, Un De Sceaux made a successful start to the current campaign in the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown in early December and is odds-on to follow up at Ascot – as long as the meeting passes a 6.30am inspection on raceday morning.
Part-owner Colm O'Connell said: "Racing is funny. He's a 167-rated chaser at his best, yet because Sprinter Sacre beat him twice he was almost written off.
"We've got the ground in our favour, he just seems to be able to go a gallop in bad ground that not many others can, and Ascot certainly seemed to suit him last year."
While Un De Sceaux made his name as a trailblazer, Ruby Walsh adopted more patient tactics at Sandown last month as the Gary Moore-trained Ar Mad set a scorching gallop.
O'Connell is looking forward to seeing how the Clarence House plays out tactically.
He said: "It's bound to be a furious pace, but we know we don't have to make the running.
"The big thing we have in our favour is Ruby Walsh, it's in his genes. Ted (Walsh) used to talk to him about gong the best pace for the horse, not the race.
"He was quite happy to let Ar Mad go in the Tingle Creek and he might be again."
Un De Sceaux's performance is likely to dictate whether he has another crack at the Champion Chase in March or steps up in distance for the Ryanair.
O'Connell added: "We stated at the start of the year we might have a look at the Ryanair, but then Sprinter Sacre had to retire and that might have changed things, I don't know.
"We also said we could skip Cheltenham if the ground wasn't soft and wait for France. We'll just have to see."
Walsh is expecting Ar Mad to put up a bigger fight than he did in the Tingle Creek.
"Un De Sceaux seems in really good form and I'm looking forward to riding him," the jockey told Racing UK.
"Any rain is definitely in his favour, but he's won at Cheltenham, Auteuil, Punchestown, Navan, Sandown. He's won at a lot of different tracks, Ascot included.
"There's a lot of jumping at Ascot, which suits him, and over two miles it suits horses that like to get about their business.
"Ar Mad travelled strongly at Sandown, but when he made one mistake he seemed to make a couple of quick ones and that knocked the stuffing out of him.
"You'd still have to be pleased with the way he came up the hill, though, so you'd be expecting him to be a little bit less gassy and he'll take some beating."
Ar Mad was making his first start since last February in the Tingle Creek, having missed the business end of last season through injury.
Moore is hoping to see his seven-year-old to progress, but is under no illusions about the task in hand.
"I'm glad I galloped him on Tuesday as we've not been able to do much with him since because of the frost," said the Lower Beeding-based trainer.
"He seems in good form and I hope he'll improve from Sandown. I'd expect Un De Sceaux to improve as well, so we've probably got to improve twice as much.
"All the pace has gone out of the race with Special Tiara not coming over."
The trainer's son Joshua has ridden Ar Mad on his last five starts, but as he is sidelined by injury, his brother Jamie gets back on board.
Moore snr added: "We've got a new jockey on and we'll just leave it to Jamie and play it by ear.
"We'll know a lot more after Saturday, that's for sure."
Top Gamble won Grade Twos at Newbury and Fairyhouse last season, but was unable to get competitive on his return to action in the Shloer Chase at Cheltenham in November.
However, he shaped with more encouragement in handicap company at Prestbury Park last month and Kerry Lee is expecting another positive display.
The trainer told At The Races: "I'm looking forward to the Clarence House and Davy Russell is booked to ride.
"He's in great form so I'm very much looking forward to it. He ran brilliantly last time and he's in even better shape now.
"He's a cracking horse. I'm very happy with him and I'd love to win a Grade One with him.
"He's won Grade Twos, so this is the next step. If there is one to go at, this is it.
"Funnily enough, I don't think he's a Champion Chase horse as the ground never plays to his strengths come the Festival.
"If he were to win this weekend we'd have to think about it, but he's taking on Un De Sceaux.
"We can dream anyway. If you're not in, you can't win."
Dodging Bullets won the Tingle Creek, this race and the Champion Chase two seasons ago.
The nine-year-old has not been in the same form since, but is given the chance to regain his Clarence House crown by Paul Nicholls.
The Philip Hobbs-trained Royal Regatta and Eastlake from Jonjo O'Neill's stable complete the field.
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