Catching Pigeons: Ascot Con job?
Our Catching Pigeons column has the inside line from the major training centres ahead of Saturday's racing action.
Nicky Henderson: Fancied to take the Wessex Trust Hurdle at Ascot.
It's Christmas party season for stables up and down the land – some with much to celebrate, and others with cause to wish 2016 away as quickly as possible.
Ryan Moore made a welcome appearance at Sir Michael Stoute's end-of-year bash after hotfooting it back from Hong Kong earlier this week, with The Tack Room restaurant at the new National Horseracing Museum the destination of choice for a number of functions in the town.
Poor Marco Botti is still looking for the British Group One success he craves and deserves, having gone closest when Euro Charline was caught close home in the Lockinge, but it won't be long before he gets that monkey off his back and he can at least end the year on a high when Grendisar takes the Listed Betway Quebec Stakes at Lingfield.
He was very much in need of the run on his recent return to action at Wolverhampton but that defeat might just help ease his price out a fraction here. All of the evidence from his homework on the all-weather says he's as good as ever and although he was narrowly beaten in this race 12 months ago, he won in 2014 and the balance of his Lingfield form over the last couple of years ought to make him very hard to beat.
Adam Kirby is banned, meaning George Baker takes over. Kirby also misses the ride on the Jeremy Noseda-trained Novis Adventus in the Download the Betway App Handicap earlier on the card, having been quite positive about the horse when riding him last time out on his debut for the trainer. Martin Harley (who some would have expected to have been aboard Grendisar for that matter) is on board and Novis Adventus is expected to appreciate this slight step back in trip.
Limonata can finally come good on her second start for Harry Whittington in the Betway Handicap at Lingfield. Henry Candy would have hoped to have won a race with this half-sister to his stable star Limato, but she proved just a little frustrating and she has moved on to his close neighbour with the hope that a change of scenery will do her good.
Although beaten into fifth on her debut for the Sparsholt trainer, she was not beaten at all far, and connections are now trying their luck with cheekpieces for the first time. She has pleased at home since and, with the headgear in place, she looks worth one last chance.
Somethingthrilling has improved steadily this year and should go close in the Stallions Breeding Winners Conditions Stakes. She has progressed steadily as a four-year-old for David Elsworth and it was interesting that he also entered her in the Listed event on this card over a mile and a quarter. It did not looks her best trip however, and she is better judged on her win over this course and distance on her previous start.
Consul de Thaix is arguably the least-exposed horse in the line-up and could well make the most of his light weight in the Wessex Youth Trust Handicap Hurdle at Ascot.
Nicky Henderson has long held this valuable prize as a prime target for the four-year-old, who showed very obvious promise during his first season before going down by only three-quarters of a length to stablemate Brain Power, having been set plenty to do, on his reappearance at Sandown two weeks ago.
Connections are confident there is much more to come with the benefit of that outing behind him and he is fancied to turn the tables on Brain Power, even though he is also expected to progress from the run. Modus is another who commands respect, and those looking for a big outsider might want to risk an each-way investment on the former John Ferguson-trained Chesterfield.
The Druids Nephew is reported back to something like his best and is just preferred to Triolo D'Alene in the Lavazza Jolie Silver Cup Handicap Chase.
A very useful performer for Andy Turnell in his youth, he has been a grand servant for Neil Mulholland, and won a big handicap for the Limpley Stoke trainer at the Cheltenham Festival in 2015. Despite a couple of sound performances when underfoot conditions were right last season, he has slipped down to a mark just 2lb higher than his Festival win, and the going will again be to his liking here.
Walt can beat former stablemates Minstrel Royal and Ballinure in the Foundation Developments Novices' Handicap Hurdle. Bought by Mulholland after showing promise in a typically light early campaign for Nicky Henderson, he has come on for his debut effort for his new trainer at Ffos Las just over a month ago and looks the sort to progress further.
Andy Kelly can put an early unseat on his return from a lengthy spell out at Kempton firmly behind him and is worth an interest in the BGC Partners Handicap Chase. Emma Lavelle has always thought highly of the seven-year-old, but connections have had to be remarkably patient after he sustained another setback following an impressive debut win over fences at Plumpton just over a year ago. He was none the worse for his spill at the Sunbury course, and deserves a change of luck for a stable in better form than has been the case for some time.
Ut Majeur Aulmes can step up on his pleasing comeback effort in a good class event at the Newbury Hennessy meeting and win the Stockton Brook Handicap Chase at Haydock. Victor Dartnall's charge has a fair bit of chasing experience but seemed to take a significant step forward when winning his last two races of the 2015-16 campaign. Although beaten into fourth at the Berkshire course, he stuck on to good effect behind Ultragold and looks nicely handicapped here with useful claimer Ciaran Gethings taking off 5lb.
Tearsofclewbay is held in high regard by Philip Hobbs and can give some of her more experienced rivals a scare at a price in the Listed Abram Mares Novices' Hurdle. She produced a smart turn of foot to beat a decent field at Worcester on her latest start, and looks ready for this step up in grade despite a two-month racecourse absence.
Nicky Henderson's runners at Fakenham are always worth a close look and Argante will be fancied to send punters home happy in the closing Independent Racecourses Maiden Hurdle on Sunday. He threatened to be involved in the finish until meeting serous traffic problems on his comeback at Ascot last month, and should be the one to beat in what looks an interesting heat.
Looking forward to next Wednesday, James Fanshawe has his sights on a raid at Newcastle, featuring Star Storm in the fast-track qualifier over two miles. A talented type on his day, he was given a midsummer break to have his wind tweaked and has come back in decent form since, being the only horse to give the smart Western Hymn a proper race in Listed company at Kempton in October.
Two miles is utterly uncharted territory, but he has the ability to switch right off in his races and it would be no surprise to see him relish the move up in distance. Singapore Sling, set to join Star Storm on the lorry up the A1, should take some beating in the maiden too.