Simon Holt: Use your Ed
Channel 4 commentator Simon Holt is backing Eduard as he previews Saturday's principal action at Ascot.
Eduard: Strong contender back in handicap company at Ascot
EDUARD, trained in Cumbria by Nicky Richards, can land an overdue big-race blow for Northern-trained jumpers by taking the Lavazza Jolie Silver Cup Handicap Chase at Ascot on Saturday.
The eight-year-old is a class act on his best form which includes narrow defeats by Many Clouds and Wishfull Thinking and a fine fourth behind Uxizandre in the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in 2015.
Returning from an 18-month lay-off, Eduard proved he retains plenty of ability when a close fourth here (2m5f) last month behind course specialist Royal Regatta, Kylemore Lough and Gods Own and the last two have both run well since in top company.
Jumping four out that day, the selection appeared to be struggling to go with the leaders but he was keeping on well at the finish suggesting that, with perhaps a bit less speed in his legs nowadays, this try at three miles is fully warranted.
Eduard is 8lb lower in the ratings than his career-high mark of 159 and could take all the beating here under Wayne Hutchinson.
Le Mercurey, a valiant second to Many Clouds at Aintree upped in trip just a fortnight ago, and the promising Fletcher's Flyer, off since winning at Punchestown in April but a winner over hurdles here, look the main dangers.
Meanwhile, all eyes will be on Unowhatimeanharry in the Grade One JLT Long Walk Hurdle after his impressive reappearance romp at Newbury where he slammed the reopposing Ballyoptic by an easy six lengths (Reve De Sivola fifth).
Harry Fry's bargain buy has now won his last six starts from humble beginnings but his odds are likely to be short, and the ultra-tough LIL ROCKERFELLER looks better value.
This five-year-old, to be ridden for the first time by Noel Fehily, does not know how to run a bad race and his gutsy, narrow defeat by the classy Yanworth (who was receiving 4lb) here last time was probably a career-best effort.
Earlier, Lil Rockerfeller appeared to stay this trip well enough when third first time out behind the well-treated Silsol and subsequent Hennessy Gold Cup winner Native River at Wetherby (Ballyoptic, receiving 4lb, a faller at the last), and it is very hard to see him out of the mix.
While three-time winner Reve De Sivola can never be discounted in this race, ground conditions allied to his advancing years look against him while it remains to be seen how French challenger Alex de Larredya handles the forecasted good-to-soft going when all his winning has been achieved on ground described as very soft or heavy back home.
Whether very soft at Auteuil is the same as soft in England is a moot point and Daryl Jacob's mount has been very progressive beating Ptit Zig nine lengths into third (Reve De Sivola seventh) on his latest outing at France's premier jumps course.
The Wessex Youth Trust Handicap Hurdle (formerly known as The Ladbroke) looks ferociously competitive and one wonders which of the shrewd Tony Martin's three runners – Quick Jack, Pyromaniac and Golden Spear – is the most fancied. All have decent chances but who knows?
Jolly's Cracked It and Sternrubin fought out a stirring finish to dead-heat last year and, up just 6lb and 3lb respectively, could both go well again even though the former hasn't run since and Sternrubin, a game winner here on his reappearance, was nearly 10 lengths behind runner-up Modus in the Greatwood at Cheltenham subsequently.
Modus looks up to winning one of these big handicap hurdles but the handicapper has put him up another 5lb for that latest run and I am inclined to side with the less-exposed CONSUL DE THAIX who is fancied to turn the tables on stable-companion Brain Power for their meeting at Sandown on Tingle Creek day (Graasten seventh).
The selection, who was on the back-foot after a mistake at the first flight that day, still had plenty to do jumping two out but finished in eye-catching fashion to get to within three-quarters of a length of the winner who appeared to get first run. Jeremiah McGrath's mount is certainly a taking individual with a good deal of scope to improve.
Posted at 1240 GMT on 16/12/16.