The Ladbrokes Winter Carnival meeting always throws up some good performances and the feature race on day one is the Ladbrokes Long Distance Hurdle. On offer there are some established stars as well as horses for the future.
The first race on the card is the Ladbrokes ‘Where The Nation Plays’ National Hunt Maiden Hurdle (12:15). Lostintranslation won this race in 2017 and Colin Tizzard has one representative Katahdin but I don’t think that horse will win this. Harry Fry has an unbeaten horse in the race called King Roland. He won a point to point and then his bumpers by a combined twenty three lengths. He could be anything. Evan Williams is in good form and he has Coconut Splash. He has been seen once under rules and appeared a bit novicey but only got beaten a short head. The other horse to note is Son Of Camas. He ran in the Land Rover Bumper at Punchestown but was last when fancied. He won by two lengths over course and distance, however I’m not convinced by him. I’m going to go with KING ROLAND.
The next race is the Ladbrokes Chase (12:45) and it is a novices’ limited handicap. Eight runners got to post and Southfield Stone has 11st13 to carry. He’s been second to Litterale Ci and Brewin’upastorm on both chase starts and the weight makes his chances seem slim. Encore Champs was second on his sole chase start and he was beaten by a better horse that day. Champagne City has never ran over fences and FANION D’ESTRUVAL has never ran in the UK before. He’s a dual winner over fences and joins the Venetia Williams yard. He’s only a four year old and definitely could be anything. West To The Bridge blundered at two out and could never get close to Kapgarry at Wetherby after that. He’d probably have ran better than that without the mishap.
Race number three is the Ladbrokes Daily Odds Boosts Novices’ Hurdle (13:20). Eleven horses take their chances. Nicky Henderson has took this race twice in the past three years and has Grand Mogul and It Sure Is. The former looks the pick on jockey bookings. The horse hasn’t been seen for 362 days when winning a bumper around Thurles by eight lengths for Gordon Elliot. He’s having his first run for Henderson. It Sure Is is a winning pointer and makes his rules debut. Other top yards are represented. Colin Tizzard’s horse Faustinovick has made a bit of a habit of coming second and Paul Nicholls’ Brewers Project won a point 682 days ago but hasn’t been seen since. Severano finally managed to win last time and did so well. He’s followed in Reserve Tank and Portrush Ted before. I’m settling with the Dan Skelton runner. SHAN BLUE, who has won a point, and was third to Chantry House on debut and serving to Redford Road last time, when favourite. They were well clear of the third.
The first race that ITV show is the Get Your Ladbrokes One Free Bet Today Handicap Chase (13:50) and some top level handicappers take their chances. KALASHNIKOV won at Warwick and Plumpton on his first two chases and then came second to Dynamite Dollars in the Wayward Lad. After that, he was second to Glen Forsa in a grade two. Glen Forsa was such an easy winner that day. Both horses unseated their riders in the Arkle. Subsequently to that, Kalashnikov won a grade one at Aintree and then came second to Forest Bihan on seasonal bow in the Old Roan. Glen Forsa hasn’t been seen since pulling up behind that horse at Aintree and I think both horses have a bigger future than a class two handicap. Spiritofthegames was fifth at Aintree and, like Glen Forsa, he is a threat if back to his best. O O Seven won a grade A chase at Punchestown in May and is 2lbs higher than his highest winning mark. San Benedeto beat Gala Ball in a grade three over this course in March but he doesn’t win that often. Oldgrangewood ran well last time and is 10lbs lower than when winning this in 2017. Azzerti won over this course last time by a head, all-out. He’s gone up 4lbs though.
I think the next race looks a good one. The Ladbrokes ‘Where The Nation Plays’ Novices’ Chase (2:25) is a grade two and it has been won by La Bague Au Roi, Willoughby Court and Clan Des Obeaux. One of my 20 To Watch runs in it – CHAMP got off to an excellent start over fences and has always been very well thought of. He beat Dashel Dancer by quickening clear over three furlongs further last time and he’s already won over this trip elsewhere. His biggest danger could come from Black Op. This horse was behind Defi Du Seuil, contested the grade two Dipper Novices’ Chase, grade two Cleve Hurdle, Stayers Hurdle and grade two Select Hurdle, all without winning. That kind of played to his strengths as he managed to win at Stratford by fifteen lengths on seasonal reappearance. Officially, he’s rated the same as Champ but I prefer the latter. Dashel Drasher completed a four timer over hurdles in the spring and ran a really smart race behind Champ. He’ll win over fences soon. Deyrann de Carjac has won his last two by a combined sixteen and a half lengths, beating some decent horses. Mont Des Avaloirs has ran once over fences last October and this will probably be a little bit too much for him and chasing debutant Vision Des Flos.
Our second grade two is the Ladbrokes Long Distance Hurdle (15:00). Raced over three miles, this grade two contest has attracted a good group of horses.
The headline runner is Stayers Hurdle winner Paisley Park. The seven year old won all five of his outings last year. He won at Aintree and then was a quick-finishing winner in a grade three at Haydock. In his last run of 2018, he won the JLT Hurdle (grade one) at Ascot by two lengths. Next time, he won the Cleve Hurdle at Cheltenham by twelve lengths and his season culminated in a Stayers Hurdle victory, giving Aidan Coleman his first Cheltenham Festival win. Lots of the horses who followed him in have won since. Aidan Coleman is jocked up again and the pairing could be tasting more glory in this. He’s a horse who is still on an upward curve. He’s gone from 140 to 169 since the beginning of the year and I think he’s open to plenty of improvements still.
Paisley Park faces two previous winners in this. Unowhatimeanharry won this race in 2016 and 2018. He was seen schooling at the Schooling Day here at Newbury for this meeting and had already had the benefit of a run, unlike Paisley Park. He was eighth in the Stayers, twelfth behind If The Cap Fits at Aintree and he concluded the season winning the Irish equivalent of the Stayers at Punchestown. Last time, in early November, he was five lengths behind The Worlds End in the Bet365 Hurdle (Grade Two). He doesn’t like extremely soft ground and prefers when good is in the description.
The Worlds End won very well at Wetherby in the grade two hurdle and he relished the trip and most of all hurdles. He’d been mixing it between fences and hurdles and ran in the RSA at Cheltenham before coming ninth to If The Cap Fits at Aintree. He’d won the Sefton Novices Hurdle aged six so he should be at home in this company this season and, hopefully, very successful.
Unowhatimeanharry was second in 2017 to Beer Goggles. Beer Goggles won this for the late Richard Wollacott but he’s now moved to Nicky Martin. The Oscar gelding hasn’t been seen for 671 days, one start after this victory. On the last day, he was fifth to Agrapart, at Cheltenham on heavy ground, six lengths behind fourth placed The Worlds End. He was a shock winner of this two years ago at 40/1 but this may be beyond him in such a competitive race.
Fifth place in 2017 was Thistlecrack. Previous to that, he was unbeaten from the 28th November 2015 to when the won the King George VI Chase in 2016 in this novice chase career. That was just his fourth start over fences and, next time, he raced against Many Clouds in the Cotswold Chase. They fought it out so bravely and Many Clouds passed the post but he tragically passed away shortly after. After that, Thistlecrack has never been the same since. He used this race in 2017 as a prep for the King George, in which he came fourth. Last season, he began the season coming third in the Betfair Chase, then came second in the King George and, when last seen, he was pulled up in the Gold Cup. Again this year, connections are using this as a warm up for Kempton and there have been positive rumours about him. It would be great to see him back to his best.
And back to his best he’d have to be to beat PAISLEY PARK. He rose through the ranks last season and was incredible at Cheltenham. It would be incredible to see Thistlecrack winning but I’d prefer The Worlds End to grab second place.
David Maxwell was successful at Cheltenham recently and has DOLPHIN SQUARE in the final race the Ladbrokes Handicap Hurdle (15:35). He’s three from five over hurdles and makes his handicap debut I’m this. One For The Team was second at Worcester in October and Chester Williams takes over the reins. He’s still very unexposed.