Ascot form points to Somersby
Captain Chris and Cue Card, beaten in contrasting circumstances behind Long Run in the King George VI Chase at Kempton last time, vie for favouritism in today's Ascot Chase.
Given that the Betfair-sponsored Grade One has thrown up six winning favourites in seven years, it will be interesting to see which horse shades that battle. By last night, Captain Chris was just about edging it, having finished 20 lengths in front of Cue Card at Kempton.
Cue Card's enthusiasm nearly got the better of him at the first fence that day. However, he recovered, and turned for home alongside Captain Chris, which pushed Long Run to a neck.
This corner sided with Cue Card then, and, while the early mistake helped Joe Tizzard to get his father Colin's seven-year-old settled, the horse ultimately didn't stay.
With that in mind, as a progressive sort, he deserves massive respect on this drop to two miles and five furlongs.
Having won an Ascot Grade Two over two miles and three furlongs on his reappearance, Captain Chris is also unlikely to be too put out by the shorter trip, and both are ground versatile.
That all said, they had hard races last time, so it's worth considering other options.
Last year's Champion Chase hero Finian's Rainbow is the most obvious alternative – if he leaves behind his lifeless turn here behind Captain Chris in November. Testing ground appears to be his Achilles heel, though, so the prevailing soft going is unlikely to suit.
At a top-priced 5/1, Somersby might just be the value option in the race. Now in Mick Channon's care, the nine-year-old did lots right on its first start since Henrietta Knight's retirement when finishing third behind Sprinter Sacre at Cheltenham last month.
He travelled and jumped nicely for Dominic Elsworth, and still had the eventual winner in his sights turning in.
In the end, having been the one horse that tried to keep tabs on Sprinter Sacre, it was no real surprise that he eventually coughed up second on the run to the line.
All told, it was an encouraging reappearance on heavy ground, and Somersby will strip fitter now on this step back up in trip. He has won and been placed in decent races over the distance before, but possibly the one thing that is most in his favour today is the venue.
In three runs over fences at the Berkshire track, he gained his only previous Grade One triumph in the Victor Chandler last year, having been short-headed by the mighty Master Minded 12 months earlier.
Somersby filled the same spot behind the same horse in the Amlin Chase at the beginning of last season, so he clearly saves his very best form for Ascot.
In the Reynoldstown Novices' Chase, Paul Nicholls and Ruby Walsh team up with Rocky Creek. Just five go to post, with Real Milan the one that is most feared. Don McCain's eight-year-old has won both its starts over fences, and is an out-and-out stayer.
Still, Rocky Creek has come on hugely since being beaten first time up. He had the reopposing Tour Des Champs held when that one fell two out at Warwick last time, so he is taken to build on that impressive performance to record a first victory under Walsh now.
The pick of the handicaps is the Betfred Grand National Trial at Haydock, with Paul Carberry renewing his association with Welsh National winner Monbeg Dude. Although he will relish this test, as a poor jumper, Monbeg Dude is not hard to oppose off a 10lb higher rating.
Teaforthree, second at Chepstow, is also harshly handicapped, unlike Cannington Brook. In four outings at the Liverpool venue, Colin Tizzard's nine-year-old has won three, including two Tommy Whittle Chases, just nosing out Merry King in the latest edition in December.
On his only subsequent start, he was a fair second to Carruthers at Ffos Las off a six-pound higher mark, and the suspicion is that he could have a big say under Tom Brien off the same rating now. At odds of up to 9/1, he ought to give you a big run for your money.
Best Bet: Rocky Creek