Ballycasey to lead Ascot raid as McCoy flies high
Ballycasey rather than Champagne Fever will strive to become just the second Irish-trained winner of the Ascot Chase tomorrow.
Sound Man's 1996 triumph for Edward O'Grady and Richard Dunwoody remains the raiders' only success in the Grade One, which has increased in distance to an extended two miles and five furlongs since its 1995 inception. Willie Mullins had entered both of the Rich Ricci-owned greys in the race as well as in Gowran Park's Red Mills Chase, but it is Ballycasey that makes the cross-channel journey, though his jockey has yet to be confirmed.
Conqueror of Don Cossack in the Dr PJ Moriarty Chase a year ago, Ballycasey rounded off last term with a second to the Hennessy hero Carlingford Lough at Punchestown. He readily beat inferior opposition on his reappearance at Gowran Park, but failed to make an impression over two miles in the Dial-A-Bet Chase.
He returns to his optimum trip tomorrow, and the layers make him a 9/2 chance for the £150,000 six-runner contest. Paul Nicholls' unbeaten novice Ptit Zig vies for the market lead with Alan King's smart Balder Succes.
The champion trainer has had plenty joy on his English forays lately, with five wins from 23 runners for a 22pc strike rate. He will seek to enhance that at Sandown this afternoon when Ruby Walsh partners the Limerick Christmas winner Uranna in the Listed mares' novices' hurdle, a two-and-a-half-mile affair comprising 11 runners.
Annie Power was the big mover in the Cheltenham markets yesterday, her World Hurdle odds halving in places from 12/1 to 6/1, with Racebets just 4/1 about her going one better than last year following the news that More Of That might miss the race. Her only defeat in 12 starts came when she was denied by Jonjo O'Neill's charge a year ago, though she will go to Cheltenham without a run since last May, if she gets there at all.
Favourite to emulate Quevega in the OLBG Mares' Hurdle, Annie Power is also in the Champion Hurdle. Mullins has confirmed that her preparations have gone well since Christmas following an earlier setback, and he reiterated yesterday that, while the mares' race remains the target, all options are open for now.
Frank Berry, racing manager to More Of That's owner JP McManus, stressed that there is nothing definitive to report on the Beneficial gelding's participation following the revelation that he burst a blood vessel on Wednesday.
O'Neill's Holywell was trimmed to as low as 8/1 for Gold Cup glory after the dual Festival victor won easily at odds of 1/4 under McCoy at Kelso.
"He had to go and do what he did really, so it's nice he has gone up there and done it and you'd have to be happy," O'Neill said of the Gay Smith-owned eight-year-old. Holywell is potentially another string to McCoy's Gold Cup bow following Carlingford Lough's Hennessy triumph, and the 19-time champion said: "He'll do nothing but keep improving. He is definitely a horse who will have a good chance in the Gold Cup."
The remarkable McCoy will bid to ride a winner for a ninth successive day at Fakenham today, where his booking on handicap debutant Staff Sergeant in the opener will be noted by many, given trainer Jim Best's penchant for a gamble.
This month, McCoy has partnered a winner on each of the nine days that he has ridden, going from Scotland to England to Ireland, back to England and then Scotland again, before making a flying visit to Wales and then back to Scotland yesterday, returning to England today. Proof, were it needed, that he won't ease off the throttle until he stops for good.
Meanwhile, Jason Maguire, who missed Cheltenham last year with injury, was taken for X-rays on his hand last night following a fall at Kelso.