Cause Of Causes to make light of heavy going
With ground conditions at Ascot especially testing, stamina is going to be at a premium for a change in the two-mile Ladbroke.com Handicap Hurdle this afternoon.
From an Irish perspective, that isn't necessarily a bad thing, as each of our four raiders has form of some description in testing going.
Eddie Harty's Princeton Plains handles all sorts of ground, a versatile six-year-old that lost little in defeat when just failing to complete back-to-back victories on heavy in the Guinness Hurdle at Listowel in September.
This is his first start since, but the suspicion is that there will be a few less exposed sorts among the 21-strong field. Tony Martin's fellow JP McManus-owned Thomas Edison is one.
Having conquered the dual Champion Bumper hero Champagne Fever at Leopardstown last Christmas, the five-year-old has obvious potential. He has yet to produce his best over flights, and he was beaten tamely in the Guinness race at Listowel.
However, his Down Royal second to Beef To The Heels – which followed up off a six-pound higher mark subsequently – was more encouraging earlier in the month. Up eight pounds for his British bow off 10st 6lb, he is an each-way option at up to 20/1 under Mark Walsh.
McManus' AP McCoy-ridden It's A Gimme, second to last year's winner Raya Star here on its reappearance, is another with solid place claims, likewise Lyvius. A Nicky Henderson-trained four-year-old that beat Edgardo Sol at Newbury, Lyvius has much of its eight-pound penalty negated by Waterfall-born claimer Jerry McGrath, and he goes in the mud.
Gordon Elliott's Cause Of Causes, though, is the horse fancied to prevail in this immensely competitive renewal. Third in the Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham, Davy Condon's mount flashed home late on to be closest at the finish on that occasion, and he renews rivalry now with the winner Olofi, the second Cash And Go, the fourth Bothy and the sixth Rattan.
He clearly needs to improve again to get his head in front, but the way that he finishes his races suggests that two miles in testing ground on a proper stiff track like Ascot is exactly what he needs.
In soft going at Cheltenham, the line came too quick, just as it did when he nearly mugged Rebel Fitz in similar conditions in the Galway Hurdle, failing by a mere head.
As evidenced by wins over two-and-a-quarter and two-and-a-half miles, not to mention an experimental foray over three, Cause Of Causes isn't short of stamina.
Equally, despite a busy 2012 that has featured 10 runs over flights, he is a four-year-old that is still progressing. All told, then, he appeals now off a three-pound higher mark at odds of up to 16/1.
The day's Grade One Long Walk Hurdle is another interesting betting heat in light of the injury that has denied Big Buck's a tilt at scoring a fourth successive victory and so much more.
In truth, the net result of that development is a weak edition of the three-miler, with Reve De Sivola, twice a winner at this level, including once on heavy ground, the standout option at 9/2.
Nick Williams' charge is hard work, so the all-action Richard Johnson is an apt booking.
In his last six starts over flights, Reve De Sivola has not been out of the first two.
On his most recent outing in November, a first over hurdles since he obliged at Punchestown in 2009, he ran in snatches before staying on to finish second to Big Buck's on soft ground at Newbury.
In between, of course, he proved hugely frustrating over fences, but his Newbury showing confirmed the suspicion that he may simply not have been suited to jumping fences. If you discount his chasing career, it's hard to see anything beating him here.
Just after the feature, six line out for the Silver Cup Handicap Chase. Course winner Roberto Goldback, still well in contention before unseating down the back in the Hennessy Gold Cup, will doubtless be popular, but may struggle to concede most of two stone to Wyck Hill.
Although out of the handicap, David Bridgewater's eight-year-old, a game winner at Wetherby last time, is a dour operator that won't give up the lead easily.
Best Bet: Reve De Sivola