Noble Inn can reign at royal venue
Mullins' hurdler has returned an improved animal from long lay-off
Ascot's Ladbroke Hurdle has been a source of immense joy for Gordon Elliott but Vercingetorix will have to show more today than he has before if he is to claim the generous £85,425 win prize.
Cause Of Causes and Bayan plundered the famous two-mile handicap for Elliott under Davy Condon. With Condon forced into retirement last spring, Jack Kennedy will ride Vercingetorix.
A rising star, Kennedy's five-pound claim is an undoubted plus in a competitive 21-runner affair. His mount has been frustrating, and he didn't run with any particular zeal when sporting first-time blinkers on his reappearance at Fairyhouse.
Vercingetorix loves the mud, but there is little in his form to suggest that he will be quite good enough in such a hot race. Noel Meade's Waxies Dargle and Willie Mullins' Renneti have genuine claims based on their respective third and fourth-placed finishes in the Greatwood.
The winner Old Guard has franked that form nicely, and the temperamental Renneti, in particular, might have more to give if he elects to jump off smartly, which isn't a given. Sort It Out, second in the County Hurdle and success-ful for a third time in four starts at Punchestown in the spring, is another contender. However, Eddie Harty's charge tends to need his first run, so he might be one to watch here.
The one to keep on side at odds of up to 20/1 is Mullins' Noble Inn. A fair juvenile the season before last, Noble Inn missed all of last term. In three outings in the autumn, though, he looked to have matured considerably.
A smooth winner of a Curragh handicap before being thwarted on the line off a 13lb higher rating in the October Handicap at Naas, he reverted to hurdles at Clonmel. That outing confirmed the impression that Noble Inn is a better horse now, as he simply toyed with some useful opposition.
Granted, this is a different assignment entirely, but there are a lot of positives in relation to the five-year-old, apart from his prolific handler.
Noble Inn is clearly in a rich vein of form, he loves soft ground and he will be ridden by David Mullins, a three-pound claimer who is another young rider with a serious future. Noble Inn gets in here off a mark of 141, which is one that he can be competitive off, and he has a reasonable weight of 11st to carry after Mullins' allowance.
All told, Noble Inn is an unexposed sort that appears to have been underestimated by the bookies, so he represents massive value to secure the champion trainer another lucrative win.
In the JLT Long Walk Hurdle, Hennessy Gold Cup flop Saphir Du Rheu is probably the best option to make a successful switch back to flights, while Fingal Bay, which didn't quite get home in the Hennessy, is also worth another chance in the Silver Cup Chase.
Earlier, Mala Beach could be the one to ensure that Elliott's journey will be worthwhile. Davy Russell's mount fell at the halfway point at Thurles on his return, having not been himself on his previous start at Leopardstown last Christmas.
Clearly, he has something to prove, but his three other starts in 2014 were of serious quality. If Mala Beach is none the worse for what was a heavy spill last time, he could well be the best horse in the graduation chase that he contests.