Carruthers to continue proving real heavy hitter
It's a mudlarks' paradise at Haydock, where 14 hardy souls set out on the three-and-a-half-mile journey of the totesport.com Grand National Trial Chase (3.20). The odds are that less than half the runners will return having completed the course.
Testing ground makes unique demands of horses. The message is reinforced time and time again, so the starting point for this riddle is to dismiss any chaser without winning form in the mud. And given the conditions, it's no surprise to see West End Rocker installed as favourite.
The ground was bottomless when Alan King's stayer landed a similar event at Warwick last time, when Le Beau Bai, which reopposes here, finished more than nine lengths behind him. Even on these revised terms, West End Rocker should confirm his superiority. But the proximity of Le Beau Bai, which has failed to sparkle this season, discolours the form.
That also bodes ill for Nicto De Beauchene, which finished behind West End Rocker at Newbury in December but renews rivalry today on 2lbs worse terms. Nicto De Beauchene's case is further undermined by a pair of heavy-ground reverses last season, and the same applies to King Fontaine. This one is on a roll but he suffered an odds-on failure on heavy ground at Chepstow two seasons back.
Mobaasher is an enigmatic customer with a liking for heavy ground. However, his recent revival has come over hurdles, and his tendency to throw in some clumsy leaps will count against him back over birch. More importantly, however, he cannot boast the exemplary heavy-ground record of Carruthers.
The selection has run three times on the surface for as many victories -- and by the cumulative margin of 100 lengths. The fact he positively revels in it makes the gelding well worth an interest here, especially as he now runs from an 8lbs lower mark than when last seen in the Hennessy at Newbury.
Carruthers' sixth place on ground too lively at Newbury does the horse credit, and Matt O'Connor's inexperience in the saddle is more than offset by his 5lbs claim. Tactics will play little part in this war of attrition, for which Carruthers is well suited.
At the same venue, Court In Motion will be a warm order for the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle (2.10) after demolishing his opponents at Warwick last time. Emma Lavelle's horse acquired many converts in the process but faces a redoubtable opponent in Carpincho, which put a poor run behind him when winning at Folkestone. Waiting tactics suited Carpincho that day; a similar approach would give this useful bumper horse strong claims.
Any Given Day looks the one to beat in the Rendlesham Hurdle (2.45), but the three-mile trip on testing ground renders him vulnerable. Preference is for Cross Kennon, a proven stayer which should reverse a recent defeat by Mr Moonshine on 18lbs better terms.
Stage looks set for Riverside Theatre
Ascot's initiative in staging a valuable prize so close to the Cheltenham Festival has brought the track fair reward. None among the seven declared runners for the Betfair Ascot Chase (3.0) can be safely dismissed. It's a race of several permutations, many of which revolve around how the race unfolds.
Deep Purple is a dangerous front-runner with an uncontested lead, but he is unlikely to get that with Pride Of Dulcote in opposition. And the latter, winner of his only two starts over fences, has a following as a potential winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
What counts against Pride Of Dulcote here is the drop back from three miles. He showed stamina was his forte when making Weapon's Amnesty work hard to win the Alfred Bartlett Hurdle at Cheltenham two seasons back. The Paul Nicholls runner will have to ensure a decent gallop to be at his best, and that will play to the strengths of Riverside Theatre, an unheralded runner-up behind Long Run in last month's King George at Kempton.
After tailing off early, Riverside Theatre finished strongly into fifth place in the Irish Independent Arkle Chase last March. A longer trip seemed imperative, and he duly illustrated the point at Kempton. Nicky Henderson's chaser should take all the beating.
Also at Ascot, Royal Tune should prove up to winning the Weatherbys Handicap Chase (2.25) even though the French raider has been raised 16lbs for his facile win at Ffos Las. The ease of his victory suggests the handicapper has yet to nail him.
And despite his disappointing recent run at Kempton, Like Minded deserves another chance in the Betfair Handicap Hurdle (3.35). This once-promising novice wasn't as fit as connections anticipated when returning from a lengthy absence and should be much straighter now.