Dell' Arca can make light work of Ascot rivals
A year after Cause Of Causes ploughed through the Ascot mud for a fine Ladbroke Hurdle victory, Gordon Elliott returns for another cut at the prestigious feature with Flaxen Flare.
This is a fiercely competitive edition of the famous handicap, with 21 runners set to vie for the £84,400 win purse on ground that could ride quite testing again.
When Flaxen Flare landed the Fred Winter at Cheltenham in March, the ground was just on the slow side of good, but he has won in soft and was second to Missunited on heavy in the Galway Hurdle.
A sound fourth to Dell' Arca in the Greatwood at Cheltenham, he should run well again, but the suspicion is that he doesn't have that much scope for improvement under 11st 2lb. Willie Mullins' JP McManus-owned City Slicker is the only other Irish-trained runner.
A second season novice that won his maiden hurdle at the fourth attempt at Punchestown in May, AP McCoy's mount looked to have really progressed when he made all to score in emphatic style on his reappearance at the Kildare venue a month ago.
He is up 19lb now, but a horse with his profile would generally get 10lb for crossing the water anyway. Bearing in mind that City Slicker won his bumper on heavy ground at Fairyhouse and that he appears to be at his best going right-handed, he is surely a decent each-way bet at up to 8/1.
Market leader Rolling Star has an awful lot to prove in this company under a massive weight. The one that stands out as being underrated by the handicapper and the bookmakers at 10/1 is David Pipe's Greatwood hero Dell' Arca.
Pipe, who saddles six in all, and his legendary father Martin won this three times up to 2006, and neither would have felt hard done by when this unexposed four-year-old got just 8lb for his debut success at Prestbury Park.
A highly regarded French import that is having only his fifth hurdle start here, the son of Glenview Stud's Sholokov travelled sumptuously through from the rear to see off a bunch of similarly upwardly mobile sorts in Sametegal, Rawnaq and Flaxen Flare.
When Tom Scudamore went for him after the last, he knuckled down bravely to prevail by half a length. While the margin was slight, it didn't nearly reflect the full merit of the victory, as it was a decisive triumph for such an inexperienced horse on his first British outing for a new stable after a five-month lay-off.
Dell' Arca, which had good form in testing going in France, could yet be a 150-plus horse, so he appeals here off 136 for just 10st 11lb.
Another that stands out as being seriously underestimated in the conditions is Reve De Sivola in the Long Walk Hurdle, a three-mile Grade One that lost Celestial Halo yesterday.
The defection of Paul Nicholls' recent Newbury Grade Two winner means that the 6/1 that could be had about Reve De Sivola soon disappeared, but at around 7/2 he is still a fair prospect. This might come a bit quick for Nicholls' game Relkeel Hurdle second Salubrious, while At Fishers Cross is the odds-on favourite.
Fourth in the Newbury race, McCoy's smart steed didn't jump fluently before eventually blundering his chance away two-out that day.
He wasn't sure to win either way, so he might be vulnerable again here and Reve De Sivola is a ready-made alternative to take advantage. A four-time Grade One winner, he was thrashed by Big Buck's at Newbury a year ago before pulverising the field in deep ground to win here.
Nowadays, this stiffer track suits Nick Williams' eight-year-old better than Newbury, where he was one-paced in third behind Celestial Halo.
With every drop of rain that falls a plus, Richard Johnson's mount has more than a fighting chance of causing another minor upset.
The other of interest is Warren Greatrex's Baby Mix. Noel Fehily's mount faces a stiff challenge from Easter Day, but the form of his two starts this term looks strong -- yesterday's Ascot scorer Royal Boy was a long way back in third when he won easily at Kempton last month -- so he is fancied to build on that in a small field that always seems to suit him.
Best Bet: Dell' Arca