Mud-loving Sawyer poised to cut down field at Ascot
Inspections, inspections, inspections. The bane of this National Hunt season in England returns to haunt punters on a day when four scheduled cards should have offered plenty of options to top up the Cheltenham tank.
Instead, we have to grapple with countless horses that are doubly-declared.
Ascot is thought most likely to beat the weather, yet this valuable fixture is blighted by small fields.
The Reynoldstown Novices' Chase (2.15) revolves around whether Burton Point can complete the course, while collusion between trainers almost certainly sees Menorah and Finian's Rainbow kept apart in the two novices' hurdles. None of this trio can be recommended, on the grounds of cramped odds.
And in tiresome contrast, the handicap hurdle (2.45) carries too many possibilities to be tackled with confidence -- particularly should the likes of Lough Derg, Beshabar and Majaalis be diverted to Ascot.
That leaves us with three races to attack -- and one of those is the concluding bumper.
In these perplexing circumstances, it is appropriate that The Sawyer, the selection for the Betfair Ascot Chase (3.15), is the lowest-rated horse in the line-up. Officially, he must find nearly 30lbs to master the top-rated runner, Planet Of Sound.
Yet there are grounds for believing in this confirmed mudlark. The 10-year-old is in great heart, and with Herecomesthetruth likely to keep him honest at the head of affairs, he could gallop his opponents into submission. Both Planet Of Sound and Oh Crick will certainly find it tough to see out the trip.
The Trisoft Handicap Chase (4.20) is another race that may change in complexion due to abandonments elsewhere. Even then, however, the front-running Lorient Express should prove hard to peg back. While his jumping leaves something to be desired, he should secure the uncontested lead on which he thrives.
Familiarity key to Denman's success
Internet chat-rooms were full of invective from the moment Denman clouted the third-last fence at Newbury on Saturday, leaving Tony McCoy with no chance of staying aboard.
Yet despite howls of protest from fans of Sam Thomas, there was never a chance McCoy would be replaced for next month's Cheltenham Gold Cup.
What the debacle served to illustrate is that horses usually decide the destiny of their jockeys, not the other way round.
Denman has always been prone to throwing himself at any fence he meets on the wrong stride. In those circumstances, the best thing any jockey can do is to sit tight and hope for the best.
Nevertheless, the fact remains that Ruby Walsh has never parted company with the strapping horse. From nine previous unions, Walsh has won seven times and been runner-up twice. Which prompts an interesting question: would Denman win the Cheltenham Gold Cup if Walsh opted to ride him ahead of Kauto Star?
Walsh knows both horses better than any other jockey, which is a priceless asset. And while Kauto Star now looks as smooth as you like, his early chasing days were punctuated by wholesale blunders -- often at the final fence, when victory was otherwise assured.
It has taken time for Walsh to get to know Kauto Star, just as it will take any other jockey time to get to know Denman.
Connections of the latter would have been better served by appointing a jockey to ride Denman every time, rather than using the best available in Walsh's inevitable absence on the big occasion.
Painter Man can add gloss in Pipe double
David Pipe has prospects of a double at Wincanton, where Madison Du Berlais, which is best in small fields, can set the ball rolling in the handicap chase (2.00).
And Painter Man catches the eye in the following handicap chase (2.35), in which he is raised in trip for his second start over fences.