Revitalised 'Triolo' can plunder Ascot spoils
Henderson's classy chaser is back on an upward curve
Flemenstar may never get a better chance to record a fifth Grade One success than he has in today's Betfair Chase.
With Cheltenham looming large, the Ascot contest lacks any A-list quality.
Silviniaco Conti is a serious horse at his best, but he hasn't been himself of late. The same applies to Dynaste, and it is not for nothing that both 10-year-olds sport first-time blinkers here.
The remaining five runners are all solid operators without being proper Grade One animals. Flemenstar could have a big say on suitably deep ground.
At this stage of his career, the two-mile-five-furlong trip should play to his strengths. Given his flamboyant style, three miles always stretched him, but he is a winner at the highest level over two-and-a-half.
Flemenstar capitalised on Un De Sceaux's Leopards-town fall to score at Christmas and he again ran well when second to Felix Yonger in the Tied Cottage. At 10/1 here, he is ripe for an each-way venture.
There is little doubt that Silviniaco Conti is the likeliest winner. If the headgear works, he is by far the best horse in the race, and he has just the one really poor outing to leave behind, having went out like a light when going for his King George VI Chase hat-trick. However, whether he still has the stomach for the slog that this will be is hard to call with any confidence.
Nicholls' horses are in far better form now and Silviniaco Conti could well dance up for Noel Fehily, but he is short enough in the betting for a horse that might have had enough if it. The other horse of real interest in the race is Triolo D'Alene. When Nicky Henderson's nine-year-old won the Hennessy Gold Cup off a mark of 147 three years ago, he looked a pretty serious prospect.
However, he bombed in the Gold Cup on his next start, and the wheels basically fell off thereafter. Pulled up in the 2014 Hennessy, he then ran far more encouragingly when third to Unioniste at Sandown in January of last year. Triolo D'Alene didn't run again until turning up at Kempton last month, when he looked on serious terms with himself once again.
Under Jerry McGrath, he fenced with real exuberance, and had the 162-rated Ptit Zig stone cold when that one departed two-out. Wishfull Thinking, a pretty solid 165-rated benchmark, came home 49 lengths behind in second. Clearly, Wishfull Thinking wasn't at his best, so you'd have to take the bare form with a pinch of salt, whilst also factoring in that the winner was receiving 10lbs.
At the same time, though, it was a performance that suggested Triolo D'Alene's problems might be behind him. The handicapper has upgraded him to a mark of 155, and he might be value for a bit more yet. Granted, for a horse that has had well-documented breathing problems, you are taking plenty on trust that he will handle conditions, but he coped fine with soft ground at Kempton.
That issue is doubtless factored into his odds of 7/1, which still look more than fair. In short, Triolo D'Alene is the best value option in the race.
Another that appeals is Reve De Sivola in the Rendlesham Hurdle. Nick Williams' veteran has to concede eight pounds all round in the Grade Two, including to At Fishers Cross, but he loves the Berkshire venue and hock-deep ground.
Second to Thistlecrack when bidding for a four-timer in the Long Walk, Reve De Sivola faces no such formidable opposition now. At odds of 2/1, he is fancied to prevail for Richard Johnson.
In what was quite a week in terms of potential Cheltenham Festival ramifications, Smashing arguably delivered the performance of most substance.
The grey, trained by Henry de Bromhead, finished third to Gilgamboa in the Ryanair Gold Cup on his final start last term, having floundered on good ground in the Arkle Trophy. Prior to that, he was placed behind Don Poli and Un De Sceaux before getting off the mark over fences at Gowran in January 2015.
An 11-length demolition of Morning Assembly on Saturday stretched Smashing’s unbeaten run to three this term. Two-and-a-half-miles in soft ground suit him ideally, and he was trimmed to as low as 7/1 for the Ryanair Chase.
He did run well at Cheltenham when fourth in the 2014 Coral Cup, but, on good ground in a Grade One, he will find life tougher. While Aintree’s Melling Chase would be another option, the likelihood of dry ground might again count against him.
Smashing might be a horse for France. The Prix Ferdinand Dufaure is a €350,000 Grade One chase over two-and-a-half miles that is invariably run on very soft ground in May at Auteuil, where he won as a youngster. It looks absolutely made for him.