It’s on! Four runners go to post for this afternoon’s Grade One SBK Clarence House Chase (3.35 Ascot) but for all intents and purposes, it’s a match between Nicky Henderson’s Shishkin, which has been chalked up at 4/6, and Willie Mullins’ Energumene, which is trading at 13/8.
Both unbeaten over fences, they are the two best horses in their class, and while Shishkin just about has the edge on ratings, both of these definitely have more to come and it could easily go either way. On that basis, I’m siding with Energumene, purely down to the prices.
A two-time Grade One winner in Ireland, the eight-year-old is yet to race in Britain (other than a point-to-point) but this is a great place to start, and it’s fantastic for the sport to see these heavyweight clashes.
Shishkin has also won two Grade Ones including the Arkle, and both horses looked in great shape on their seasonal debuts. With all due respect to last year’s winner First Flow (10/1) and Amoola Gold (100/1), watching these two take each other on will be one to savour.
On the same card, I was originally quite keen on Graystone in the SBK Betting Podcast Juvenile Hurdle (12.35) but he was declared a non-runner yesterday. Instead, Irish Hill will carry my money around 7/2.
Trained by Paul Nicholls, it seemed he would have to settle for second place to Graystone when last seen in a juvenile hurdle at Taunton but Greystone fell at the last, handing Irish Hill the prize. He was probably a little lucky but, in fairness, he was keeping on well and has some decent form on the Flat in Germany.
Later, Molly Ollys Wishes catches the eye around 7/4 in the Grade Two SBK Mares’ Hurdle (2.20 Ascot). A consistent sort with five wins from 14 races over timber to her credit, including a couple at Listed level, her last place against her four rivals in the Coral Hurdle is forgiven as she was out of her depth against the males.
She should have the measure of her opponents here, although I’m fairly sure Emma Lavelle’s Western Victory won’t go down without a fight.
Another one I like at Ascot is Garry Clermont which is expected to go off around 7/2 for the Jonjo O’Neill Snr and Jnr team in the SBK Holloway’s Handicap Hurdle (1.45).
He has a rating of 143 which means he’ll be top-weight, but I was impressed with his third place last time off 1lb lower. A step up in distance will help, and he should have the engine for this at the weights.
Last week, I put Intervention up here as one that was potentially ahead of the handicapper at Lingfield and I was left tearing my hair out when he was beaten by a neck, having traded as low as 1/33 in-running on Betfair.
Fingers crossed I can get my money back at the course today, where Diderot is tipped around 9/4 in the MansionBet Proud Partners Of The AWC Handicap (1.55). Formerly trained by Ger Lyons in Ireland, he powered home to win a handicap at Chelmsford last week for James Ferguson, and I don’t think a rise of 8lbs will be enough to hold him back.
The other one that gets the nod at Lingfield is Umm Hurair, which I’m hoping to back around 11/4 in the Coral Winter Oaks Fillies’ Handicap (3.40).
Harry and Roger Charlton’s four-year-old is in a rich vein of form at the moment, and completed a hat-trick of wins with loads in hand under a penalty in a Wolverhampton handicap just after Christmas. She’s up quite a bit in the weights, but I’ve a feeling she’ll continue to improve for some time.
At Haydock, I’ve been weighing up the options in the Grade Two Peter Marsh Handicap Chase (2.35) and a case could be made for nearly all of the 10 runners.
However, the vote goes to Lake View Lad, which is a nice each-way price around 12/1.
Now aged 12, it’s fair to say he’s in decline and has now gone six races since his last victory in December 2020 – but his rating has come right down to 146 from a high of 162 and there may be one or two big races left in him around that level.
Finally, consider backing Moon King, which was trading at 5/1 yesterday evening for the Stuart Whittle’s 40th Birthday Handicap Hurdle (3.10 Haydock). Charlie Longsdon’s gelding won a couple last season and has been knocking on the door lately, going close in all three races this term.