Clarence House Chase: a pivotal race of the Jumps season
The 2m Grade 1 Clarence House Chase (3.00) will be a race for Jumps fans to saviour, featuring the brilliant Sprinter Sacre’s return to competitive action.
The third best-ever Timeform-rated chaser behind only Arkle and Flyingbolt, Sprinter Sacre makes his much-anticipated return having missed most of last season after being diagnosed with a heart condition.
Trainer Nicky Henderson, reportedly delighted with the current wellbeing of his horse, has never hidden the fact that he feels the Clarence House to be the perfect race in which to bring his superstar back to competitive action.
With this week’s variable weather, participation was in some doubt until Henderson’s mind was put at rest after walking the track to inspect ground conditions on Thursday – the trainer rightly making sure that all is as perfect as possible for his star’s important day.
“It walks really good,” said Henderson after completing his course walk with our clerk of the course Chris Stickels. “Considering it’s had 10mm of rain overnight it’s soft and nothing worse than that. I’d be happy with the way it is, but let’s hope it can even get a little bit better.”
Officially rated 188, Sprinter Sacre is well ahead of any of his rivals here, yet the conditions of the race means that he is running off level weights.
If the electric jumper is back to anything like his awesome best, he should not be beaten – let’s hope the rain stays away, we can see Sprinter Sacre register his 15th racecourse success and get back to his rightful place at the top of the chasing tree.
Take previous Clarence House victor Somersby, who loves jumping around Ascot with AP McCoy riding, to follow him home, while Tingle Creek winner, the improving Dodging Bullets, to be thereabouts also.
Whatever happens, the race is sure to be one of the pivotal races of this NH season.
Top Notch can do just that for Henderson
Our opening Sodexo Juvenile Hurdle (12.40) has been a race that has pinpointed future hurdling stars such as Binocular, Grandouet, Balder Success and Zaynar. Henderson’s important (nerve-wracking) day can get off to a great start with Top Notch, a horse who looks as though he can more than live up to his name.
A son of Poliglote, he is unbeaten having won two starts in France before galloping to an easy success (despite carrying a winners’ penalty) at the Newbury Christmas meeting, with Maxi T some 11l back in third. A current 25-1 hope for the Triumph Hurdle, Top Notch should do those chances no harm whatsoever here and should have too much firepower for these rivals.
Go one-way with Traffic
Venetia Williams’s six-year-old Vivaccio unseated last time when booked for second, but he has had huge hikes in the weights for previous wins and looks as though he might be susceptible to a lighter-weighted individual in the Ascot Sponsors Club Novices Chase (1.15).
Kings Lad jumped well on his second start over fences when winning by 14l at Fontwell, jockey Daryl Jacob saying then that he has an “engine”, so he has obvious claims, while this is much more Traffic Fluide’s level after being pitched in at the deep end on his first start in Britain when fourth in the Grade 2 Mitie Novices Chase over course and distance at the Christmas meeting. A winner in France over fences, he did not disgrace himself on that debut mission in Britain. He runs here off just 10st4lb, and could be of interest from the shrewd Gary Moore yard.
Carole’s Spirit should see her home ahead in the OLBG.com
The consistent mare Carole’s Spirit, who has won five races from ten starts, finished second in the Grade 2 OLBG.com Mares’ Hurdle last year and she can go one place better this time around. She has most to fear from Land Of Vic, who gets a 5lb weight advantage and who proved herself over the trip when winning a Listed mares’ race in December at Kempton (Molly’s A Diva in third).
Bitofapuzzle runs for last year’s winning trainer Harry Fry and she looks a mare on the upgrade beaten only a neck last time out, while Dark Spirit and Mischievous Milly finished second and third in a similar race earlier this month, with the latter having a first run for nearly a year. She is from the Oliver Sherwood yard, which has enjoyed a fine season, and she has scope to improve past her rival on a first start over 3m.
Black aims for back-to-back wins for Sherwood
Sherwood’s front-running Rayvin Black is turning out again quickly after an easy success last time over 2m at Sandown. He goes in the Grade 2 Keltbray Holloways’ Hurdle (2.25) – and with last time’s winning conditional jockey, the 5lb claimer Thomas Garner, booked to ride again, Rayvin Black’s feather-weight of 9st12lb could be a decisive factor on this soft ground – he gets nearly 2st off top-weight Garde La Victoire. Of the two Henderson-trained runners in this, Lyvius gets the vote.
Female trainers hold the cards in the Bet365 Chase
The Bet365 Handicap Chase (3.35) looks competitive and should provide an exciting race to follow on from the Clarence House. Emma Lavelle’s Fox Appeal and Venetia Williams’s Niceonefrankie are both the top of their games at present, both can go close again especially as they also boast course and distance form.
McCoy rides Eastlake for trainer Jonjo O’Neil and boss JP McManus – the horse does seems to reserve his best for the champion jockey but this 2m5f trip might just be stretching Eastlake’s stamina a bit too far.
Can it be Henderson and Geraghty again??
Jockey Barry Geraghty (who has won an amazing 33 races at Ascot over the last five seasons) and Henderson can round off a good day with Out Sam in the last, the EBF Stallions NH Novices Hurdle (4.05).
The six-year-old, a graduate from Irish point-to-points, is one win from one start for the trainer, the usually reserved Henderson openly admitting how impressed he was with that winning performance at Newbury. Take Out Sam to collect again as he moves up through the novice ranks.