After our opening National Hunt racing weekend in October, Saturday sees more exciting names heading to Ascot.
We stage two Grade Two races, which have over the years seen a number of high-class hurdlers and jumpers kick-start their season with options such as the Cheltenham Festival in their sight.
The feature race is the Coral Hurdle, worth £100,000. It historically attracts amongst the very best hurdlers in training. The last three winners; Annie Power, Faugheen and Rock On Ruby, also have a Champion Hurdle win on their CVs.
The Coral Hurdle isn’t actually run at the Champion Hurdle distance of two miles, however. It is run just short of two-and-a-half miles and can therefore attract horses as likely to go the three mile route in the future.
Over jumps, final fields, with a few exceptions (mainly Grade Ones), aren’t declared until the day before racing. On the flat it is two days but as the weather can be so changeable in the winter, in most cases trainers aren’t asked to commit until nearer the race.
Yanworth is likely to be a short price to make a winning first start outside novice company. He was last seen finishing second to Yorkhill in the Grade One Neptune Investment Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March.
The £70,000 Stella Artois 1965 Chase, the second Grade Two on the card, commemorates the inauguration of jumps racing here at Ascot just over 50 years ago.
In recent years the race has acted as a key lead up race to the three mile King George at Kempton on Boxing Day, with the 2013 winner Al Ferof (also won in 2014) and the 2015 winner, Vautour, going on to be placed in the early season championship event over Christmas.
This race, like the Coral Hurdle, is run over an intermediate trip (2m 5f), and therefore can be an early season guide as to what distance any given horse might be campaigned over going forward and what his eventual Festival target may be. This year the main protagonists, subject to final declarations tomorrow, look likely to stay at or around the two-and-a-half mile trip. The first three home in last month’s two-and-a-half mile Grade Two Old Roan Chase at Aintree – Third Intention, God’s Own and Vibrato Valtat, are amongst 10 still engaged at this point. Included within that number is 2015 Clarence House and Champion Chase (both two miles) winner, Dodging Bullets, bred by Frankie Dettori, who was here in a very relaxed mode when he won the former race.
Saturday’s main race of the day is at Haydock and as a Grade One race, we know the final field for the Betfair Chase.
Coneygree, who won the Cheltenham Gold Cup as a novice in 2015, has been off since damaging a hock in the build up to last year’s King George and he will face last season’s winner of the Betfair Chase and King George, Cue Card, as well as the 2016 Ascot Chase winner, Silviniaco Conti.
The Betfair Chase will be leafed into our Saturday racecard and shown on the big screens.