Racing this weekend at Ascot features our first Grade One contest of the Jumps season with the JLT Hurdle (Registered as the Long Walk) taking centre stage on Saturday.
It is one of the leading contests in the three-mile hurdle division and is as old as Jump racing at Ascot having been first run in 1965. Originally named after an avenue of trees in Windsor Great Park, five winners of the race have gone on to win the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in the same season – Derring Rose, Baracouda, My Way De Solzen, Big Buck’s and Thistlecrack.
This year a competitive field of 11 have been declared, including last year’s winner Sam Spinner and Unowhatimeanharry who was victorious in 2016. They will face stiff competition though from the Simon Munir and Isaac Souede owned pair Top Notch and Call Me Lord. The later was an impressive winner of a Grade Two at Sandown last season and is stepping up to three miles for the first time. Paisley Park comes into the race on the back of winning the same Grade Three Handicap at Haydock that Sam Spinner did last season while Agrapart will appreciate any more rain having recorded a career best when winning the Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham in January on Heavy ground.
The Grade Three Betfair Exchange Trophy Handicap Hurdle is the second richest handicap hurdle in Britain and has attracted a maximum field of 21 to compete for the £150,000 prize fund. Former winner of the race Jolly’s Cracked It heads the weights for Harry Fry and also the betting after a successful seasonal reappearance at Ascot in November. Alan King has a strong hand with Fidux, Lisp and Chatez while last year’s winning trainer Olly Murphy relies on Fiesole who has a similar profile to the 2017 winner Hunter’s Call having just moved over from Ireland. Nietzsche comes into the race in good form after winning the Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham’s November meeting and Western Ryder turns out again quickly having been third in the Grade Two International Hurdle last week.
On Friday a brace of Grade Two contests headline an excellent day’s racing. The Sky Bet Supreme Trial Novices’ Hurdle has thrown up future Grade One winners Yanworth, L’Ami Serge and Irving in recent years and there are plenty of promising types in this year’s renewal. Angels Breath is held in very high regard by Nicky Henderson who has won this race three times in the last seven years and pitches him into this company on rules debut having won a Point-to-Point by 12 lengths in April. Paul Nicholls won the race in 2013 and 2016 and relies on Danny Kirwan this time while Thomas Darby was only just beaten in a hot Introductory Hurdle here in November and will be popular in the betting.
In the Noel Novices’ Chase just four go to post but between them they have already amassed seven victories from nine starts over fences. Vinndication remains undefeated for Kim Bailey and made a successful chasing debut at Carlisle, while Count Meribel recovered well from a bad mistake two out to win at Cheltenham on his second start over fences. The popular Lil Rockerfeller will look to make amends having unseated last weekend and Jerrysback completes the quartet on the back of a win at Bangor last time out.