Ascot’s Long Walk Hurdle may be a small size, but it sure looks to promise us a competitive few minutes. Reve De Sivola is looking for a hat-trick in the race, having won it for the last two seasons. Daryl Jacob’s mount is on something of a recovery mission however, having been largely disappointing since his triumph 12 months ago. This is his ground however, and he and Jacob have a great record. Trainer Nick Williams has said that he fears Zarkandar, and it looks like the bookies do to having prices him up at a short favourite. Last time out Zarkandar won a French Grade 1 quite easily, and so looks to be getting back to his best. After winning that race, trainer Paul Nicholls said “”He won really well today, and will probably go to the Long Walk now. After that we’ll go for the World Hurdle and French Champion Hurdle,” and here he is. So he’s been trained for the race, and looks to be a fancy for many to take the World Hurdle come March too. If he’s back to his best, he’ll be hard to beat. For me, Alan King’s Medinas is somewhat underrated. He earned his place in the field with an impressive victory over Cole Harden and the previously unbeaten More Of That in last month’s Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury. Wayne Hutchinson takes over from Richard Johnson in the saddle after returning from injury. The stable has been in top form, and like Zarkandar, it looks like this has been the plan for him from that start. My only negative is that he’s a hit or miss horse.
Reve De Sivola is joined by stable companion Aubusson, who steps up in class after his lucrative victory under Lizzie Kelly in last month’s “Fixed Brush” Handicap Hurdle at Haydock. Kelly retains the mount. He’s a fragile horse, so connections wouldn’t run the horse in this race unless they thought they had a chance of winning it. Lizzie Kelly stays on board, although she can’t claim her 7lbs – great for lady jockeys! The field is completed by last year’s Greatwood Hurdle winner Dell’ Arca, who is sent back over smaller obstacles by David Pipe following a couple of fair efforts over fences. He’s had a couple of bad runs over fences this season, and obviously didn’t take to them, so he should be seen back to better effect here, and I really wouldn’t be surprised if he sprung a surprise. Trainer David Pipe is convinced he needs to be toested over further, “Despite winning the Greatwood Hurdle over the minimum trip he has always looked as worth trying over further and while he has it to do on official figures, this looks a decent opportunity to give him a go.”
Onto the Ladbroke Hurdle, and the money has been coming all week for Shelford, from the in form Dan Skelton yard. Last seasons smart juvenile Actival has not been seen since slightly disappointing at Aintree in April, but his price has more than halved since Monday. In his blog, Harry Fry wrote of Actival, “We’re happy with him at home and this has been the plan since he wasn’t quite going to be ready in time for the Greatwood and we wanted to have a go at a good handicap off his current mark. He’s well at home and we’re looking forward to him taking his chance.” David Pipe sends Swing Bowler to the race, and he said this about her, “Swing Bowler is a lovely, tough consistent mare who has run well in many of the top handicap hurdles and fully deserves to win one.”
There are several strong Irish contenders headed by the Willie Mullins-trained Clondaw Warrior with David Casey coming over to take the ride – he was third in the Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham. He will be joined on the journey over by Gordon Elliott’s Bayan, Tony Martin’s Pyromaniac and Arthur Moore’s Sea Beat. Garde La Victoire takes top weight with trainer Phillip Hobbs saying, “I’m glad it’s been dry recently as the better the ground the better his chance. We thought about running him in the Relkeel at Cheltenham but he’d have been giving weight to horses rated higher than him so it just made no sense.”
It’s a tough race to call, with a number looking to get back to their best. I do like the look of Shelford, who last time out looked to love his racing, and really caught my eye. At a slightly bigger price I’d be inclined to go for Bayan for Gordon Elliott and Davy Condon. The trainer is on fire, and does well with bringing a string over here.