Cross on comeback trail
Channel 4 commentator Simon Holt previews the pick of Saturday's racing action, including the Ladbroke Handicap Hurdle at Ascot.
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David Pipe holds a very strong hand in Saturday's Ladbroke Handicap Hurdle at Ascot with Dell' Arca, winner of the Greatwood Hurdle and the mount of stable jockey Tom Scudamore, looking the first string amongst six stable representatives.
Dell' Arca's defeat of Sametegal at Cheltenham on his English debut (and only fourth career start) was a promising effort but, after an 8lb rise in the ratings, he now looks closely weighted with fourth-placed Flaxen Flare and Pine Creek (sixth) who, in turn, are tightly handicapped with other runners in this field.
Sadly there is no Swing Bowler which is a real shame as I fancied the impeccably-bred daughter of Galileo strongly but David Pipe is also represented by Shotavodka who put up a blinding effort at Newbury last month when trying to make all and only succumbing to Vendor at the final flight.
The son of Alderbrook had set a good pace and was the only horse amongst those ridden prominently who managed to keep going to the line. Mikey Ennis relieves him of a significant 7lb allowance.
As you would expect of any big race on a Saturday, trainers Nicky Henderson and Paul Nicholls also boast strong representation.
Henderson's Rolling Star is a highly regarded type who looked a leading Triumph Hurdle contender last season only to disappoint behind easy winner Our Conor on the big day at Cheltenham.
He came back to winning form at Haydock last time but wasn't overly impressive against average opposition and looks to have plenty of weight for a four-year-old. That same remark could also apply to the Nicholls-trained Ptit Zig, a heavy-ground winner in France last time but now set to lump top weight here off a mark 17lb higher than when landing a handicap at Sandown in April.
Nicholls also runs Irish Saint who looked beaten when falling at the final flight behind Ifandbutwhynot and Henderson's other Ladbroke runner Chatterbox in Newbury's Gerry Feilden Hurdle recently.
That was another solid run from the consistent Chatterbox but there is little between him and the third Chris Pea Green who is also closely weighted with his previous course and distance conqueror Pine Creek.
One angle pursued by several tipsters this week has involved the Brian Ellison-trained Totalize, who is now a stone better off with Flaxen Flare who beat him into fifth (Ptit Zig third) at the Festival last term.
The son of Authorized has won at Pontefract and run well in Ireland on the Flat more recently and certainly looks better handicapped than many others in this field.
City Slicker, an odds-on failure in a maiden hurdle at Navan in March, has put that behind him to win twice since and had plenty in hand when taking a handicap hurdle at Punchestown last month.
Representing top Irish trainer Willie Mullins, and ridden by A P McCoy, he must be respected but is difficult to assess.
Earlier, the reuniting of the 18-times champion jockey with At Fishers Cross could be the crucial factor in determing the outcome of the Wessex Youth Trust Long Walk Hurdle.
Unbeaten as a novice last season, Rebecca Curtis's six-year-old was possibly struggling to reel back Celestial Halo on his reappearance at Newbury when stumbling badly at the second last.
With no disrespect to his fine pilot Barry Geraghty that day, McCoy has been superb on this horse in the past and, with Celestial Halo ruled out through injury, he can stake his claims on the World Hurdle here.
Salubrious makes a quick reappearance back over three miles after proving no match for More Of That over just two-and-a-half at Cheltenham last Saturday and is an admirable horse who races very genuinely. However, on official ratings he has a little to find as does Time For Rupert who makes a welcome reappearance following life-threatening surgery.
The Mappin and Webb Silver Cup sees Triolo D'Alene attempting to defy top weight after his game victory in last month's Hennessy Gold Cup in which Houblon des Obeaux (now 13lb better off) was a never dangerous sixth, always outpaced on the quickish surface.
However, the latter was an impressive winner over this course and distance on slower ground previously (Triolo D'Alene third, Bless The Wings sixth) and, with conditions very much in his favour now, is taken to come out on top again at the revised weights.
At Haydock, Tartak is potentially thrown-in at the weights in the One Stop Energy Tommy Whittle Chase over three miles.
A dual Grade Two winner at his best, the 10-year-old has slipped to a rating some 19lb lower than his last winning mark.
Admittedly, there have been frustrations with this horse in recent seasons but he ran well when third to Carrickboy at the Cheltenham Festival (2m5f) last term and was hardly disgraced when a staying-on fourth behind subsequent Paddy Power Gold Cup winner John's Spirit on the same course in October (2m4f).
On each occasion, Tartak's effort - getting outpaced and then keeping on again - suggested he is worth another try over a longer trip on only his second start for Victor Dartnell.