Long Run a Hall banker
Simon Holt previews Saturday's feature action at Ascot, Down Royal and Wetherby.
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With quality jumping at Wetherby, Ascot and Down Royal plus the Breeders Cup action from Santa Anita to look forward to, Saturday's racing offers a huge number of betting opportunites - almost too many.
On days such as this in the past, I have often made the mistake of getting carried away and offering more selections than usual, invariably with disastrous results.
Of course, it is tempting to get stuck into a meeting as exciting as The Breeders Cup but this is a real specialists event; a deep knowledge of the American form is vital and an appreciation of what is needed in a form of racing so very different from our own backyard.
Aidan O'Brien's long-held ambitions to win the Classic rest with the admirable Declaration Of War this year and there has been no tougher Group One horse in this country during the summer of 2013.
American-bred, the Royal Ascot and Juddmonte Inernational winner will surely make his presence felt but faces some high class dirt specialists in Game On Dude and Mucho Macho Man and, like some smart Ballydoyle challengers who failed in the past (Galileo, Hawk Wing, Duke Of Marmalade and the very narrowly beaten Giants Causeway), the chances are he will find it hard going.
From a European perspective, Dank (Filly & Mare Turf) and The Fugue (Turf) look the brightest hopes but neither offer a great deal of value at current prices. That said, they do have powerful claims; Beverley D winner Dank is progressive and can clearly handle transatlantic travel while The Fugue is all class, looked very unlucky at this meeting 12 months ago and should have her ideal (fast) ground conditions.
If she can get a clear run this time, then John Gosden's filly could be the one to get stuck into though the fact that no less a horse than St Nicholas Abbey finished only third behind the reopposing pair Little Mike and Point Of Entry in this race last year indicates the magnitude of her task.
The other big British hope is Olympic Glory in the Breeders Cup Mile but this comes plenty soon enough after his soft-ground Queen Elizabeth 11 Stakes romp on Champions Day and it remains to be seen whether this sharp-turning track (as opposed to the Ascot straight mile) will suit him so well. Also, will the first-time blinkers fitted that day work as well second time?
Domestically, all eyes will be trained on LONG RUN in the bet365 Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby in which, despite carrying a 10lb penalty, Sam Waley Cohen's mount looks different class to his rivals.
Although unsuccessful first time out in the past three seasons, the now eight-year-old has always run well in defeat putting up brave efforts behind Kauto Star and Silviniaco Conti in the last two runnings of the Betfair Chase on his reappearance.
Long Run will probably come on for this race but faces nothing like the calibre of the aforementioned pair and, while lower in the ratings than he used to be, has plenty in hand on the figures.
Strangely unsung for a horse who has won a Gold Cup and two King Georges, the Nicky Henderson-trained gelding ran his heart out at Cheltenham and Punchestown last spring and deserves enormous credit for his consistency. Even money or a shade of odds-against (as advertised by some bookmakers) looks a solid bet.
The chief threats could well be the progressive Harry Topper and Cheltenham Festival winner Benefficient (the mount of A P McCoy) who were separated by only a length and a half at Newbury last November.
However, they - along with the Paul Nicholls-trained RSA Chase fourth Unioniste - have 9lb and upwards on official ratings to find with the favourite at these weights.
Earlier, At Fishers Cross looks set to start a short price to continue his winning run in the Bet365 Hurdle but has little in hand on the figures with last year's winner Tidal Bay (back after a 10-month absence) and the gritty Medinas. I have a soft spot for the last-named who makes up for his lack of size with fine battling qualities.
That said, it will be a brave man who opposes the favourite after a smashing 2012/13 season which ended with victories at Cheltenham and Aintree.
Ascot's feature race, the United House Gold Cup, has attracted a hugely competitive line-up but it may pay to bank on Henderson's TRIOLO D'ALENE (Barry Geraghty) to continue last season's spring-time improvement when he won the Topham Trophy over the big fences at Aintree and then followed up in comfortable fashion at Huntingdon.
This ex-French six-year-old could well have much more to offer, is already a course winner (as a novice) and has perhaps been less harshly treated for previous successes than the likes of Opening Batsman, Same Difference and Bouggler (up 10lb for winning at Market Rasen in September).
Of the other leading contenders, Wyck Hill seems best on really deep ground and the promising Buddy Bolero may prove best at extreme distances.
At Down Royal, FIRST LIEUTENANT is fancied to gain his revenge for a one-length defeat by Kauto Stone in last year's running of the JN Wine.com Champion Chase.
Whereas, the runner-up disappointed subsequently, the Mouse Morris-trained selection prospered finishing third to Bobs Worth in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury, second to Tidal Bay and Cue Card at Leopardstown (Lexus Chase) and Cheltenham (Ryanair) respectively before gaining a deserved success at Aintree. He ended his campaign with a creditable third behind Sir Des Champs and Long Run in the Punchestown Gold Cup (Kauto Stone pulled up).
A recent, ring-rusty outing back at Punchestown should have put First Lieutenant spot on for what could be a thrilling clash with former champion chaser Sizing Europe who, despite finishing second in two previous runnings behind Quito de la Roque (2011) and Kauto Star (2010), has never looked as comfortable over three miles as compared to shorter distances.
Long Run 3.35 Wetherby 2pts win
Triolo D'Alene 3.20 Ascot 1pt win
First Lieutenant 2.30 Down Royal 1pt win