Captain Chris to answer the call
Ben Coley provides a horse-by-horse guide to Saturday's Betfair Ascot Chase.
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Winner of the 2011 Arkle who has returned to his best this season with a win over slightly shorter here followed by a superb second in the King George. Niggled along from an early stage that day which would seem to suggest he needs three miles these days and Betfred Gold Cup is reportedly the target, however this sort of trip should be fine in the conditions. For all that he's only won twice since landing the Arkle he's never been out of the first four when completing and the one to beat if emphasis proves to be on stamina here.
Seems to have gained a reputation as an underachiever but winner of the Champion Bumper, fourth in a Supreme and second only to Sprinter Sacre in last year's Arkle. Returned to action this year with highly impressive win in the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter before failing to see how the trip in a stamina-sapping King George. Slight drop in distance and prospect of steadier gallop play into his strengths but there remain concerns about this trip's suitability on the ground and chance may depend on how the race is run. Should he come out on top one would expect him to be made clear favourite for the Ryanair Chase.
Top rated runner in the field courtesy of a trio of Grade One wins, the pick of which undoubtedly came at Cheltenham last year when accounting for Sizing Europe in a thrilling renewal of the Queen Mother Champion Chase. Followed that up with a convincing success in the Melling Chase at Aintree but very disappointing on seasonal return behind Captain Chris here. Heavy ground possibly to blame and length third behind mudlark Reve De Sivola in Challow Hurdle as a novice suggests that this distance is well within his compass. Pick of his form is of a standard the rest have yet to match and if at the top of his game he'd be the one to beat, but definitely better on a sound surface and connections may feel they need to get a run in to him regardless.
Always highly regarded and twice accounted for Captain Chris as a novice chaser before that one gained revenge when it mattered in the Arkle. Race fell apart when he hosed in on his Kempton return and has been well beaten twice since, firstly by old rival Captain Chris and then by that one's stablemate Menorah. Possible to argue that heavy ground wasn't to his liking on either occasion and looks to stay the trip well enough but on balance his form is some way below that of the principals.
Enjoyed a well-earned day in the sun when landing the Grand Annual in 2010 but that handicap success off a mark of 129 the pick of his exploits over fences and set to be outclassed in this company.
Beat Finian's Rainbow over a shorter distance here last season to extend a solid record at the track, but failed to reproduce that level of form in subsequent starts at Cheltenham and Sandown. Encouraging enough seasonal return on ground slower than ideal behind Sprinter Sacre at Cheltenham, albeit a shade disappointing he couldn't finish second, and reasonable to expect that he'll improve for the run. Doesn't look to quite stay three miles on this type of ground and this trip probably the furthest he wants, so despite having little to find on the figures the percentage call is to look elsewhere for the winner.
This race looks a real puzzle underlined by the fact that two of the market leaders could yet head to the Queen Mother after this while one is Gold Cup bound. Finian's Rainbow is just about the best of them but it's hard to make a case for him even at 3/1, given what was a poor comeback, an extended absence since, ground worse that ideal and a trip that probably pushes his stamina close to breaking point. Cue Card is a likeable horse and on reflection ran a fair race in the King George, but while this trip should be within his compass the ground poses a big threat to his prospects of staying and he'll surely be seen in a better light come Cheltenham. With all of this in mind CAPTAIN CHRIS looks the solid one and should arguably have been made clear favourite. Here we have a horse who got home in a grueling King George last time and who has been at the top of his game in both starts this season. Happy to sit close to the pace, it's reasonable to expect Richard Johnson to test the stamina of his rivals and should Captain Chris put in a solid round of jumping he may well be hard to pass late on. Somersby may get closer to the leading trio than his odds imply and should be considered for forecast purposes but it's Captain Chris for me.