With the jumps season in full swing, we have a fabulous weekend ahead of us with three of last season’s Cheltenham Festival winners in action at Ascot on Saturday.
L’Homme Presse (2.05) and Edwardstone (15:15), winners of the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase and Sporting Life Arkle respectively, make their seasonal reappearances. However, the headline act on the card is, for all the right reasons, Constitutional Hill (14.40), whose 22-length defeat of Jonbon in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle earned him a huge Timeform rating of 177p, the highest the company has ever awarded to a novice hurdler, passing the benchmark of 176 set by Golden Cygnet in 1978.
In fact, only five hurdlers, of any experience, have achieved a higher rating than Constitution Hill, who is unsurprisingly a short-price favourite for the Champion Hurdle in March at 1/5.
He will be a prohibitively short price on Saturday – he’s 21 lb clear of his nearest rival in Timeform ratings – but it’s great to have one of the most exciting horses in training back on the track.
But it’s not just Constitutional Hill who’s likely to make his presence felt this weekend as another super star is also in action at Haydock on Saturday, namely, Cheltenham Gold Cup winner A Plus Tard (4/7) who’s set to defend his Betfair Chase crown.
The Irish may have come up short in the Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham on Sunday but it’s worth noting that they had a one-two in a handicap hurdle on the opening day of the meeting and also had a well-backed handicap winner on the Saturday in the shape of Unanswered.
The British will know all about the Irish representative in Saturday’s valuable Betfair Exchange Stayers’ Handicap Hurdle (14:25) at Haydock as the Charles Byrnes-trained Run For Oscar has already made two successful raids on the Flat in recent months.
Run For Oscar (3/1) justified short-price favouritism in a Sunday Series Handicap here in August and he then registered a similarly emphatic success in the Cesarewitch, really catching the eye with how he tanked into contention.
He’s also unexposed as a staying hurdler and, given the sort of form he’s been in on the Flat, is a really interesting runner at Haydock.
Cheltenham clues in Punchestown opener?
There’s a fascinating clash in the two-and-a-half-mile beginners’ chase (12:30) that kicks off the card at Punchestown on Saturday and there could be some ripples in the market for the Turners Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.
Kilcruit (25/1) and Journey With Me (33/1) may be big prices in that ante-post market, but they are both talented types with the potential to take high rank over fences.
Journey With Me was disappointing on his final start of the season at Punchestown, but he ran well in the Ballymore at the Cheltenham Festival where he fell at the last when likely to have finished just behind the runner-up. He had won his first two starts over hurdles in good style and has the physique to do better over fences.
It’s all to play for this weekend! Stayed tuned as we will keep a close eye on the market at the weekend’s races get underway.