This Afternoon at Ascot

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The Clarence House Chase (formerly known as the Victor Chandler Chase) and the eagerly-awaited return of Sprinter Sacre (3.00) is the Grade 1 highlight from Ascot this afternoon. The former Champion Chaser won this corresponding race by no less than 14L two years ago, when at the height of his considerable powers, but returns to the track with much to prove given he pulled up at Kempton with an irregular heartbeat when last seen over 12 months ago.

At his best he would devour today’s opposition and the hope is that trainer Nicky Henderson has him back to something like his brilliant best. The noises coming out of Lambourn were cautious to say the least earlier in the season, but a racecourse gallop at Newbury over the Festive period showed he retained much of his old exuberance and he is reported to have worked very well last weekend. Every sport needs its stars and Sprinter Sacre was an equine superstar. Let’s hope he is back to something like his best. He was 13/8 at BetVictor on Thursday morning but has been backed into Even money.

Village Vic (1.15) another coming back from a long lay-off, is a winning point-to-pointer who makes his chase debut for Philip Hobbs from a very attractive opening mark. Some of his old hurdles form is not far short of top class and he has a history of going well fresh. Like Sprinter Sacre he will be better on spring ground but he looks very attractively weighted.

There is a fascinating OLBG Mares’ Hurdle with Mischievous Milly (1.50) getting the vote stepping up to 3m for the first time. The selection would have finished closer to Aurore D’Estruval at Sandown on her reappearance (2m 4fhad she not missed out the final two flights of hurdles and she is entitled to come on for that effort. There is plenty of stamina on the distaff side of the family and she gets the EW vote in a cracking heat.

Baradari (2.25) is interesting stepping up in trip for Venetia Williams coming back from a two-month lay-off. The 5-y-old was pulled out of a big handicap on account of the heavy ground last month but had always struck me as one who would appreciate this trip and is another each way recommendation.

Ballinvarrig (3.35) is 7lbs higher than when scoring at Kempton over 3m last time but this slight drop in trip looks ideal for Tom George’s progressive 8-y-old who has his optimum conditions this afternoon.

Haydock must survive a precautionary 8am inspection but if racing goes ahead the feature is the Peter Marsh Chase over an extended 3m and stamina will the order of the day. Benbens (3.15) didn’t appear to get home over 3m 5f in the Welsh National last time but this trip looks ideal as long as he is over those Chepstow exertions. The selection is 2lbs wrong at the weights but is reunited with Sam Twiston-Davies and is 6/1 at BetVictor.

I like the chances of Carraig Mor (2.40) for Alan King in the Graduation Chase over 2m 5f. The selection unseated Noel Fehily in the Grade 1 Novice at Kempton on Boxing Day when embroiled in a titanic battle for the lead with eventual winner Coneygree. The slight concern is that Mwaleshi also wants to go from the front but I hope jockey Wayne Hutchinson is alive to this possible scenario.

At Naas Rule The World (1.55) might never quite scale the heights of his name over fences but can land the Grade 2 Novice Chase for Mouse Morris and Bryan Cooper who will certainly have an excellent book of mounts in the Gigginstown silks at Cheltenham in March.

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