The Ladbrokes Trophy is one of the big betting races of the jumps season and this year’s renewal is one of the most competitive that I can remember. The shortlist consists of Kildisart, Vinndication and Cloth Cap (3.00) and it is the latter in his first-time cheekpieces who gets the each way vote.
The selection finished third in the Scottish Grand National last year and that was the last time he encountered decent ground. The formbook might tell us it was good underfoot at Cheltenham on his reappearance, but the race was run in a time 20 seconds above standard and the Cheltenham executive, after persistent rain, changed conditions to good to soft immediately after the race and to soft later in the card. Jonjo O’Neill fits his 8-y-old with cheek-pieces for the first time and I feel he can run a big race from the foot of the weights. The 12/1 available is about the right price.
Doctor Dex has form figures of 221 first time out and he would have been the selection were it not for the fact that he has to prove the extended 2m 6f trip of the novices’ handicap chase is within his compass. Marginal preference is for Highest Son (1.15) who ran a terrific race over today’s C&D when beaten 4L by Champ in a Beginners Chase here last November and is entitled to come on for his Hereford reappearance when he gave the impression a return to a left-handed track would suit. The 12/1 with William Hill who are betting each way five places looks fair.
It is Fighting Fifth day at Newcastle and the return of the Champion hurdler Epatante (2.05 who receives a 7lbs mares’ allowance from her six rivals. This is better race than 12 months ago when Cornerstone Lad upset the odds-on former Champion Hurdler Buveur D’Air who sustained an injury at the final flight that continues to keep him off the track.
Not So Sleepy should ensure the race is run at a decent gallop and I will be supporting Ribble Valley in the market without the market leader. Nicky Richards stable star looked ready for a step up to the top table when scoring at Carlisle on his reappearance although he must show he can be as equally effective on good ground.
At Doncaster I like the booking of Kevin Brogan for Ashington (1.43) who was hampered two out but ran a cracker in the circumstances when third at Cheltenham on his seasonal reappearance. That signalled a welcome return to form for John Quinn’s five-year-old who was below par in a couple of runs on the flat during the summer.
I hope it’s a good day for the excellent Brogan as he rides Seddon (2.18) in the extended 2m 3f handicap chase for Harry Whittington having left the yard of Tom George following a poor run stepped up to three miles at Chepstow last month.
The selection was just touched off behind Darling Maltaix at Stratford over this trip back in September and he has the physique and ability to carry top weight. The Whittington yard have been having a frustrating run of late and they have not had the selection long, but I hope to see the gelding bounce back from his disappointing Chepstow effort. Minella Trump looks the main danger for Donald McCain, but I wonder if he will find this trip just a bit too sharp and may need 2m 6f+ to be seen at his very best.
Soft ground forecast at Bangor-on-Dee and Nigel Twiston-Davies has sent a strong team north including Checkitout (1.22) who can defy top-weight in the 3m handicap chase. The selection fell four out at Ludlow when holding every chance and he has the size and scope to make up into a much better chaser than hurdler. He had previously finished a staying on fifth at Uttoxeter in one of the best novice handicap chases of the season from a 2lbs higher mark.
Un Prophete looks the main danger representing the stable of Venetia Williams and he looked ready for a step back up in trip when third at Carlisle on his reappearance. Lucy Turner is good value for her 7lbs claim and the handicapper has certainly given the 9-y-old a chance given he is a stone lower in the weights than when last successful if you take Turner’s claim into account.
Three Grade 1’s in Ireland on Sunday and Envoi Allen and Honeysuckle will be odds on to extend their long unbeaten runs, but I am also looking forward to seeing Ballyadam (1.05) in the Royal Bond having created such a favourable impression when scoring by 12L on his hurdles debut last month. The selection will get further than 2m in time, but he did not look short of speed at Down Royal. He is taken to follow in the footsteps of stablemate Envoi Allen who landed the prize 12 months ago.