All eyes on Ascot
“The highly paid BHA assessor has taken a chance in letting All For Free race off a mark of 110 here. He could be much better than that and will trade accordingly if he jumps as soundly as he did at Hereford.”
It's the first day of Ascot's big Christmas Meeting and Graham Cunningham is eyeing up the action like a kid sizing up the pressies under the tree. Four suggested bets run on Friday, how will they fare?
Another rum news week on Planet Racing.
First, the stewards decided that a clutch of jockeys who seemed to take the wrong course at Cheltenham really didn't take the wrong course at all; second, Long Run's rider Sam Waley Cohen almost certainly took the wrong course at Fakenham before showing that posh boys can fib just as swiftly as plebs when caught in a tight spot; and third, the BHA jumped on a few Flat jockeys who most definitely took the wrong course by conspiring to stop horses.
But enough of the fibs and flannel. Day one of a two-day fixture at Ascot this Friday serves up several appealing angles both from a straight win viewpoint and from a back-to-lay perspective.
If it's the weekend then it must be a case of Paul Nicholls against Nicky Henderson in several races and this card is no exception.
I'm in no rush to oppose the Nicholls-trained Rocky Creek in the opener at 12:45 even though Henderson fields a newcomer of potential in the shape of the Irish point winner Hadrians Approach.
And one or both of the jumping juggernauts could have a major say in an absorbing but very tricky-looking chase at 14:30 as Chablais and Pacha du Polder both have plenty to recommend them.
However, the horses who appeal most as bet material this Friday are All For Free, Hazy Tom, Our Father and Claret Cloak.
All For Free was fair over hurdles and looks well handicapped over fences based on a promising fourth in a better contest than this at Hereford.
Martin Keighley's gelding was never likely to match the winner Kumbeshwar that day, but he jumped soundly and travelled kindly for a long way and only gave best between the last two fences in a battle for second against two rivals who were rated higher than he was in their hurdling days.
In short, the highly paid BHA assessor has taken a chance in letting All For Free race off a mark of 110 here. He could be much better than that and will trade accordingly if he jumps as soundly as he did at Hereford.
Hazy Tom gets the vote for the 13:55 in the simple belief that he is probably improving faster than Molotof and Peckhamecho.
Tactics could be important here as all three made the running last time. I suspect that the feisty Peckhamecho will win the battle for the early lead, but Hazy Tom's form lines have been boosted all over the shop by the likes of It's A Gimme and Sea of Thunder since his runaway Wetherby win and he looks poised to retain his unbeaten record here.
It's a case of potential with Our Father and Claret Cloak in the last two races on the card at 15:05 and 15:40, but both these lightly-raced geldings look set for better things.
Our Father left a striking impression when winning on his debut at Chepstow last January and was anything but disgraced under a penalty on two subsequent starts.
This rangy, smooth travelling grey has had ample time to strengthen further during his break. A market move for him would be noteworthy coming from the canny yard of David Pipe and he's the type who could shorten appreciably in the run against a big field containing plenty with questions to answer at present.
Claret Cloak faces a posse of previous bumper winners in the finale but looks well equipped for the task based on his commanding Wincanton debut.
Emma Lavelle's gelding displayed a high cruising speed before settling things neatly with a turn of foot that day. The fourth and fifth have upheld the form since and even if he doesn't win here there has to be a good chance that Claret Cloak will give his backers an opportunity to trade out at much shorter than his pre-race price.
Back All For Free in the 13:20 at Ascot and lay off at [2.5] in running
Back Hazy Tom in the 13:55 at Ascot
Back Our Father in the 15:05 at Ascot and lay off at [2.5] in running
Back Claret Cloak in the 15:40 at Ascot and lay off at [1.6] in running
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