This weekend is one of the biggest on the road to Cheltenham with various races acting as early season pointers towards the Festival. The Amlin Chase at Ascot is one such race and after assesing the runners I have picked out my selection!
This race can be quite demanding as Ascot is testing in nature and with 16 fences to jump you need a horse that is going to stand up to the stiff test. Albertas Run won this race in 2009 en-route to Ryan Air glory and the great Master Minded also won it twice. The race tends to only attract a stellar few and this year looks to have followed on with that trend with only 7 declared at the 6 day stage.
Evan Williams sadles two runners however should only be realistically looking to pick up some minor prize money. William’s Wishes (NON RUNNER) comes here after finishing 5th in the Haldon Gold Cup in which, although it was a good quality competative event, he folded pretty tamely. The obvious concern is that if he struggled in that race when receiving weight then he'll have an even bigger task on his hands getting near some of his rivals here. Lancetto (NON RUNNER) also runs for Evan Williams but probably has even less of a chance, only rated 131 and hasn’t won since 2011; he should be right up against it here.
Nicky Henderson has also sent two runners to the race, firstly French Opera (9/1 Stan James) who has been a good servant on the 2 mile chase circuit for a fair few years, but age is catching up with this horse and he certainly isn’t up to this grade of race. On the other hand, the second Henderson horse Captain Conan (NON RUNNER) should be right up to this grade though. A French import who took the Novice chase ranks by storm by winning 3 Grade 1’s and a Grade 2 beating the likes of Sire De Grugy, Hinterland, Third Intention and Tap Night. Although he couldn't win at Cheltenham; this horse is a good jumper, will relish the test and is definitely one to keep on the right side of.
Oiseau Du Nuit (NON RUNNER), like French Opera, has been around for a while and has given his owners good fun in top races. Despite this, the horse has always been a grade or two below Grade 1 level and has only won once since March 2011 so I can’t see the horse landing any serious blows here. One that will be right in the mix is Captain Chris (13/8 Stan James) who took the race in fine style last year beating a poor Finian’s Rainbow and another good yardstick in For Non Stop. It is hard to judge really how good this horse is but the form doesn’t lie with a second in a King George to his name. Despite two poor runs at Cheltenham and Punchestown I expect this horse to be back to its best but it will need to be to be able to give weight to Al Ferof and Captain Conan.
The former AL FEROF (1/1 Betfred) is the pick, however it will be a really competative race with the likes of Captain Chris and Captain Conan close in the betting. Last seen when winning the Paddy Power Gold Cup in style 12 months ago, the horse is said to have grown much stronger throughout its recovery from injury and Paul Nicholls wouldn’t have brought him back if he didn’t believe this horse was top grade. The stable harbour very high hopes and if they are confident that this horse is King George/Gold Cup material then he'll need to win here to prove that. Despite the lengthy absence (which will concern some) Paul Nicholls does not run his top horses until they are primed and ready to go and I’m sure Al Ferof will be at 100% come Saturday.
It really is hard to call with all 3 at the head of the market showing really promising form but the pick is based on potential. If this horse can come back from an injury and still be expected to contest, if not win a King George/Gold Cup, then he has to win here. Both Captain Chris and Captain Conan will make this a very interesting race to watch but Al Ferof should deliver.
AL FEROF (WIN) (1/1 Betfred)