The Ladbroke Hurdle at Ascot is a fiercely competitive handicap and one of big betting attractions in the pre-Christmas jumps’ racing calendar (3.35pm, Saturday).
Nicky Henderson has an enviable record, sending out three of the last nine winners. He saddles two here in a bid for his fourth win. His four-year-old French-bred, Michael Buckley’s Rolling Star heads the market at 6/1.
He won the Grade 2 Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham in January last year but was subsequently well beaten in the Triumph Hurdle at the festival, finishing more than 20 lengths behind Dessie Hughes’ Our Connor in fifth.
He made a seemingly impressive seasonal debut at Haydock in November, beating Donald McCain’s Doyly Carte by nearly three lengths on soft ground over two miles in an intermediate hurdle. But there were only five runners and the favourite was disappointing, having chased the long time leader who finished last. Barry Geraghty’s hold up tactics might have played a major part in his success.
When you think of the rather disappointing start Henderson made to the season, you would hope he would come on for the run. He will need to as he has been raised 7lb as a result.
Henderson’s Chatterbox (7/1) is also fancied. This five-year-old son of Poliglote has won three of his five races. He started as the favourite in his first run this season but was beaten four and a half lengths by David O’Meara’s Ifandbutwhynot in an intermediate hurdle over two miles and half a furlong at Newbury in November. He reportedly had an interrupted preparation for the race and many of the experts believe that his unchanged mark means he is more favourably handicapped than his stablemate.
Last season he proved that he can perform on soft ground and was not disgraced when he finished 13 lengths behind Nigel Twiston-Davies’ current Champion Hurdle favourite The New One at the Cheltenham Festival in fourth.
Paul Nicholls is also double-handed, sending out Ptit Zig (16/1) and Irish Saint (25/1). The four-year-old Ptit Zig comes into the race on the back of a Grade 1 win at Auteuil in November and has been given a mark of 151 by the handicapper. He will have to shoulder topweight.
The statistics suggest that both Ptit Zig and Rolling Star are up against it. No horse has succeeded in the past 25 years carrying more than 11 stone 9lb. Ptit Zig is the choice of stable jockey Daryl Jacob.
Irish Saint, another four-year-old, looks to be better treated but is presumably less fancied by the yard as he has Nick Scholfield on board. He posted three wins last season and came second by two lengths to Rolling Star in the Triumph Hurdle Trial at Cheltenham in January. He fell under Jacob at the last hurdle on his debut at Newbury in November and looked likely to pick up place money rather than win. At his current price he could be appealing each-way.
Gordon Elliot sent out last year’s Ladbroke 25/1 winner, JP McManus’ Cause of Causes and looks to have a very decent chance with Flaxen Flare (16/1). He was last seen finishing fourth by six lengths to David Pipe’s Dell’ Arca in the Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham in November. He was carrying nearly a stone more than the winner and was outpaced on the run-in on good ground. On Saturday he will be carrying just 5lb more than Dell’ Arca and will be hoping a more testing surface blunts the speed of his rivals.
A more popular Irish raider is Willie Mullins’ City Slicker (7/1). This five-year-old son of Kings Theatre won both his last two starts in two mile hurdle races at Punchestown. He was particularly impressive in his most recent run in mid November, easily quickening away from his rivals under Ruby Walsh. He received a 19lb hike in the ratings as a result.
This is his first run outside Ireland and he will certainly feel at home if he finds himself running through mud. Owned by JP McManus, he is the choice of champion jockey, AP McCoy.
McManus has two other less fancied runners, the Jonjo O’Neill trained Alavain (33/1) and Noel Fehily’s Vulcanite (33/1). Alavain looks the more interesting of the two.
This seven-year-old son of Kalanisi has been a class act in the past but finished with only one horse behind him in his first run for O’Neill at Wetherby earlier this month. He had been absent from the racetrack for two and a half years and was entitled to weaken in the closing stages. O’Neill has an impressive record in big handicaps. If Alavain has come on for that run, it would not be a surprise to see him put in a good performance.
Another trainer worth watching in this type of contest is the ultra-shrewd Brian Ellison. He is bullish about the chances of Totalize (8/1), a relatively unexposed four-year-old son of Authorized. Most recently he was a disappointing favourite, finishing sixth when running on the flat at Leopardstown at the beginning of November. Ellison put his performance down to the bad draw.
Unfortunately Ellison has been so vocal about his charge’s chances that his price has contracted from a much more appealing 25/1 and no longer looks to provide any value, even though he is likely to get his preferred testing conditions.
Another horse at the bottom of the handicap is rookie trainer Dan Skelton’s Willow’s Saviour (20/1). This six-year-old has improved dramatically since joining Skelton, who spent nine years as an assistant to Paul Nicholls. Willow’s Saviour has won both his starts this season, the most recent a handicap hurdle at Musselburgh in November when rated 121. He previously won very easily at Ascot over half a mile further than this two mile trip and that guaranteed stamina may serve him well in a race that could be run too fast for the gruelling conditions. He is off a 9lb higher mark here but could be progressive enough to defy the handicapper.
Ladbroke Hurdle Betting Tips Conclusion
The Ladbroke is usually a tough call for punters and this renewal is no exception. Henderson’s pair and City Slicker look to have strong claims but offer little value. Skelton’s Willow’s Saviour looks much more attractive and has to be our pick each-way, best priced at a current 20/1 with BetVictor, Stan James and Paddy Power.