Now that we are comfortably into 2017, attention amongst the racing community is slowly beginning to turn to Cheltenham. Many of the key Group 1 and 2 races coming up in the next few weeks have a certain Festival theme to them, in the sense that they can be considered looseners and sighters ahead of specific renewals at horse racing’s premier meeting.
One such race is Saturday’s Clarence House Chase, which has typically been an excellent precursor to Cheltenham’s Champion Chase. As such, a typically stellar field will alight on Ascot for the Group 1 trial, and the good news for punters is that we have just about enough ammunition to take on the favourite.
Opposing Un De Sceaux
The odds-on bookmakers favourite is also the defending champion here, and you might think that that would make Un De Sceaux an automatic pick for your betslip.
But there have been question marks about the nine-year-old. A pair of high-profile losses to the admittedly outstanding Sprinter Sacre at the tailend of last season caught the eye, and while he went well to land the Tingle Creek in 2016 the manner of his displays have not been all-conquering.
Un De Sceaux has also twice fallen in races where he is the odds-on favourite in the past, and has shown failings on softer ground, and as such there is just enough vulnerability to suggest that a general quote of 8/11 is simply too short.
Gary Moore is Mad For It
We’ll never know how good Ar Mad could have been had he not suffered the injury that kept him sidelined for the best part of a year, but his performance in the Tingle Creek suggested he is a horse for the big occasion.
Okay, so he faded from the front to finish fourth, but lest we forget that was his first run in more than ten months. He was just three lengths behind the winner, and will surely improve with more time on the course.
Trainer Gary Moore certainly thinks so, and he has spoken openly about the good work the seven-year-old has been doing out on the gallops. Moore has lost his other frontrunner here, Sire De Grugy, and so will be focusing all of his attention on Ar Mad.
He has enjoyed some excellent victories in the past, including a Group 1 at Sandown and a Group 2 at Kempton that featured a decent field including Vaniteux, and so we have no doubts about his credentials. Even in this small five-horse field, we have to take on the favourite, and Ar Mad fits the bill.
Stellar Card to Enjoy
The Clarence House Chase is just one renewal fo a seven-race card that offers plenty of potential for punters. In the OLBG.com Mares Hurdle, 11/8 favourite Kotkikova will be given a hard time by Whiteout, but the six-year-old won half-a-dozen outings on the spin prior to a step up in class for the Christmas Hurdle, and in a low-class field at Ascot on Saturday she should go rather better.
The bet365 Handicap Chase is an intriguing renewal that has not produced a favourite winner in eight years, and that adds further fuel to the claim that Catamaran Du Seuil (8/1) could well be the pick here.
With plenty of jumping experience in France, the five-year-old triumphed at Wincanton last time out and by some five lengths too. The nature of that victory was so eye-catching that he is in to second favourite already, and while he represents something of a gamble at the price – and with three places paid – this could be the price that Catamaran Du Seuil sets off at for quite some time.