On Saturday Ascot hosts one of the first big betting handicap races of the National Hunt season, the three-mile Sodexho Gold Cup.
This is a tough handicap and as such, what is more important than running style this time around is having weight in hand. In these six, we have a shortlist of horses who are all potentially well-in, at least in theory, and can all have their say at off-time.
Chris Gordon’s seven-year-old has been favourite in places for this race in the build-up to the weekend, and that may well be due to the nine-length beating he gave on Boxing Day to subsequent Cheltenham Festival Stable Plate winner Simply The Betts.
That horse was tipped up by us here and so we know how good he is, however we’re not so sure we can take the Kempton race and the winning distance at face value.
Taken literally, that form makes this horse very well in however we reckon he’s better judged on his other three chase performances which makes him a contender, but no outright favourite.
An interesting and lightly-raced seven-year-old of Jonjo O’Neill’s, one who is already a much better chaser than he was a hurdler.
So much of his profile in fact marks him out as a real improver so we should expect a lot better than what we’ve seen so far, with any serious uptick in his form from a comfortable three-mile win at Newbury in January clearly putting him right in there with a chance.
Nigel Twiston-Davies’ gelding has been around the block a couple of times, but that’s not to see he can’t still be a little bit ahead of the assessors given that he’s dropped now to a handicap mark of 142.
As a nine-year-old he still has something to give and last November won a decent 2m5f race easily at Ascot, so he has enough in his locker to be competitive once again.
Another Twiston-Davies runner, this time a former Willie Mullins horse whose form arguably peaked last season after arriving in England, albeit fleetingly.
While we can’t absolutely pin our hopes on him running to his best, his best performance last campaign was over this course and distance in January and so it remains possible that he is good enough to challenge for at least a place here.
Nicky Henderson’s horse has been fascinating ever since he set foot in England from France two years ago, however for many he’s been fascinatingly disappointing.
His very first run for this yard was clearly his best, an easy eight-length demolition of a good field here in the Garrard Silver Cup that earned him a rating of 160 (now 150) but that was as good as it got.
It’s possible he can go well and off this mark he doesn’t need to be as good as he was two years back, however when a horse is regressing to any degree its hard to back their winning chances with cash rather than opinion.
Henry Daly’s Whatmore is the most interesting contender of the bunch for us. An eight-year-old with 21 rules races under his belt but only six chases across a year-and-a-half, he has the requisite experience for a race like this and yet clearly retains plenty of potential for improvement.
In his fourth-placed finishes in high-quality races at Kempton and Cheltenham he reached basically the same level. But, the three miles he wanted at Kempton wasn’t tackled over a demanding enough track, while Cheltenham may have been too demanding and over a trip short of his best.
The three miles at Ascot looks perfect for him now and he has to be considered the one to beat in our book on all known evidence.
For different reasons both Django Django and Townshend are of interest and both are available at very backable each-way prices overnight. They do have their quirks in the context of this race though and neither could be back with real confidence.
There is so much to like about WHATMORE however that we’re not going to pass up the chance to back him, hopefully at competitive odds.
Physically he carries a low weight which is handy in the conditions, he seems potentially the best handicapped horse in the race, the track and trip seem like a perfect combo for him and his trainer’s horses are going along very nicely at present which means the yard is in good fettle.