SATURDAY brings some excellent and very competitive flat racing, the highlight being the Totesport Victoria Cup, won last year by the Irish raider Dandy Boy for trainer David Marnane.
The supporting card comes with class 1 and class 2 listed races, the Sir Michael Stoute trained VERDANT looking to put aside his poor seasonal reappearance by getting back on track in the John Doyle Buckhound stakes.
Verdant was touted as a possible Derby horse when winning a maiden over 10 furlongs as a two year old. He won a tough handicap on his first run as a three year old but then lost his way slightly in the middle of the season before two back to back handicap wins. He was a five length fifth of seven runners on his 2011 seasonal bow three weeks ago, tiring in the last two furlongs. That run should have put him spot on for this race. The obvious danger comes from the Roger Varian trained Alainmar, who was successful in a class two handicap and class two condition stakes last year and has his ideal ground.
The Totesport Victoria Cup is a race that is attractive to owners, and punters, with 29 runners competing for a first prize of £52,964. This tough handicap poses many questions, with few answers. Himalya, ridden by Ryan Moore could prove threat while trainers Richard Fahey and Dandy Nicholls are always dangerous in big handicaps, and usually have several runners each, most with chances.
On this occasion however, preference lies with the Michael Bell trained HORSERADISH, who was mightily impressive when returning from his winter break to win a 6f handicap at Doncaster. The gelding progressed nicely last year, winning a class two handicap over seven furlongs and jockey Hayley Turner has built a great relationship with the horse. He is clearly one on the upgrade, and one to keep an eye on for the time being.
GRANDOUET is a horse that I have followed all season and I will remain faithful to the Nicky Henderson gelding when he runs in the 4 year old hurdle at Punchestown. He has been progressive on all starts this season, eventually finishing third in the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham. He followed that up by a fantastic run in the four year old juvenile hurdle at Aintree, when seemingly all over eventual winner Zarkander before being brought down.
Kumbeshwar was second ahead of him at Aintree and Unaccompanied was second at Cheltenham, so he needs to overturn that form. That said, he is improving with every run and is the top rated horse in the race. I fully expect the Nicky Henderson and Barry Geraghty combination to end the festival on a high here.
Horseradish (3.25) Ascot (EW) NAP
Verdant (2.20) Ascot
Grandouet (4.25) Punchestown
The Yorkshireman – Jack Milner