Jon Vine takes a look through the field to set to run in the 2019 Ladbrokes Trophy and highlights two horses to back in the feature race at Newbury on Saturday 30th November.
Despite only holding handicap status, the Ladbrokes Trophy – formerly known as the Hennessy Gold Cup – is one of the most important races during the first half of the National Hunt season. Ever since the great Mandarin triumphed in the inaugural running of the Ladbrokes Trophy back in 1957, the race has always attracted a stellar field, with legends like Burrough Hill Lad, Denman, Many Clouds and Arkle featuring on the illustrious roll of honour.
The Ladbrokes Trophy was often used as a stepping-stone towards the Gold Cup, back in the day when trainers weren’t afraid to lumber their superstars with top-weight in competitive handicaps. The only horse in this year’s field who might conceivably run in Cheltenham’s main event come March is Elegant Escape (14/1 Ladbrokes), and while I am a huge believer in this horse, he was beaten off a mark five pounds lower than this 12 months ago and I’d rather see him running in Graded races until the Grand National.
Ok Corral (7/1 Ladbrokes) has come in for plenty of support in recent weeks and Nicky Henderson’s charge now sits happily atop the betting. Henderson identified the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham as the objective for his nine-year-old early last season and Ok Corral carried a short-price into the four-miler, having cruised to impressive victories on his first two starts over fences.
Derek O’Connor, however, was forced to pull his mount up well before the end that day, having been hampered by fallers on a number of occasions. I, along with many punters it seems, am prepared to put a line through that run. Yet, at the age of nine, I’m not sure there’s much more left to come from Ok Corral and I don’t think he looks particularly well-handicapped with 11-3 on his back.
Cabaret Queen (10/1 Ladbrokes) sits prominently in the betting, having progressed beyond belief during the early stages of the new season. When in the care of Dan Skelton, this seven-year-old mare was beaten out of sight on all six of her outings last season, but a move to Willie Mullins’ yard has clearly rejuvenated Cabaret Queen, who finished second on her stable debut before bolting up to win the Munster National by 13 lengths.
Cabaret’s Queen’s transformation is very similar to that Total Recall experienced after linking up with Mullins in 2017. Rated just 130 when trained by Sandra Hughes, Total Recall hacked up in the Munster National on his first start for new connections, before holding off Whisper here at Newbury. The memory of Total Recall’s victory has forced bookmakers to push Cabaret Queen into an unfeasibly short price, and I’m not sure whether she has the class to replicate her stablemate’s victory when she returns to England next week.
At the end of last season, I identified Mister Malarky (14/1 Ladbrokes) as a good ante-post bet in the Ladbrokes Trophy, considering the results he secured as a novice and Colin Tizzard’s excellent record in this handicap. My interest in this year’s Reynoldstown Chase winner has cooled after a, quite frankly, terrible jumping display on his reappearance at Ascot and he offers little value at his current price.
Tizzard’s best hope of retaining the trophy could lie with West Approach (14/1 Ladbrokes), who will be four-pounds well-in after his impressive triumph at Cheltenham’s November Meeting. Robbie Power gave Tizzard’s nine-year-old a masterful ride that day, pouncing after the last to end his long winless streak. West Approach could back that victory up with another on his return to Newbury, but given the inconsistency which has dogged his career, I’m inclined to swerve last-year’s fifth.
Simon Munir and Isaac Suoede could play a strong hand here, with Kildisart (14/1 Ladbrokes) the highest-placed of their two entrants. Ben Pauling’s chaser has made it onto my list of tracker horses this year and I’m sure there’s more to come from him over fences. His only previous start over this sort of trip ended in a sparkling victory over Mister Malarky at Aintree and he’s won on his second start after a break on three occasions. Whether he’s especially well-handicapped carrying 11-7 is a different story.
Borice (16/1 Ladbrokes) could also carry the two-tone green silks into battle at Newbury, having secured a hat-trick of victories with an impressive triumph over Black Corton in the Galway Plate. The handicapper has taken a swipe at Gordon Elliott’s eight-year-old following that victory, throwing him up the handicap by eleven-pounds. While Borice still holds some appeal, I’m not particularly included to back him at 16/1.
Spiritofthegames (16/1 Ladbrokes) could have his first start over two-and-a-half miles at Newbury, but Dan Skelton’s charge will have to recover quickly, having been pulled up two from home after a limp display in the BetVictor Gold Cup. Talkischeap (16/1 Ladbrokes) also has to bounce back from a poor reappearance, having been beaten by 30-lengths behind Santini and Now McGinty at Sandown and the bet365 Gold Cup winner looks to have more than enough weight on his back.
We’ve now, finally reached the first horse I’m going to back in this year’s Ladbrokes Trophy, that being DE RASHER COUNTER (Was 16/1 now 10/1 Ladbrokes).
Emma Lavelle’s charge was always going to be a chaser, but took a few starts to warm to the larger obstacles last season. On his third attempt, De Rasher Counter held off Walt – who scored in a Grade Three on his next outing – to secure his first chasing victory here at Newbury. Lavelle’s seven-year-old then followed Now McGinty home at Chepstow, giving six-pounds to his rival at the weights, before rounding off his novice campaign with an excellent triumph under top-weight at Uttoxeter.
De Rasher Counter warmed up for Newbury with an outing over hurdles at Uttoxeter and ran nicely enough, crossing the line a well-beaten sixth. This powerful young gelding will relish a return to chasing, he loves a bit of juice in the ground and boasts winning form here at Newbury. I’m confident De Rasher Counter can progress beyond his current rating of 149 and looks well-treated with just 11-1 on his back.
For my second selection, I’m going to look even further down the market and there are a couple of runners who could prove themselves to be overpriced.
Joe Farrell (25/1 Ladbrokes) looked back to something like his best when narrowly losing out on his reappearance and last year’s winner, Sizing Tennessee proved that the age of ten is no barrier to success in the Ladbrokes Trophy. Yala Enki (25/1 Ladbrokes) is a horse I fancied in last year’s Grand National, but sadly he didn’t run. He’s made the move from Venetia Williams’ stable to Paul Nicholls’ yard during the off-season and I firmly believe there’s a big handicap victory within this classy horse.
The one I’m drawn to most, however, is one of my selections from last season, DINGO DOLLAR (Was 33/1 now 16/1 Ladbrokes). Alan King’s charge managed to finish third in this race 12 months ago and returns to Newbury a year older, a year wiser and two-pounds lower in the handicap.
Following that fine placed effort at Newbury, Dingo Dollar laboured to a sixth-place finish in the Listed Handicap at Doncaster, before being beaten into second by Chidswell in the Grimthorpe Chase at the same venue. Good ground then forced Dingo Dollar out of the Scottish National – which had been his seasonal objective – and King will regret running his seven-year-old on similar ground at Cheltenham in April, where the favourite was pulled up well before the end.
Like last season, Dingo Dollar made his reappearance over hurdles and ran a cracking race, placing third behind the exceptionally well-handicapped Diablo De Rouhet. King’s charge ran nicely enough to finish third in this race 12 months ago and there’s nothing to say he can’t match, or even improve upon that result when he returns for a second crack at the Ladbrokes Trophy.