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Ascot Friday – Previews And Selections Through The Card

Top Tips for the First Day of the Long Walk Meeting

The Grade 1 Long Walk Hurdle is the final pre-Christmas highlight, but Friday’s meeting at Ascot also contains some exciting names. We’ve previewed all six races before the weekend below.

Shantou Master (12:35 Howden Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle, Ascot)

This is a great starting point for Friday’s meeting with many potential improvers on their current marks.

Optimise Prime and Bard Of Brittany were tempting options at big prices, but Gary Moore’s SHANTOU MASTER appeals the most towards the bottom of the handicap despite the weights being condensed.

A mark of 117 has been awarded after just two novice hurdle starts in 2020. The gap in between races, now 461 days, is not seen as a worry given he was able to win on debut after a 275-day break. 

That was despite him showing little in four point-to-points prior to his rules debut, but his novice form was very solid before his absence and he can step forward on his comeback.

City Chief (1:10 Howden Maiden Hurdle, Ascot)

The connections of CITY CHIEF immediately suggest he is a horse worth keeping an eye on.

Trained by Nicky Henderson and owned by the Donnellys, his famous yellow-and-black chequered colours ensure he runs for the same people as Shishkin.

Adding to that, he was a cosy winner of his only point-to-point start, ensuring he was bought for a healthy £210,000 at the Tattersalls Cheltenham May sales. His price tag and his connections may precede him, but other exciting newcomers from this yard have proven to be particularly useful.

With his opposition likely to be beatable at this level for a horse with aspirations, it is a surprise he is not the outright favourite in some places.

Thyme White (1:45 Howden Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase, Ascot)

A few from the Ditcheat yard have come on for their first runs of the season and THYME WHITE could be another of those to improve.

Still only a five-year-old and on his first run after wind surgery, he chased home the re-opposing Amarillo Sky on his chase debut at Wincanton, running on gamely at the finish. It suggested he may well improve on his hurdles form over fences in the near future.

He has a 3lb swing with the winner here, which should be enough to reverse their fortunes and though there are others on recent victories worth noting, Thyme White looks too generous a price to ignore at a time of year in which his trainer excels.

Jonbon (2:20 Howden Kennel Gate Novices’ Hurdle, Ascot)

Where so many siblings have fallen short in the past, Douvan’s brother looks like he may well follow in the same exalted footsteps.

JONBON has won a point-to-point, bumper and now a novice hurdle without being seriously asked a question, that despite taking on some decent opposition in the last of those most recently. It was a performance high in quality in a strangely run race which demonstrated he has the temperament, as well as possibly the quality, to reach the very top.

Time will tell, of course, and he has to back it up against what must be one of the highest quality fields this event has seen. However, with four wins in the last decade, Nicky Henderson has a good record with well-touted individuals and Jonbon can win again.

Faivoir (2:55 Howden Noel Novices’ Chase, Ascot)

Many eyes will be on Pic D’Orhy, who was probably on his way to winning the Berkshire Novices’ Chase at Newbury last time.

That form was not boosted by the eventual winner recently, but Pic D’Orhy was clear when falling and may have won with any amount in hand.

Of course he could equally have faded and it is also difficult to trust a horse who now has more than a history of jumping issues. Instead, FAIVOIR looks more reliable.

He won over course and distance in a match race last time, but his strike rate of nine career wins from 14 starts under rules is very strong and he’s a very solid opponent whose jumping is much more assured as well.

Top Dog (3:30 Lexicon Recruitment Championship Open National Hunt Flat Race, Ascot)

There are two big standouts in the finale and though keeping it simple with Henri The Second is tempting after he won so impressively on his bumper debut, the form of that race is working out very poorly.

Conversely, TOP DOG was second at Cheltenham on his first start for Emma Lavelle in a race won by a future Listed winner. The form has also been franked by the fourth running well on two occasions since.

As such, these look like shallower waters and as long as he is as happy going right-handed, he looks the likeliest to win here.