Five horses to watch at Ascot's Long Walk Hurdle meeting

Paisley Park is bidding to regain the Stayers' Hurdle title that he won in 2019.
Paisley Park is bidding to regain the Stayers' Hurdle title that he won in 2019.

After highlighting several winners over the past few weeks in this column, Nick Seddon returns to look at the entries for this weekend’s action at Ascot, as the Long Walk Hurdle takes centre stage…

Fiddlerontheroof - Colin Tizzard (Ascot 15:05, Friday)

The novice chasing division is slowly beginning to take shape, and the feature on Friday's card at Ascot is the Grade 2 Noel Novices' Chase over two miles and three furlongs, which consists of an intriguing field of six. This race is generally won by a smart type, and the last horse to follow up at the Cheltenham Festival after winning this race was the 2012 winner, Simonsig, who went on to win the Arkle Trophy. 

There's a real mix of profiles on offer this time around, and with that in mind, it's really interesting to see last year's Betfair Hurdle winner Pic D'Orhy head the market at the time of writing - considering that he's yet to get his nose in front in two starts over fences. He has plenty of talent, though, and looked to be travelling best when falling at three out when alongside Chantry House at Ascot last month. There should be plenty more to come from him yet and he's feared, though he may find Fiddlerontheroof a little too streetwise on this occasion. Colin Tizzard's charge has made three starts to date, and although he's won just once so far, he's shown plenty of ability. He looked unlucky to bump into one when second behind the more-experienced Caribean Boy at this level at Newbury last time, and bearing in mind that the form he showed there looks strong, he's fancied to build on that by taking this. 

Noel Novices' Chase
Fiddlerontheroof silk

Fiddlerontheroof

placed
Cheltenham Festival Races

Caribean Boy - Nicky Henderson (Ascot 13:15, Saturday)

Speaking of Caribean Boy, Nicky Henderson's six-year-old launched himself into the Ryanair Chase picture when taking advantage of his extended novice status to strike at Newbury last month. He's lightly-raced for his age, making just three starts over the bigger obstacles to date, but he has plenty of talent, and has been pitched in to an intriguing graduation chase over two miles and five furlongs at Ascot on Saturday - one which has been won by the likes of Riders Onthe Storm (2019), Kildisart (2018) and Top Notch (2016) in recent years.

The latter two of that trio were owned by Simon Munir & Isaac Souede, and there's every chance Caribean Boy can add to that record at the weekend, though in Itchy Feet he will face a bona fide high-class rival. Both horses sit competitively in the Ryanair market at the time of writing, and it's interesting that Olly Murphy has opted to send his charge here, rather than in the Silver Cup that's later on the card, over three miles. On his best form, Itchy Feet would be the one to beat as a Grade 1-winning novice, though he's been held on both of his outings to date, finishing second behind Imperial Aura in last month's 1965 Chase. It generally takes a good horse to defeat Itchy Feet, though in Caribean Boy he's facing an upwardly mobile chaser, and although we're without the benefit of market clues at the moment, the instinct is to side with Munir and Souede's charge once again.

Ascot 13:15
Caribean Boy silk

Caribean Boy

lost

Thyme Hill - Philip Hobbs (Long Walk Hurdle, Saturday)

Having looked rather stale and predictable at the beginning of the year, there's suddenly a new lease of life in the staying hurdling division, and the new king of the ring Thyme Hill will be aiming to pick up a second straight success of the season, having looked so impressive when accounting for no other than the 2019 Stayers' Hurdle hero Paisley Park in last month's star studded Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury. A smart novice last season, the six-year-old has certainly returned an improved model this term, and while that was a borderline top-class performance, there's a lingering feeling that he still has something to prove in this hastily re-organised rematch at the top level.

Indeed, the lack of a strong pace that day certainly played into his hands tactically, and it was difficult not to notice a surging Paisley Park in the closing stages, who generally needs a really stern test of stamina to be seen to best effect. Paisley Park certainly proved that he retains all of his ability with that effort, and he should come on markedly for that run considering that he was found to be suffering from heart issues in the aftermath of the Festival. On his best form, Paisley Park is the horse that they all have to beat, and he's fancied to find the necessary improvement on his second start to take this - with race fitness now secured. It is by no means a two horse race, however, and Main Fact more than deserves his chance at this level after rather remarkably sealing his ninth straight success at Haydock last month. He'd likely need a clear career best for win purposes, though, while the admirable mare Roksana couldn't have been more impressive when striking at Grade 2 level in October. Last but not least, there's the small matter of the 2015 winner of this race, Thistlecrack, who hasn't been seen since November 2019, but couldn't be written off if rediscovering his form from a couple of years ago. 

Long Walk Hurdle
Paisley Park silk

Paisley Park

won
Cheltenham Festival Tips

Crixus's Escape - Gillian Boanas (Haydock 14:40, Saturday)

The action isn't limited to Ascot on Saturday, either, and Haydock's Tommy Whittle is generally won by a progressive staying chaser. Indeed, the likes of Lord Du Mesnil (2019), Captain Redbeard (2018) and Yala Enki (2016) have won this in recent years, and Crixus's Escape appeals as an improving chaser on an upward curve. A useful performer as a novice last term, Crixus's Escape rather needed his comeback run at Aintree in October, eventually being pulled-up, but he's lurking on a good mark, and took advantage of his position in the handicap when striking off 130 at Ayr last month.

He produced a polished display to beat some pretty established performers on just his fifth start over fences, looking suited by the test of stamina, and there ought to be more to come from him in this sphere just yet. Raised just 6 lb for that success, he's weighted to go well again here, and could offer plenty of value at around the 8/1 mark, a price which could be down to the fact that he's representing a smaller yard. It's difficult to imagine Crixus's Escape being this kind of price if he was representing the likes of Paul Nicholls or Nicky Henderson, and he can prove himself a smart stayer in the making. 

Tommy Whittle Handicap Chase
Crixus's Escape silk

Crixus's Escape

Fell

The Conditional - David Bridgwater (Ascot 15:00, Saturday)

Renamed as a good luck message for Hollie Doyle in this year's Sports Personalty of the Year Awards, Ascot's Silver Cup is a typical wide-open handicap chase for punters to get their teeth into. It seems fitting to start with last year's winner, Regal Encore, who took advantage of a competitive-looking mark when winning this 12 months ago. He's no spring chicken now as a 12-year-old, but showed he still has lots of huger for the game when winning the Sodexo Gold Cup over course and distance in October. He looks to be back in the handicapper's grip, though, and one horse who looks weighted to strike is The Conditional, who was a fine third in last month's Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury.

That performance came under a revised mark on the back of his Ultima success in March, and he certainly shaped well on the day, just looking unlucky to bump into two potential Graded performers in Cloth Cap and Aye Right. Dropped 1 lb for that here, he's a strong fancy to justify 3/1 favouritism and collect another healthy prize pot. This is a wide open affair, though, and plenty deserve consideration, including the Jonjo O'Neill-trained Quarenta, an improving type who was a course and distance winner in November. However, it could be worth taking a look at Flying Angel at a slightly bigger price each-way. He's by no means a horse to set your watch by, but there's no doubting that he has plenty of talent, winning a competitive-looking event in good style here in November 2019. He's back down to that winning mark now, and having shaped well to finish fourth in the Grand Sefton at Aintree earlier this month, he ought to go close again here.  

Silver Cup Handicap Chase
The Conditional silk

The Conditional

placed
Ascot Silver Cup
Flying Angel silk

Flying Angel (EW)

lost
Cheltenham Gold Cup
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