By Tom Lee

Tom Lee: Magic to Light up Ascot, as Alcazar catches the eye for Cheltenham

By Tom Lee
Former Grand National runner-up Magic Of Light (left) will run at Ascot on Saturday.
Former Grand National runner-up Magic Of Light (left) will run at Ascot on Saturday.

Our resident columnist Tom Lee looks ahead to the weekend action and turns his attentions to Saturday's Classic Chase, which could provide some vital Grand National pointers, while he picks out an eye-catching Willie Mullins-trained runner...

Mulling It Over

So farewell, at least for now, jockey David Mullins. The son of trainer Tom and nephew of champion Willie, the young rider departs the weighing room after a spell in the saddle which has marked him down as one not just the bravest, but also the best. 

A Grade 1 and Grand National-winning pilot, his achievement in landing the 2016 Aintree showpiece when aged just 19 aboard 33/1 shot Rule The World for Mouse Morris means his name will forever be etched in race-riding folklore, but have we actually seen the end of him in the saddle?

Certainly not an individual lacking in style, intelligence, charisma or confidence, he chooses to hang up his boots aged just 24.

An unusual move for one so gifted perhaps, albeit he's been open in voicing his enthusiasm for an immediate graduation into the bloodstock world, a field which you'd imagine he's situated to make a big impact buying and selling young horses. What's more, standing around the sales ring doesn't involve being pursued by an ambulance every 35 minutes or so, and in his case may very well prove to be considerably more lucrative.

Tellingly, Mullins took a horror fall at Thurles back in the winter of 2019, one it was feared at the time would be an immediate career ender. That he has shrugged that off and bounced back is to his eternal credit, but 14 months on he feels the time has come.

But will the intensity, adrenaline and sheer competitive urge be so easy to forever file away in the 'been there, done that' compartment? 

Recent precedent reminds us that talents such as Mikey Fogarty and Ryan Mania have been steadfast in their commitment to kissing professional riding goodbye, only to get the itch when watching from the sofa, ultimately to return a far superior performer in the case of Mania.

David Mullins has much to offer and is only a youngster. Time is on his side, but will be able to watch his former colleagues have all the fun? 

After all, few things make better headlines than a sporting comeback.

Upping The Ante

Considered for a switch to fences prior to this season, the Fergal O'Brien-trained Imperial Alcazar made light work of what, on paper at least, looked a fiendishly tricky Pertemps Qualifier at Warwick last Saturday, in the process rubber stamping the decision to keep him over the smaller obstacles for season 2020/21. Held up early by Paddy Brennan, he worked his way into it and surged clear after two out, running out a cosy two and a quarter length victor. On that evidence, quotes ranging between 11/1 and 16/1 for the Cheltenham Festival event of the same name look more than fair. 

On the same Warwick Classic Chase day card, another winner for the notebook arrived in the shape of the hardy Adrimel, who despite giving weight to all comers saw off a battalion of challengers to land the Grade 2 Ballymore Leamington Novices' Hurdle. Trainer Tom Lacey has been vocal in his admiration for this exciting six year old, with the gelding now a perfect three from three over hurdles, plus five from six under rules. His only defeat so far came in March's Champion Bumper at the Festival, but it won't be a surprise to see him head back there in around 60 days' time, with prices varying from 20/1 to 33/1 for the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle.

Cheltenham Festival Races

Flagged up as a worthy favourite in this column seven days ago, Alan King's Notachance duly gave his trainer a third win in Warwick's feature Classic Chase last Saturday afternoon, repelling the challenge of the grey Achille to land the spoils by half a length. His trainer was quick to mention April's Scottish Grand National as a potential end of season target, so keep him in the back of your mind for when springtime is upon us. King has happy memories of the Ayr showpiece, landing the prize in 2013 courtesy of Godsmejudge.

Could It Be Magic - Again?!

If consistency is your thing and you enjoy a flutter, who can ignore the claims of the Jessica Harrington-trained Magic Of Light in Saturday's Grade 2 Mares' Hurdle at Ascot (1.15pm)?

Already the winner of £429,000 in win and place prize money, this versatile 10-year-old daughter of Flemensfirth seemingly adores her trips across the pond from her trainer's County Kildare base, posting lifetime form figures of 11272111 at English tracks, including a wonderful 66/1 second to Tiger Roll in the 2019 Grand National. 

Unbeaten at Ascot with victories in this race in both 2019 and 2020, the mare is partnered for the first time by Jonjo O'Neill Jr as she goes for the hat-trick. Despite winning this contest on ground termed officially Heavy 12 months ago, her trainer has suggested very deep going does not suit, so the early race time means they won't be racing on a chewed-up surface.

She'll have to be sharp though, coming up against the higher rated and year younger Roksana, a classy performer who has run extremely well against the boys in two outings this season.

However, Mrs Harrington isn't in the habit of sending them across the water just for a day out, and with her proven liking for this track, the battle hardened Magic Of Light looks primed to give her a serious workout. 

Roksana is likely to be odds on, whereas Magic Of Light should be on offer somewhere in the region of 11/4 or 3/1.

Cheltenham Festival
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