A superb Ascot card may feature the return of Constitution Hill and L’Homme Presse but it is the Jim Barry Wines Hurst Park Handicap Chase that is the most competitive.
The weights are headed by last season’s best speed novice chaser in Britain, Edwardstone, and it is great to see him lining up here trying to give weight away to lesser talented but still smart rivals. You don’t see that too often these days.
Good to soft, good in places, is the official description after a dry 24 hours to the start of the meeting on Friday. There had been 41mm in the week leading up to that.
The times on Friday appeared to match the description and no more rain is forecast, although if you are attending, you’ll need to know it is due to get colder on Saturday.
Last season’s Arkle Chase hero who was due to make his reappearance in the Shloer Chase at Cheltenham last week only for Alan King to rule him out because of the quick ground.
A smart hurdler, he improved into a high-class chaser last term, unbeaten when completing and then only finding Gentleman De Mee too good on his final start at Aintree. Eleven lengths behind him there, though, was Third Time Lucki for the third time that season – all on level terms – and he now has to give away 10lb to that rival.
The last time he tackled a handicap was over hurdles, also at Aintree, in April, 2021 when he was a creditable third off 149. Off a 12lb higher mark, he is not ruled out given the progress he has made but bear in mind that his trainer has been keen to stress that the Tingle Creek is the number one early season target.
Third Time Lucki
Three wins over fences last season in his novice campaign and also three times behind Edwardstone. The closest he got to him was just over four lengths at Warwick but the other margins were 16 lengths and 11 lengths.
Obviously with a 10lb pull this time, he is entitled to finish a bit closer. However, his reappearance in the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter was underwhelming (started favourite) when his jumping let him down and he was ultimately well beaten.
Needs a big turnaround.
Looked in great shape here at the opening meeting – both before and during the race – when he won comfortably, after being held up, at the chief expense of the reopposing Frero Banbou and Before Midnight, winning by four and three-quarter lengths and six and a half lengths.
Raised 7lb for that and could well have scope to improve. Note that although he bounced off the good ground last time he is also effective on a softer surface. Definitely one of the key players.
Last year’s winner (off 2lb lower) who shaped quite well in third place behind Thyme White three weeks ago and is now 8lb better off for a beating of just over 11 lengths with the winner.
That tells you he could at least get closer but is only 1lb better off with runner-up Frero Banbou. Note that he had done well early in that contest to avoid the falling Monsieur Le Coq at the second fence and the way he tired on the run-in suggested that the race was just needed.
Front-runner who drops back to the minimum trip for the first time in two years. Gained two wins in his second season over fences last term – on heavy and good ground – but the season ended disappointingly when pulled up on his final two appearances.
So, his reappearance win from the front at Market Rasen (2m 5f) was a welcome return to form and he is up 4lb for that. No doubt his forcing tactics will be needed here but he’ll have to go along that bit faster and might well be out of his comfort zone. His stable is in rich form.
Can sometimes get in a bit close to his fences (never fallen) but still posted a series of decent efforts last season, including third in the Grand Annual at Cheltenham.
Raced with plenty of zest here on his reappearance but, although keeping on very well, couldn’t match the finishing speed of Thyme White on the good ground and now has a chance to reverse that form with a 7lb pull for just under five lengths and on a surface that he should be more comfortable with.
He holds third Before Midnight on that run, too. Venetia Williams has made a quiet start but stable star L’Homme Presse might have struck already by the time this is run and this one is taken to make it a memorable day.
Likeable type who has only had two starts over fences and stepped up on his debut at Exeter in December, 2021, to outclass a small field at Newton Abbot last month for which he is now 8lb higher.
The runner-up has hacked up since. Looks a tough task against these seasoned smart performers for one so inexperienced.
Usually runs well here (first past the post twice, disqualified because of a prohibited substance the second time) and runner-up in this 12 months ago off 150.
Has now dropped to 10lb lower after some lacklustre efforts, including on his reappearance, when tailed off behind several of these here.
Dan Skelton now reaches for the blinkers to replace the usual cheekpieces in the hope it will inspire him once again but it needs a leap of faith to believe it will.
Irish raider who was looking very ordinary over hurdles until suddenly hitting some form in the summer (backed accordingly), easily winning his maiden hurdle at Kilbeggan before starting over fences and winning his first two at Tipperary and Carlisle, both at around two and a half miles.
Drops back in trip here on just his third chase start in much deeper waters but, given the raiding record of Emmet Mullins over the past couple of years, he is not comfortably dismissed.
Edwardstone is such a class act that he could well be up to defying top weight but Alan King may leave just a little to work on for the Tingle Creek. He ought to be involved, though.
On this easier surface and with a pull in the weights, Frero Banbou is taken to get his revenge over Thyme White on what may be a good day for Venetia Williams.