Alex Hammond’s blog including the Fighting Fifth Hurdle and Rehearsal Chase

The Sky Sports Racing presenter looks back at the unfortunate events at Ascot last weekend and ahead of some highlights at Newcastle on Saturday.

Last week I was talking about the conditions for fall and how we should all embrace the end of summer. Well, that didn’t age well, did it?

As a result, you may have to forgive me if I repeat myself sometimes this week. Ascott organized her November meeting this past weekend, and while it was November in name, it wasn’t so in nature. This resulted in Constitution Hill, Llum Brace and Edwardston withdrawing from their respective races and the race-goers feeling very hard.

I know this because many have come to me to say so. Before we throw stones at those responsible for the conditions at Ascot, let us only consider the problems they faced. We’ve had the driest summer in decades, and water levels have dropped dangerously low. The climate is changing at an alarmingly rapid rate, and despite more than 41 millimeters of rain per week, and the watering occurring on Friday evening, the land dried out and was too fast for the aforementioned trio.

This was a situation where there was no one to blame but Mother Nature herself. I have great sympathy for the Racecourse Officials, Coaches, Owners and Racegoers, all of us denied the opportunity to see these fine racehorses in action for excellent prize money.

Could that change this weekend?

It can happen, but I don’t want to make any promises given the dry outlook again. Having said that Constitution Hill has a Saturday option Betfair fight the fifth hurdle At Newcastle and L’Homme Presse the trip can also be made to the North East to run at Betfair Exchange Handicap Chase Rehearsal. We’ll likely have to wait until the beginning of next month to see Edwardston, which now has Tingle Creek as its seasonal springboard.

Nicky Henderson has come under a lot of criticism in the past for sidetracking races with his superstar stable. I don’t blame him for passing Ascot last weekend as the prevailing conditions simply weren’t right for last year’s leading rookie and others according to those who know them best.

However, it wasn’t as unsafe as some have suggested, and I am critical of Henderson’s choice of language in the wake of the major withdrawal. To say that his horse would have returned from Ascot “wounded” is both dangerous and inflammatory, and the conversation would have been better worded.

However, for someone who uses words on a daily basis to try to inform and communicate, it’s not always easy to choose the most appropriate in the heat of the moment, so perhaps that explains why he resorts to using teaser comments in a face-to-face interview.

My opinions don’t make me a freak, in fact if you’re a regular reader of racing blogs and a podcast viewer, those opinions are widely spread. So, I’m not telling you something you may not have heard already, but I feel strong enough about the future of our sport to make my voice heard among others.

Let’s move on from that and talk about the next race. If Constitution Hill makes the trek north, he’ll have to face fellow stablemate and Fight V winner Epatant.

There is no way Nikki Henderson could have chosen this scenario given the choice and this is definitely Plan B. There are options for Plan C and maybe D too, but I hope he goes to Newcastle. It’s a nightmare for a trainer to turn two horses from the same stable against each other in this scenario because you have two sets of owners to keep happy, and unless there is a dead heat (as there was in this race last year) one set of owners will likely be less happy than others.

Speaking of deadly heat from 12 months ago, Not So Sleepy and Epatante are inseparable on the line and the duo faces off once again. The first is a mysterious spirit and at the age of ten he enters his old years. That said, he has a lot of talent if he chooses to use it and provided he doesn’t cause the same problems he did in the 2020 race of this competition when he knocked his rider down on the first flight of the barriers and proceeded to carry the Silver Streak out of the race on the second flight, all will be well.

Pied Piper made a perfect start to his second season after winning the Masterson Holdings Hurdle at Cheltenham before adding Grade 2 Down Royal to his record. The feeling after his recent success has been one of waiting until Christmas, so it remains to be seen whether Gordon Elliott chooses to run here.

Oscar Tomei has been running over the fences, and Arkle has been his main target this season. His trainer Anne Hamilton is not opposed to returning to the hurdles for this even though she only trains 20 miles of the road and there is decent prize money for all Saturday winners given the size of the field. The only other horse left in the field is the outsider Voix Du Reve and he has a lot to do to annoy the champions.

Let’s be honest, if the Constitution came out it would be hard to beat, but I wouldn’t count that chicken till it hatched.

You said last week that we’re getting close to “gun time.” Well, since then the gates have opened (in her yard if not in tow), and there’s been a steady stream of winners.

In fact, at the time of writing four of her last seven runners have won and I predict that by the time you read this there will be many more. Again, it’s totally understandable that Venetia doesn’t want to run busy man in Ascot.

As touched upon last week, this is a horse who has spent a great deal of time on the sidelines with a tendon injury and like Constitution Hill, the good ground just wasn’t for him to run on. If he ran at Newcastle he’d have an over-12 weight to carry, which is no mean feat.

Hey Big Spender was the last horse to carry major weight to win when he ran 11.12 in 2014. Junior also achieved it in 2012 with the same load. Neither horse won under the rules after that, but L’Homme Presse is quite a different kettle of fish as a young and progressive chaser with bigger fish to fry before the season ends.

Another horse on the rise is the second favourite in overdrive who has won five of his ten matches, including his last four. The last of these came in Third Class Company at Wetherby and by his working Saturday weight he might be a threat to the favourite.

Nicky Henderson loves Chantry House and says he’s a stronger, bigger horse this season at the age of eight. He could end up at the Grand National in the spring, and he has some options for his seasonal return, so it remains to be seen if he is in Newcastle. Sky Bet had L’Homme Presse as the 3/1 favorite and Into Overdrive the 9/2 next favourite.

Newbury also hosts its biggest jump game of the season on Saturday under the new name Golden Coral Chase Handicap Cup Afternoon big race.

Clearances haven’t been released at this stage, so we still don’t know the final line-up, but Joseph O’Brien shot 8/1 Busselton is one to consider. It will handle most conditions and decent ground will not be a concern. It is powerful, versatile and consistent. Coached by Paul Nichols Three androtrophy He had a good set-up to overcome obstacles when he reappeared and is another guy who doesn’t mind the ground. It’s 7/1 with Sky Bet.

Who wouldn’t love a speculative bet on an expensive outsider? Well, that’s probably speculative as I’ve had horses follow them up a cliff in the past, but I’ve always liked Lt. Rocco And at 33/1 with Sky Bet, I couldn’t resist taking the risk that he might get back to his form at Sir Peter O’Sullivan Memorial Chase for the Disabled in Newbury.

This will be his second start after the wind operation and that’s a statistic that I like. He has changed stables six times and is still only seven times but I feel there is a lot of ability in this horse and I hope he can finally find some consistency.


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