WITH just days to go until Christmas, racegoers at Ascot on Saturday are being served up a real festive treat with a cracking renewal of the JLT Reve De Sivola Long Walk Hurdle (2.25pm).
Last year’s winner Unowhatimeanharry is as short as 13/8 with Coral to win again, but I’m prepared to take him on in what looks a better race than 12 months ago.
Harry Fry’s nine-year-old probably would have still won last year even if Ballyoptic had stayed on his feet at the last instead of crashing out, but he was being made to work very hard at the time.
After a workmanlike reappearance at Aintree, Unowhatimeanharry failed in his attempt to carry a 6lb penalty in the Ladbrokes Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury last time, which was a little disappointing.
He was beaten by the fast-improving Beer Goggles that day and it was a little concerning that he was unable to get past him in the closing stages.
There’s no getting away from the fact that he is the class hurdler in this field, it’s just that he doesn’t seem to be firing on all cylinders yet and for that reason I am prepared to take him on with Nicky Henderson’s L’AMI SERGE who can be backed at 9/2.
The more rain that falls between now and Saturday's race will only suit the seven-year-old, who had the speed to be beaten a neck by Arctic Fire in last year’s County Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
However, it was the combination of a switch to staying distances and soft ground that brought about even more improvement, with a brilliant victory in a gruelling 3m1f heavy ground Grade One at Auteuil in June.
The trip always threatened to be on the short side when returning to action in the Coral Hurdle here last month and in the end he ran well to finish a close second to Lil Rockerfeller.
He meets that rival on 6lbs better terms on Saturday over a more suitable trip on more favourable ground.
Sam Spinner and Thomas Campbell are two top class handicappers who are very much worth a try at this level, but both will have their work cut out to stop L’Ami Serge with ideal conditions.
Final declarations for the Lavazza Silver Cup (3.00pm) aren’t made until later this morning, but I will be looking out for Evan Williams’ ON TOUR towards the bottom of the weights.
The nine-year-old looked all about stamina when winning over half a mile shorter trip at Aintree on his reappearance in November, before crashing out when still travelling well at Newbury last month.
He races again off the same mark of 140, which didn’t seem to hold him back last time, and he looks the call at 10/1 with Ladbrokes.
Finally, the big betting race of the day is the Racing Welfare Handicap Hurdle (3.35pm).
Charli Parcs has long been the apple of his trainer’s eye and he travelled really well at Newbury on his seasonal reappearance.
The fact that connections had been touting him as a potential Supreme Novices’ Hurdle contender around 10 months ago suggests that he could make a mockery of his mark of 146.
However, he looks all about speed and all the rain that has fallen may blunt his biggest attribute.
Barry Geraghty looks to have chosen Willie Mullins’ Bleu Et Rouge instead, but that may be more to do with the fact that the last time he rode Charli Parcs he ended up in hospital and missed the Cheltenham Festival!
Greatwood Hurdle winner Elgin is obviously respected, but he won’t find things easy off top weight, while Verdana Blue and Silver Streak are both on the upgrade.
Instead, I’m going to throw a few quid each-way at Gordon Elliott’s VEINARD at a massive 25/1.
I’ve long thought he could land a valuable handicap hurdle like this and he travelled supremely well behind Davids Charm at Fairyhouse last time before finding little off the bridle.
His British handicap mark is higher than his Irish equivalent and the ground is a little softer than ideal.
However, at the prices I’m prepared to take a chance on him, particularly given the yard has won this prize twice in the past six years.
POINTERS - SATURDAY
L’Ami Serge 2.25pm Ascot
On Tour e/w 3.00pm
Ascot Veinard e/w 3.35pm Ascot