Somersby the pick over the Rainbow

SOMERSBY was beaten only a short head by Master Minded in last year’s Victor Chandler Chase at Ascot and looks the value alternative to Finian’s Rainbow in tomorrow’s 25th running of the race (3.45pm).

Henrietta Knight’s eight-year-old hasn’t found winning that easy and has only one success to his name in 11 runs since December 2009 – and that was a modest three-runner affair at Kempton. However, he is unquestionably top class and has only finished out of the frame on two of those 11 occasions, when fifth in last season’s Champion Chase and fourth last time in the King George. He travelled really well behind Kauto Star on Boxing Day before his stamina gave way late on and he returns to a more sensible trip tomorrow.

The ground at Ascot is said to be fairly testing which will play to Somersby’s strength as the 2m1f trip is arguably on the short side for him. Knight has been amongst the winners this week so, with her string in good form, I’m prepared to take an each-way punt at 13/2 with Coral.

Nicky Henderson’s Finian’s Rainbow heads the betting at 15/8 with Blue Square and he looks the one to beat. He’s only suffered defeat once in six starts over fences and that was when runner-up in the Arkle at last year’s Cheltenham Festival. He somehow still managed to win the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton on his seasonal reappearance, even though stumbling badly at the fourth last. He is unquestionably a hugely exciting prospect, but his jumping is a worry and there will be no hiding place tomorrow.

As for the rest, the novice Al Ferof has been well-backed, but may ultimately want further to be seen at his best. Regular readers of this column will know that we advised backing Wishfull Thinking for the Champion Chase at 25/1 before Christmas and that race is still very much the target. However, he looks sure to appreciate a stronger pace and better ground than he’ll get tomorrow. Hopefully he’ll put up a bold show which will prep him perfectly for Cheltenham in March.

Looking at the rest of Ascot’s card and it’s difficult to make any firm recommendations before the declarations are made this morning. That said, I’ll be keen to back Martin Keighley’s ALL FOR FREE if he takes his chance in the opener at 1.00pm. The step back up in trip will suit and he still looks ahead of the handicapper.

The ground at Haydock is sure to be awful and the one horse who relishes that is MARSH WARBLER in the Champion Hurdle Trial at 2.20pm. Now, I’m not saying he’ll beat Celestial Halo, but he’ll give it a pretty good go. The sponsors currently offer 7/2 about him with 1/4 odds the first two places and that looks a decent each-way bet to nothing. Smad Place seems sure to run at Ascot and the market will be win only on the day.

There are only 52 days to go until the start of the Cheltenham Festival and one race that has a fascinating ante-post look about it is the Jewson Novices’ Chase. The reason I say it’s fascinating is that four of the first five in the betting are almost certain non-runners. Peddlers Cross, Al Ferof and Cue Card all look Arkle bound, while there is more chance of me running in this than Grands Crus.

That only leaves Silviniaco Conti (who may bypass Cheltenham if not going down the RSA Chase route), Sir Des Champs (still RSA Chase bound) and Bog Warrior (who may not travel to Cheltenham after a heavy fall last time). Therefore, the horse that interests me is Nick Williams’ FOR NON STOP at 12/1, as this looks the ideal race for him.

Yes, there is a chance that connections may throw him in the deep end in the Arkle, but he was running on at the death having been outpaced behind Cue Card last time and this looks the most sensible engagement. He’ll have to brush up his jumping, but I expect him to be nearer half his current odds come the day.

You can follow me on Twitter @BillEsdaile.