Bill Esdaile offers his best bets this weekend at Ascot and over the festive season
THE LADBROKE (3.30pm), with a total prize fund of £150,000, is one of the richest handicap hurdles of the season and tomorrow’s race at Ascot promises to be fascinating.
The ground will be soft, which has resulted in the absence of ante-post favourite Sign Of A Victory and seen a monumental gamble on Harry Fry’s Activial.
There is no doubt that the four-year-old is potentially very leniently treated off a mark of 137, but he disappointed at Aintree on his final start last term and he is making his seasonal reappearance here and therefore the 4/1 looks just a little too short.
At the prices I prefer the claims of SHELFORD, trained by another former Paul Nicholls employee, Dan Skelton.
The young trainer hit the big time 12 months ago when his Willow’s Saviour won this race comprehensively. Shelford is two from two this campaign, with both victories coming at Chepstow, and the form of his Silver Trophy win was boosted when Aubusson won the Fixed Brush Hurdle at Haydock.
Dropping back to two miles is a slight worry, but stamina is going to be key on this ground and, as he’s ridden from the front, I can see Harry Skelton running the finish out of some of the speedier types. He was bigger earlier in the week, but 6/1 with Star Sports is still a fair price.
I can also see Venetia Williams’s BARADARI going well at 20/1 and he is worth a saver.
The four-year-old looked good on his reappearance third behind Sign Of A Victory here and he won last season on heavy ground, so conditions will hold no fears.
A small but select field has assembled for this afternoon’s Mitie Novices’ Chase (2.30pm) at the Berkshire track and I’m going to take JOSSES HILL to defy his lack of chasing experience and beat the likes of Ptit Zig and Dunraven Storm.
This was the race Nicky Henderson used to launch Simonsig’s chasing career two years ago and you get the impression that Josses Hill could be another serious Seven Barrows Racing Post Arkle contender.
The 8/1 for Cheltenham glory is worth taking.
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At this stage the one I like in the William Hill King George at Kempton is DYNASTE at 10/1. There isn’t much between the top staying chasers and he looks overpriced.
Have a great Christmas and wishing you all lots of winners in 2015.