ALL eyes on Ascot this weekend as the Lavazza Jolie Silver Cup takes centre stage. Although this race is very much a starter for the main courses to come over Christmas, the Listed contest over 3 miles will be no less fiercely contested than many of the big contests this festive period.
Where to start then?
Punters on Saturday face a familiar poser at the head of the market as the talented, but ultimately disappointing, SAPHIR DU RHEU heads into battle once again. A horse who, one year ago, was doing handstands off a mark of 163 and went into the 2015 Hennessy Gold Cup as the one to beat. Since then the wheels have fallen off and his latest appearance – in this year’s Hennessy – saw him come to grief before the race had even started to unfold in earnest. And all that off a mark 10lbs lower than last year. In short, he’s a horse with it all to prove and quite why he occupies the top of the market is a mystery to this particular observer.
The gamble of the week has surrounded GO CONQUER for the Jonjo O’Neil team and, as with many O’Neil gambles, it’s not difficult to see the logic behind the cash. This rapidly improving 7-y-o hosed up at Wincanton in the Spring and proved it was no fluke with a rock solid return at Ascot last month when raised 10lbs. He only just failed to reel in Present Man that day (who re-opposes here) and improvement would look to be on the cards. A rise of 4lbs for that run does, on the face of it, look lenient and it’s easy to see why the money has come this week. Conversely, this is by far the stiffest task he has faced to date and if he’s going to live up to his name, improvement will indeed be required.
My idea of the winner
And a pretty strong bet at that – comes in the shape of EDUARD for Nicky Richards. An incredible stat is that he’s never finished out of the first 4 in his 15 career runs and, although he’s had his fitness problems, he is evidently a talented sort. He ran a very big race in the 2015 Ryanair at Cheltenham and then wasn’t spotted again until the Grade 2 Stella Artois Chase at this venue last month. He just ran out of steam in the closing stages that day (completely understandable) and must surely come on for that here. He’s been dropped 4lbs and also drops in grade here – all of which is ticking the boxes for a huge run in the offing. The market is slowly starting to react to his chances, but even the 10/1 still available strikes me as tremendous value and he looks to be rock solid each way material.
Threats from within the pack are not going to be in huge supply as the handicapper has most, if not all, within his sights. One to keep on the right side of for sure is LE MERCUREY for Paul Nicholls, because this is a horse with a big pot in him. He thrashed Bristol De Mai in a Grade 2 up at Ayr in the Spring and his latest run was pretty eyecatching behind the very impressive Many Clouds. Concerns will always surround him, though, that he tends to find one too good in these big field handicaps and that may just be the case again. But at 16/1 there are certainly far worse bets to be had for those wanting a small each way interest.
PRESENT MAN, who just held off the thrust of Go Conquer last time out, also has to enter calculations as he went on to frank the form in the Grade 2 Novices Chase at Doncaster on Saturday. If he were to line up here he would be the form horse for sure, while the likes of VYTA DU ROC will always have his fans as he’s a classy jumper and has the ability to get into this from a long way out. But for me, there’s only one clear pick and the money is down.
Stake: 1pt each way @ 13/2 (various)