The Ladbrokes Winter Carnival starts with a quality card on Friday and Matt Brocklebank has three big-priced selections, including a couple of likeable veterans.
Recommended bets, Friday November 27
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The Ladbrokes Winter Carnival never fails to deliver when it comes to unearthing future stars, as well as showcasing some of the best jumpers around in Britain.
With Epatante and Champ among those successful at last year’s meeting, expectations will inevitably be high as Nicky Henderson sends out a typically strong day-one team featuring Flinteur Sacre, Caribean Boy and Bothwell Bridge.
He could easily have winners elsewhere on the card too, with Elusive Belle fancied to go well in the novices’ handicap chase, but one race the Seven Barrows master won’t be winning is the Grade 2 Ladbrokes Long Distance Hurdle.
Henderson has taken top spot on three occasions before but isn’t represented this time and instead the focus appears to be on 2019 winner Paisley Park versus rising star McFabulous.
It could be really dangerous to trivialise such a contest, however, as while plenty of market leaders have obliged here over the years, this race has also thrown up the odd strange winner including Beer Goggles who caused a 40/1 upset three years ago.
It’s tempting to have a dart at the race with Paisley Park on a recovery mission following his 4/6 flop in the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham and McFabulous – still technically a novice until the end of the month – lacking experience in this kind of company, as well as three-mile form of any description.
He was seriously impressive in winning the Persian War at Chepstow last month but did look to be tuned up for the comeback and is no guarantee to suddenly find another 8-10lb of improvement.
The conditions of the race favour those without a recent win at Graded or Listed level and AUX PTITS SOINS could be worth chancing at a big price following a long layoff.
Now a 10-year-old – Unowhatimeanharry won this at the same age two years ago – he was in the form of his life when last seen in the spring of 2019, hacking up off a mark of 149 in an Aintree handicap over the extended three miles, before a slightly unfortunate fifth in the Grade 1 Champion Stayers Hurdle at the Punchestown Festival when not getting a clear run heading to the last, where he was slightly hampered as Not Many Left crashed out.
Aux Ptits Soins wasn’t unlucky not to win that day, but it proved the previous effort to be no fluke and if he returns in the same kind of form he should be a player getting 6lb from the top three and 3lb from Thyme Hill and McFabulous.
Good ground and a flat, left-handed track play to the grey’s strengths, while few can match the in-form Dan Skelton when it comes to getting a horse ready after a prolonged period on the sidelines - he's 16-61, a healthy strike-rate of 26.23%, when bringing a horse off a layoff of over 450 days.
There’s no time to waste with the horse given his advancing years so I’d imagine he’ll be really fit and ready, and at 33/1 (General) he makes the staking plan.
Skelton has some rather more solid chances earlier on the card, not least Oldgrangewood who bids to repeat last year’s victory in the Get Your Ladbrokes £1 Free Bet Today Handicap Chase.
He went on to win again at Cheltenham in January, finished fourth to Simply The Betts in the Festival Plate, and shaped with plenty of encouragement on his recent return in the Old Roan at Aintree.
But the handicapper hasn’t let up as a result of that consistency and he’s now 17lb worse off with last year’s Newbury fourth San Benedeto who has always liked the place and won over this course and distance – off precisely the same mark – when last successful in March 2019.
They’re both well found in the market, as well as being pretty exposed now in the grand scheme of things, and preference is for the promising DEFI SACRE (10/1 General).
He may sound like a rather pretentious portmanteau but was beginning to make a name for himself when racking up three straight handicap wins at the end of last year.
Two of those came at Newbury which looks quite significant and on the latter occasion he edged out the Skelton-trained, then 124-rated Amoola Gold, who has won twice since and was beaten just a neck by First Flow at Ascot last weekend, for which he’s been bumped up another 5lb to 143.
In theory, there has to be a strong chance Defi Sacre still has something in hand from his revised mark of 129 and it definitely looked to be the case when second behind The Big Bite on his return from the best part of a year off at Aintree this month.
A typical son of Network (most notably sire of Sprinter Sacre, whose dam was a half-sister to this horse's dam), he jumps superbly and it simply looked like he blew up coming to the last fence at Aintree, before finding his second wind on the run-in to be beaten four lengths.
It was a performance that smacked of more to come from Richard Hobson’s seven-year-old, and I’m really keen to see what he can do in first-time cheekpieces back up to two and a half miles, having been tried over this far as a young horse when perhaps not quite strong enough for such a test.
The Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained, 10lb well-in Hill Sixteen will be enough to put plenty of people off having a bet in the Play Ladbrokes 1-2-Free On Football Handicap Hurdle, but he’s unproven at the trip and looks more at home on much deeper ground.
On top of that, two years ago this race featured a couple of horses miles ahead of the assessor, namely Dragon D’Estruval who was 11lb well-in on his chase mark, plus the Twiston-Davies-trained Juge Et Parti who was 8lb well-in following a close second at Chepstow the previous week.
They finished seventh and 11th respectively as 11/4 joint-favourites and while that shouldn't be held against Hill Sixteen per se, he is clearly making the market for everything else in the race and I’m slightly surprised LIL ROCKERFELLER is quite as big as 20/1 (Coral) on his return to action.
The old boy has been called a few (slightly worse) names in his time but has been a brilliant servant for trainer Neil King and he’s always gone pretty well fresh – his form string in both codes following a break of 50 days or more reads 443332321162.
From 30 career starts over hurdles, he’s remarkably finished in the first three on 21 occasions including his second in the 2017 Stayers’ Hurdle Cheltenham, and following season’s Coral Hurdle victory at Ascot.
He’s not in that sort of league any more but won’t have to be to go close from his easing handicap mark of 145 and he was third to If The Cap Fits in last year’s Coral Hurdle on his most recent start.
That day he finished in the middle of horses rated 160, 160, 154 and 151, while prior to that he’d battled on to be second off a mark of 145 behind Ballyoptic in the Native River Handicap Chase at Chepstow.
That’s the mark he’s able to compete off here – his lowest hurdles rating his since juvenile days – and while he’s now nine, it's worth noting another nine-year-old top weight won this race last year in Champers On Ice.
He’s up against a handicap blot who should take all the beating but, aside from fellow veteran Dell’ Arca, nothing makes anything like the appeal of Lil Rockerfeller, who has the added bonus of Harry Cobden for company in the saddle and is being completely overlooked in the market.
Posted at 1600 GMT on 26/11/20
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