The Races expert Declan Rix talks to us about Saturday’s Howden Long Walk Hurdle from Ascot, live on Sky Sports Racing.
Champion (Nicky Henderson)
High-level pursuer in recent seasons who returns to obstacles after having back problems. Certainly good enough to win if he’s right, but this is his first start to the season and in recent seasons he has seemed more comfortable going left handed. The market should give a clue to his fitness / well-being.
Lisnagar Oscar (Rebecca Curtis)
2020 winner Stayers’ Hurdle, but his form has been a bit hit and miss ever since. Disappointed last time, but had an apology for losing a shoe and got banged. It will be happier to return to a slower surface, and any rain would help, but lately it’s proving difficult to catch.
On the blind side (Nicky Henderson)
Nice and reliable guy who has been slowly progressive each season. Despite being a significant wanderer in betting for his reappearance in the countryside, he ran well under a penalty in a race where he probably ran before ideal. She is entitled to get more fit undressed for this and it seems overpriced (1/16), especially if she gets better tactical guidance this time around.
Paisley Park (Emma Lavelle)
Formerly an outstanding hurdler, but at the age of nine, he begins to look regressive. His form dropped last season and in his two heats this season he disappointed, although he may not have liked front-running last time.
Given her size and size, perhaps this time she will undress better. He’ll love getting back on a more challenging endurance course, and at least for once you’re getting a price on him, but he’s hard to advise on recent evidence.
Ronald Pump (Matthew Smith)
Nice guy, strong but with a touch of class. He started his season well behind Honeysuckle in Hatton’s Grace Hurdle for an inadequate trip, so he’ll love climbing up to three miles again.
Perhaps he could have done with more pace in the race to bring out his stamina, but in any case it must be respected.
Third Wind (Hughie Morrison)
He has been progressive and reliable over the past few seasons and, at seven, he is entitled to further improvement, having only competed 14 times. Last year he was fifth in this race but beat Lisnagar Oscar and On The Blind Side at his next start in Rendlesham Hurdle.
It seems a little overpriced at 33/1, but while it has fared cool in the past, it would have been more interesting with a runner under the belt.
Thomas Darby (Olly Murphy)
For the first time he won the Grade Two Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury last time, although there is a slight suspicion that he picked up the pieces in a race where he didn’t carry a penalty.
His career best effort came on this course in January 2020, and although worse with weights with On The Blind Side and Paisley Park, he’s one of the most likely winners if on a day again. Fergus Gregory rides in his first grade.
The Thyme Hill (Philip Hobbs)
High class hurdler who was mugged by Paisley Park in this race last year, after standing still when he hit the front. He missed the Stayers’ Hurdle for a small setback, but made amends to Aintree, winning the Grade One Stayers Hurdle.
A very difficult task was set on the season debut by going to France on heavy ground, but while the case was, it was still underwhelming. Now with a run behind, getting back to a firmer surface are two positives.
There doesn’t seem to be much pace, especially if Paisley Park goes back to more patient tactics, with front run perhaps not righting him last time around. As the market suggests, Thyme Hill (7/4) is the most likely winner, but I have little interest in backing a horse at that price in the wake of a disappointing run.
The market is expected to lead as far as Champ is concerned, but Ascot may not be right for him. Thomas Darby may have had his day in the sun last time, while Paisley Park (wearing the tongue bow tie for the first time) looks regressive. Lisnagar Oscar will love getting back to softer ground, but she just doesn’t seem fit enough at the moment.
I’m left with two options, On The Blind Side, which could have the upper hand and Irish raider, Ronald Pump. At the prices, 16/1 and 7/2 respectively, I am happy to support both FROM THE BLIND SIDE And RONALD PUMP.
The former is definitely overpriced at 16/1, especially as it could get an easy advantage. I would have been safer on faster ground. Some bookmakers pay four seats.
Ronald Pump comes here behind a solid effort behind Honeysuckle, he is entitled to improve for it and is a horse I can see enjoying Ascot’s demands.