Ascot stage their richest afternoon's racing of the jump season on Saturday and the meeting could well provide another lucrative haul of prize money for Lambourn trainer Nicky Henderson, who had a treble at the Berkshire course last month.
Henderson is leading trainer at Ascot with a near-40 percent strike rate over the last six seasons and is likely to run both Duc De Regniere and Punchestowns, who missed an intended outings when Cheltenham was abandoned on Saturday, in the £100,000 BGC Long Walk Hurdle.
Blue Square make Punchestowns, an easy winner of a handicap at Cheltenham last month, 3-1 favourite for the Long Walk, with Duc De Regniere and Blazing Bailey at 4-1 while last year's winner, Lough Dearg, is a 14-1 chance. Tom Scudamore, Lough Dearg's rider, commented on At The Races yesterday: "This race has always been a target as he was second in it two years ago and won it last year. He loves Ascot and we were very pleased with his run here last time over two miles and three furlongs, when he wasn't beaten that far by horses like Crack Away Jack and Chomba Womba."
Henderson's formidable team also includes 2005 Hennessy Gold Cup winner Trabolgan and Oedipe in the Listed BGC Silver Cup Handicap Chase, but the trainer said yesteday: "As he [Trabolgan] has been off the racecourse for three years I wouldn't want to bring him back on very testing ground, and therefore would have to look for an alternative starting point."
Henderson has Aigle D'Or, Blue Shark and Sentry Duty among the 33 entries for the £150,000 Ladbroke Hurdle in which last season's Imperial Cup winner Ashkazar, who is 6-1 second favourite with the sponsors, is likely to make his reappearance.
Trainer David Pipe also has the 2006 winner Acambo and Mamlook in the race and said: "He was going for the Greatwood Hurdle but didn't go there in the end so this is the obvious next step. He's a likely runner."
Alsdaa, a length second to Henderon's Jack The Giant in last year's race will definitely take his chance providing the ground is good. Laura Morgan, his trainer, explained: "He absolutely relishes decent ground so we are just praying that there is not much rain between now and the weekend. We gave him a spin on the all-weather at Lingfield because he gets so bored at home that he was crying out for a run. He was a bit unlucky to get beaten there but it tuned him up nicely for a tilt at The Ladbroke. He has come out of that race bucking and kicking."
The current going at Ascot is good to soft and clerk of the course Chris Stickels said: "The forecast is for high-pressure to return in the middle of the week and I would expect the weekend's weather to be cold and sunny. I don't anticipate the going to change significantly between now and then and expect ground similar to our first two meetings of the season."
Irish trainer Mouse Morris has confirmed he is giving the Stan James King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day serious consideration for War Of Attrition after walking the course yesterday. The 2006 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner returned from a two-year absence to win twice and finish a creditable third in the John Durkan Memorial Punchestown Chase. He will step up to three miles again in either the King George or Leopardstown's Lexus Chase over the Christmas period, but Morris is keeping his options open.
"He seems in good form with himself at home," said Morris. "I walked Kempton this morning and the ground is goodish so he will definitely be confirmed for the race. The ground is the key to him and we'll just see which way the weather goes before deciding where to go." The nine-year-old is a best-priced 25-1 for the King George.
Ladbroke Hurdle (2.15 Ascot, Sat): Sponsors bet: 5-1 Aigle D'Or, 6-1 Ashkazar, 7-1 Numide, 8-1 Belcantista, Sentry Duty, 12-1 Psycho, 14-1 Khyber Kim, 16-1 Five Dream, Noble Alan, Prince Taime, Take The Breeze, 20-1 others.