Take Pleasure in jumping spree

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The Independent Online
The first runner on today's National Hunt card at Ascot is Call It A Day, and very soon the jumpers will, even if yesterday's damp, chilly weather owed more to the autumn than the spring. To its credit, though, even at the end of a long campaign, the winter code has managed to put together one final card of considerable interest before the opening of the Craven meeting at Newmarket on Tuesday ushers it into the wings.

It is a shame, then, that the BBC has proved unable to respond in kind, and that what is arguably the day's most interesting race, the Peregrine Handicap Chase, will be run as their outside-broadcast lorry is pulling out of the car park. This is despite the fact that the four-runner opener is effectively a match between Call It A Day and Senor El Betrutti, but we will at least be allowed to enjoy a Grade Two stayers' hurdle and a handicap of such complexity that it could only be sponsored by a bookmaker.

Most of the usual suspects have been rounded up for the Long Distance Hurdle, though Cyborgo, winner of the Stayers' Hurdle at Cheltenham, is an absentee. Staunch Friend, whose best years seemed to have been claimed by injury, is a welcome runner after his respectable performance in the Champion Hurdle, while Silver Wedge, Seekin Cash and Avro Anson can all hold their own at this level, but the most interesting runner must be Pleasure Shared.

Philip Hobbs's gelding is also the only one who arrives at the top of his form, having won a Grade One novice hurdle at Liverpool just 15 days ago, and the step up from novice company is one which he is more than capable of taking in his stride.

Pleasure Shared was trained until this season by Kim Bailey, who will saddle Seekin Cash against him today but may simply receive another reminder that by his standards, this has been a disappointing year. Still a novice despite starting the campaign as a seven-year-old, Pleasure Shared (next best 3.10) has made up for lost time with three wins from five, and should continue his progress today.

"He only had three runs for Kim, though I don't know exactly why," Hobbs said yesterday. "Obviously this is a bit different as there's top three- mile hurdlers in at Ascot while he's been beating novices, but he must have a chance. He's a big, strong horse who should make a decent novice chaser next year."

Almost half an inch of rain fell at the track yesterday, and with more predicted overnight, conditions may deteriorate into the stodge which renders serious form analysis redundant.

Certainly, it may not be a day to be giving away a lot of weight in a handicap, which may favour another novice, DIRECT ROUTE (nap 2.35) in the Ladbroke Handicap Hurdle. A winner on heavy going earlier this year, Howard Johnson's gelding was runner-up in a very useful race at Kelso last month. Call It A Day (2.00), runner-up in the Mildmay of Flete at Cheltenham, should take the opener, while Nakir (3.40) hinted at a return to form at Aintree and will appreciate the rain.

The cycle of Classic trials in Britain begins in earnest next week, but if they prove as revealing as the two which took place at Evry yesterday, we are all in big trouble. Both the Prix Imprudence, for fillies, and the Prix Djebel, won last year by Pennekamp, the subsequent 2,000 Guineas winner, fell to horses which are not entered in the Newmarket Classics.

Criquette Head's Mahalia took the Imprudence, over six and a half furlongs, but her trainer does not feel that a step up to a mile will suit her filly. However, John Hammond's Byzantium, winner of the Djebel, is now a serious candidate for the 2,000 Guineas in both France and Ireland.

Henry Cecil's Clever Cliche, who survived trouble in running and a stewards' inquiry to make a winning debut at Nottingham yesterday, is 33-1 from 40-1 for the Derby with William Hill.