The £150k Ladbroke Hurdle potentially offers a decent return for punters who can pick their way through the hyped horses to find some value and that is precisely what we have done (Saturday 3.30pm Ascot).
This famous handicap hurdle provided young Dan Skelton (the son of top showjumper Nick and former assistant to Paul Nicholls) with his most valuable victory to date last year. He has realistic hopes again here with Shelford (6/1). This five-year-old son of Galileo scored three times on the flat and was rated 90 when switching codes.
Like Skelton’s 2013 victor Willow’s Saviour, Shelford comes into the race on the back of two wins. Both were over two and a half miles at Chepstow. In the latest at the end of October he made all to beat Nick Williams’ Aubusson by three quarters of a length in a Grade 3 handicap hurdle. Aubusson went on to win next time out, beating Philip Hobbs’ Cesarewitch winner, Big Easy, in a three mile ‘fixed brush’ hurdle at Haydock.
Skelton’s horses are in good form and Shelford looks progressive enough to defy his 7lb higher mark here. This will be his fifth start over obstacles – on both his runs over shorter distances he was second. The area of doubt is whether this reduced trip will play to his strengths. Soft ground looks likely to further his cause and he has to be one for the shortlist.
Nicholls is not represented but another of his one-time assistants, Harry Fry saddles the strongly fancied Activial whose price has plunged from 12/1 to 4/1. This four-year-old French bred has only raced four times. He was the 20/1 winner of a 10-runner French bumper first time out in September last year and was the runner-up in a juvenile hurdle for his new connections at Newbury two months later. He started as the 9/4 favourite in the Grade 2 Adonis (juvenile hurdle) at Kempton in February and rewarded his followers, beating John Ferguson’s Commissioned by three and a half lengths on soft ground.
We haven’t seen him since he weakened in a 2m1f Grade 1 juvenile hurdle at Aintree in April and finished midfield, 16 lengths behind Dessie Hughes’ Guitar Pete. Fry knows how to get a horse fit first time out and is hopeful of a decent performance if Activial can reproduce the form he showed at Kempton. Fry is also positive about the prospect of soft ground. Rated 137, Activial is another unexposed contender who may well outperform his mark but his current price looks unattractively short.
Nicholls’ stable jockey, Sam Twiston-Davies (pictured) is in with a chance of picking up more than his riding fee on John Ferguson’s Pine Creek (20/1). Ferguson has a 31% strike rate in hurdle races this season but the six-year-old Pine Creek will need to have come on for his seasonal debut. He was beaten seven lengths by Philip Hobbs’ Garde La Victoire in the Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham a month ago when wearing a hood for the first time.
On the positive side, Pine Creek starts off an unchanged mark of 136 here. He has won over course and distance (in November last season) and performs well on soft ground. He looks a potential each-way proposition.
Garde La Victoire (12/1) also lines up but he has been raised 9lb since his courageous Greatwood win and shoulders topweight here. As a five-year-old it’s possible that he’s sufficiently progressive to perform off his new mark but it’s a big ask, particularly for a horse that reportedly does not like soft ground.
The past three Ladbroke winners have all carried less than 11 stone but the extent of the task ahead is reflected in his price so he should not be discounted.
A strong Irish challenge is provided by Clondaw Warrior (8/1). He moved to Willie Mullins from Shark Hanlon in August after a year’s absence from the racetrack. He has been busy ever since. He won three of his five runs on the flat for Mullins and started as the 3/1 favourite in the Irish Cesarewitch but could only finish 18th of 21. A hood was successfully tried a fortnight later when he was sent off as a 16/1 outsider in the equally valuable November Handicap at Leopardstown. He won by a neck.
Most recently Clondaw Warrior finished third by two lengths in the Greatwood under David Casey. He starts off a 6lb higher mark here but may still be well-handicapped and has to be respected. Casey retains the ride.
Another interesting Irish raider is Gordon Elliott’s Bayan (12/1). This five-year-old son of Danehill Dancer proved an appalling investment for the Iranian financier, Iraj Parvizi, who paid over £210K for him as a yearling. Elliott bought him for £14K after he flopped on the flat. Parvizi has gone off horse racing and plays poker. He is suing a London club after losing £185K in an allegedly ‘rigged’ game.
Meanwhile Elliott has delivered a very decent return for Bayan’s new owners. He finished third in the Coral Cup at the Cheltenham Festival off a mark of 138 and won a one mile six furlong handicap on the flat at Leopardstown in July. In September last year he won the Lartigue (Grade C Handicap) Hurdle over two miles on soft ground at Listowel, beating Willie Mullins’ Call Me Bubbles.
Bayan was last seen over obstacles finishing second by three lengths to Tony Martin’s Thomas Edison in the two mile Galway Hurdle Handicap in July off a mark of 141. He has been raised 5lb since. Most recently he finished a respectable fourth in a one mile six furlong handicap in September on unsuitably quick ground. It’s difficult to assess his chances here but Elliott’s record in big handicaps makes Bayan worthy of consideration.
A five-year-old who is a proven performer off his current mark is Richard Lee’s Gassin Golf (20/1). We haven’t seen him since he finished second in a two mile handicap hurdle at Perth on good to soft in August. His mark of 132 is unchanged and, if he is fully fit, he seems more generously priced than the majority of the field.
Yes, Gassin Golf has failed to score in his twelve starts over hurdles to date but he is ultra consistent and finished second in his past three runs. In March last year he finished a close second at Sandown over two miles on soft ground with Nicholls’ Vibrato Valtat four lengths behind him suggesting that the surface should not pose a problem. Lee saddled three winners at Warwick recently, including a first time out 33/1 shot suggesting his horses may not need their first run. Daryl Jacob takes the ride.
Ladbroke Hurdle Betting Tips Verdict
Media hype has resulted in some ridiculously short prices so we have to ignore both Activial (4/1) and Shelford (6/1) on those grounds. In contrast, Richard Lee’s GASSIN GOLF (20/1) appears overlooked even though the stable has just hit some useful form. Gassin Golf is currently as short as 14/1 but back him each-way at the best price of 20/1 with Betfred, Paddy Power or Coral.