The talented Unowhatimeanharry has won his last six starts and is the 11/8 favourite in the JLT Long Walk Hurdle betting but this is not the cakewalk that his odds suggest (2.25pm Saturday, Ascot live on Channel 4). The unusually large field suggests that plenty of trainers think that it is worth taking him on.
Unowhatimeanharry is certainly useful. This eight-year-old son of Sir Harry Lewis was last seen winning the Grade 2 Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury in late November very impressively. He beat Ballyoptic (who started as the 5/2 favourite) six lengths having been eased close to the finish by Barry Geraghty. That performance propelled his official rating to 165 from 149. Whilst that win looked good the 159 rated runner-up compromised his chances by jumping awkwardly.
Unowhatimeanharry has progressed hugely since he joined the very capable Harry Fry (pictured). He ended last season unbeaten, taking the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. A Grade 1 win always looks good on the CV but the market leaders did too much too soon and Noel Fehily held him up off the rather generous pace. Gordon Elliott’s Fagan, a 33/1 outsider, was only a length behind him followed by David Pipe’s Champers On Ice who was sent off at 20/1.
Now owned by JP McManus, Unowhatimeanharry is a good horse who has scored over this distance of three miles on a range of surfaces but he is far from unbeatable and may be flattered by his current rating. So it will be no surprise that this Long Walk Hurdle preview is looking for a better value betting tip than the favourite.
The ultra-game Lil Rockerfeller (8/1) is fancied by some to challenge him. This smallish chestnut never gives up and is rated just 5lb lower than the market leader. Previously trained by Richard Hannon, this son of Hard Spun has proved to be a bargain buy for his trainer Neil King at £31K as a three-year-old. He was a US$60K purchase as a yearling but achieved nothing of note on the flat and has since clocked up winnings of £195K, taking the Grade 2 National Spirit Hurdle at Fontwell in February.
Lil Rockerfeller has been out twice this season. He was beaten three lengths by Paul Nicholls’ Silsol at Wetherby in late October in a Grade 2. It was his first attempt at three miles and he was outpaced on the good ground rather than outstayed. Lil Rockerfeller was last seen getting beaten less than a length by Yanworth here in mid November in the Coral Hurdle, giving the winner 4lb. Lil Rockerfeller has never finished out of the first three at Ascot and looks likely to retain his record under Noel Fehily. His form suggests that he is at his best on good to soft so conditions should suit.
The in-form champion trainer, Paul Nicholls, saddles the seven-year-old Ptit Zig (10/1) who is rated just 2lb lower than Lil Rockerfeller. In his one run this term he finished third, beaten nine lengths, in the Grade 1 Grand Prix D’Automne hurdle over this distance at Auteuil in early November. That performance was probably better than the bare result suggests. The odds-on favourite went off like a scalded cat and was pulled up, spoiling the chances of the horses who most closely pursued him. The first two home were both settled in the midfield and included the 63/1 outsider, Guy Cherel’s Solway. Ptit Zig was ridden prominently by Nick Scholfield and did well to claim decent place money.
Ptit Zig won at Grade 2 level over fences but had a heavy fall at Huntingdon a year ago which left him with a nosebleed for days. He was soon switched back to hurdles and ended his season with an unexpected win in a Grade 1 at Auteuil over three miles and a furlong in June. He was sent off at 19/1 in blinkers for the first time and beat Alex De Larredya, the winner of the Grand Prix D’Automne, two lengths. Both those runs were on much more testing ground than he is likely to encounter here but he has form on decent ground too. Ptit Zig has won on good and was beaten less than two lengths by the mighty Vautour in the Grade 2 Stella Artois Chase here on good to soft last November. Ptit Zig did not jump very fluently and was giving the winner 5lb. That performance has to provide Ptit Zig with very decent each-way claims at least under the capable Sam Twiston-Davies.
Nicholls also saddles the talented but frustratingly unpredictable Zarkandar (16/1) who will be partnered by Sean Bowen. Now a nine-year-old, Zarkandar finished second in this race two years ago, beaten a head by Reve De Sivola. Since then the highest placing he has achieved is third.
Zarkandar is usually at his best first time out and looked likely to challenge Un Temps Pour Tout for victory at Aintree in early November when landing awkwardly at the last and unseating Bowen. A fortnight later a good effort was expected here in the Grade 2 Coral Hurdle but he weakened two out and finished last, 15 lengths behind the runner-up Lil Rockerfeller. If, like his stablemate Rocky Creek, he has been rejuvenated by hunting anything is possible but others have stronger claims.
One of them is the French raider, Alex De Larredya (6/1). He has a rating of 80kg in France that crudely converts to 176lb but Vezelay’s mark in the Betfair Chase suggests it should probably be adjusted to about 160. Owned by Simon Munir, this six-year-old is trained by Francois Nicolle who has a healthy 19% strike rate at home. Nicolle has only sent one horse to England in the past five years, Le Curieux who was bought by JP McManus and lined up in a juvenile hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. Le Curieux started at odds of 33/1 and was beaten over 70 lengths.
This six-year-old’s recent Grade 1 victory at Auteuil means he has attracted considerable support but that was on ‘very soft’ in an unconventionally run race. Alex De Larredya’s last four wins have been achieved in similar conditions and he was a beaten odds-on favourite on his only encounter of good to soft. He looks ungenerously priced for a horse who is unproven on decent ground and is having his first trip across the Channel.
Another runner whose chances would be improved by testing conditions is Reve De Sivola (18/1). Trained by the former accountant, Nick Williams, Reve De Sivola was beaten nearly 30 lengths by Alex De Larredya at Auteuil but raced prominently as usual and was also hampered. Last time out he was beaten a similar distance by Unowhatimeanharry at Newbury.
Those results make his cause seem hopeless but Reve De Sivola seems to reserve his best efforts for this race. He has won it three times and was the runner-up, beaten eight lengths by Thistlecrack last year. Now an 11-year-old, he will be ridden by David Mullins and may well pick up some place money.
Reve De Sivola’s one time partner Richard Johnson will have his first ride on Ballyoptic (8/1). Ballyoptic has won four of his six starts over hurdles, including the Grade 1 Sefton Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree in April. This season he won a Grade 3 first time out but fell heavily at the last when starting as the favourite at Wetherby at the end of October. If Johnson manages to get this six-year-old jumping confidently he is not without hope of reversing his recent placing with the favourite and gaining his fifth win in the race.
Trained by David Pipe, the seven-year-old Un Temps Pour Tout (14/1) won first time out over hurdles but was disappointing in the Hennessy, beaten nearly 20 lengths by Native River. He hit the tenth fence pretty hard and ran out of steam three from home. Reverting to hurdles seems a sensible move as Un Temps Pour Tout was a beaten favourite in all his four starts in novice chases last season, his one win came in the valuable Ultima Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.
Rated 156, Un Temps Pour Tout could be competitive but he has proved expensive to follow in the past and usually attracts more support than he has here when considered to be in with a chance.
Our Preview’s JLT Long Walk Hurdle Betting Tip Verdict
Unowhatimeanharry should run well but he has no appeal at his current price unlike dogged Lil Rockerfeller who is offered at 8/1 and looks likely to place at least.
- Our JLT Long Walk Hurdle preview’s betting tip is for PTIT ZIG who also has impressive course form and comes into this race fresher than most from a yard that is flying. Back him each-way currently best priced at 10/1 with Paddy Power. My money’s already on.
Fiona Derek is our Reality TV and horse racing expert. The only time you won’t find her riding or mucking out a racehorse is when she is watching Reality TV or racing on the box.