The feature race at Ascot this Saturday is the Ascot Chase run over two miles and five furlongs. This Grade 1 contest attracts some of the best middle distance chasers and is seen as a trial for the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. Indeed, the winner here the last two years Riverside Theatre went on to land the Ryanair Chase in 2012, whilst the Ascot Chase's impressive roll of honour includes the likes of Kauto Star, Voy Por Ustedes and Our Vic, the latter another winner of the two and a half mile chase at the Cheltenham Festival.
There's a small but competitive field assembled for Saturday's renewal, with the Phillip Hobbs trained Captain Chris the slight favourite with Paddy Power at odds of 9/4. However, such is the field it wouldn't be a surprise to see any of these take the spoils.
So starting with the favourite, Captain Chris was the winner of the 2011 Arkle over two miles, beating Finian's Rainbow by two and three quarter lengths that day. He followed that up with a win in the Grade 1 Champion Novice Chase at Punchestown that season before finding life a little tough as a second season chaser. Last season he did finish third in the King George albeit beaten nearly twenty lengths by Kauto Star and Long Run, before going ont to finish fourth in the 2012 Ryanair Chase six lengths back from Riverside Theatre.
He was a winner here over two miles and three furlongs on heavy ground back in November in the Amlin 1965 Chase, beating Ghizao four lengths and Finain's Rainbow a distance. The nine year old then followed that up with his best performance to date beaten a quarter length in the King George VI Chase with Long Run outstaying him on the line. The official ratings have him at a career high 169 due to that win and that's the reason he heads the betting for Saturday's renewal.
Second favourite is Cue Card, last season's Arkle runner up behind Sprinter Sacre. The Colin Tizzard trained seven year old is the 5/1 joint favourite for the 2013 Ryanair Chase in the betting with Paddy Power and has a big chance on Saturday. He was beaten twenty lengths by Captain Chris in the King George on his last start but he'll enjoy this step down in trip and should be a big danger.
Finian's Rainbow (3/1) is the reigning Queen Mother Champion Chase winner, beating Sizing Europe by a length and a quarter last March at Cheltenham. He followed that up with an impressive win in the Grade 1 Melling Chase over two and a half miles at Aintree and the school of thought is that he'll go for the Ryanair at Cheltenham next month where he's a 6/1 chance. The ten year old trained by Nicky Henderson is a course winner way back in 2010, but comes here off the back of a terrible run in the Amlin Chase where he detested the ground. That was his only start this season and you'd be taking a punt on him here based on that run, in what could still be pretty testing ground at the Berkshire track.
Somersby is next in the betting at 9/2, now trained by Mick Channon following Henrietta Knight's retirement. The nine year old has a good record at Ascot, beating Finian's Rainbow a year ago in the Victor Chandler Chase over two miles and a furlong and he also has a couple of decent runner-up finishes here behind Master Minded. He was a well beaten third behind Sprinter Sacre on his only start this season which is no disgrace, but you wonder if his best days are now behind him.
Ghizao (9/1) and Pigeon Island (50/1) make up the dozen, which looks like being contended by the first three in the betting. It's going to be difficult picking out a winner from those three but for value sake you might want to forgive Finian's Rainbow his last run, he goes well fresh and he's the top rated horse on best form.
9/4 Captain Chris
11/4 Cue Card
3/1 Finian's Rainbow
50/1 Pigeon Island
Odds supplied by PaddyPower.com, with best odds guaranteed on all UK and Irish racing.
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