Kauto Star was the last winner of the Betfair Ascot Chase back in 2008 for Paul Nicholls. It is a race that has not been kind to the Ditcheat trainer. Pride of Dulcote fell when in contention in 2011, the useful Cerium broke a blood vessel in 2007 and there have been a string of unplaced but useful types in the interim renewals. Nicholls saddles Ptit Zig, the favourite for this year’s Betfair Chase.
So let’s have a look at the main contenders for this year’s renewal:
Ptit Zig (15/8f) P Nicholls / S Twiston-Davies
Since finishing third in the Fred Winter at Cheltenham on only his second ever start, Ptit Zig has progressed nicely through the ranks. He won the 4yo Renaud Du Vivier Grade 1 hurdle in France shortly after his Cheltenham third and subsequently ran credibly in other Graded hurdle races including a respectable sixth in the Champion Hurdle.
Since taking to fences, Ptit Zig is now unbeaten in four starts and is a worthy favourite for the Ascot Chase. He has a tendency however to make the odd mistake (hit the fourth last on his chase debut and was all wrong at the eight fence on his second start over fences) and this race will be his biggest ever test over fences. He easily accounted for Josses Hill in the Grade 2 Noel Novices’ Chase at Ascot in December and followed up that win on New Year’s Day in the The Dipper Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham. Ptit Zig was raised two pounds for that performance and currently runs off a mark of 159. In his December column, Nicholls was of the opinion that Ptit Zig was marginally better on right handed tracks. Given that, Ascot suits, and his course record there reads 2 1
He is a 6yo and still in his novice season, horses of that profile (the age) do not tend to win the Betfair Chase. I expect tomorrow to be no different as Ptit Zig, useful as he may be, (and he has an outstanding chance in the JLT) he may not have enough in the locker to beat a very competitive field. At the prices, on all known form and with a bounce anticipated, for me he is a lay, with Balder Success preferred.
Balder Success (5/2) A King / W Hutchinson
A tough, second-season chaser, Balder Success comes into his own around this time of year. He is ultra-consistent and was installed at the initial favourite for the Betfair Chase but all the money has come for Ptit Zig (15/8 from 11/4). Alan King is on record as saying “Fences have made a man of him” and praises the way the hose travels and well as his attitude. A dependable sort, Balder Success was fourth in a high-class renewal of the Tingle Creek last December before finishing second to Special Tiara (who received five pounds) in the Grade 2 Desert Orchid Chase.
Last month Balder Success easily accounted for Hunt Ball and Fox Appeal (both rated in the 150+ bracket) in a listed Chase at Kempton. The trip in the Betfair Chase will suit, as will a strong pace. Without conceding weight to the novice Ptit Zig, Balder Success has an outstanding chance of providing Alan King with another win in this race. He was successful in the 2009 renewal with the multiple Grade 1 winner Voy Por Ustedes and Balder Success will take all the beating tomorrow.
Ballycasey (4/1) W Mullins / R Walsh
It was around this time last year that Ballycasey won the Grade 1 Dr. P.J. Moriarty Novice Chase at Leopardstown. It was only his second start over fences and he had the world at his feet. Things went rather south for the grey following this career best. Ballycasey finished fourth in the RSA Chase (where he failed to stay) before falling two out in the Powers Gold Cup when looking a likely winner. He again was out-stayed by Carlingford Lough in the Champion Novice Chase at Punchestown but won at Gowran on his seasonal reappearance last November.
Willie Mullins is again granting Ballycasey a light campaign this year but the trip of his last run (2m 1f) was a little sharp and he finished well down the field. The fact remains though that Ballycasey has won just one of the five Graded races that he has ran in, despite being favourite on almost all of those occasions. It is not that he is a disappointing horse, he just might not be fulfilling his potential. He is prone to making a mistake or two which has cost him races in the past. The trip at Ascot is ideal however and Willie Mullins has never sent a runner over to England to target this race – something to take on board in itself. He is a dangerous proposition but not without his question marks. If he is at the top of his game he has every chance but that is a big “if”.
Ma Filleule (9/2) N Henderson / B Geraghty
An impressive winner of the Topham at Aintree last year, Ma Fileule disappointed at Down Royal recently but scoped dirty afterwards. Third to Sam Winner at Aintree in a closely-run race on the Mildmay course at Aintree, the mare receives a seven pound allowance from the field tomorrow. There is more improvement to come from Ma Fileule but she has won just two handicap chases in her career. Interestingly, Timeform pronounce Ptit Zig to improve but admit that he will need to progress to the tune of around 10lb should either Ma Filleule or Balder Succes run their race.
She looks value but the bridge to her first Grade 1 success may be a bridge too far.
The two outsiders Rajdhani Express and Theatre Guide (16/1 and 33/1) have a patchy record at best and are the odds belie their chances.
Balder Success and Ballycasey to fight it out with the former to prevail.
Ptit Zig to win the JLT at Cheltenham