The Pipe stable have won the Ladbroke at Ascot three times since its inception in 2001 and Nicholshayne is playing the numbers game this year. Six of the 21-strong field in what is always a highly competitive handicap hurdle have travelled up from Somerset and you could probably make a case for most of the half-dozen. Shotavodka (a general 25/1) was placed over longer trips at Bangor and Newbury last month but was well behind Pine Creek (a general 16/1) on his reappearance at Ascot. The latter then ran in the Grade 3 Greatwood at Cheltenham but only managed sixth behind DELL’ ARCA.
The Greatwood looked a good trial for this and the latter was certainly impressive in the way he battled back after being headed at the last to land the spoils. A general 10/1 is probably only fair for this weekend’s big betting heat but there is almost certainly more to come from the four-year-old, who was having his first start for the Pipe team having made the short hop across the Channel. Dell’ Arca has been raised 8lb by the handicapper but will be suited by the softer ground and can confirm Cheltenham running with fourth Flaxen Flare, a winner at the Festival last season but possibly better on a faster surface. Gordon Elliott‘s challenger is a general 16/1.
Swing Bowler is another interesting Pipe runner as she won first-time out last season and was third in the betfair Hurdle at Newbury in February on soft ground. Only a couple of pounds higher, the mare is available at 20/1 with betfair. Last month’s Haydock winner Rolling Star may still start favourite (currently a best 15/2 with 888sport) but will have to produce a terrific performance to defy a big weight and Auteuil Grade 1 winner Ptit Zig has a pound more. He’s a general 16/1 but did finish behind Flaxen Flare in last season’s Fred Winter and is 7lb worse off now. There has been sustained support for the lightly-weighted Totalize (now only a best 9/1 with Paddy Power) during the week as he was in good form on the Flat in the autumn. But Brian Ellison‘s charge doesn’t look that well handicapped back over timber.
Rolling Star’s stablemate Chatterbox is 8/1 with Paddy Power and did nothing wrong on his reappearance at Newbury while AP McCoy partners Willie Mullins‘ City Slicker who is bidding for a hat-trick. Available at 8/1 with Coral, Stan James and William Hill, he will be bidding to become only the second Irish-trained winner of the Ladbrokes after Cause Of Causes success 12 months ago. Chris Pea Green is running well and is a stand-out 14/1 with Ladbrokes but Dell’ Arca can deliver again for David Pipe.