Timeform's Matt Gardner takes a look at the hotly-contested Ladbroke Hurdle at Ascot on Saturday...
"The tailpiece to Chatterbox's Timeform report at Newbury could prove telling: "if sticking to hurdles, there's a big handicap prize with his name on it"..."
My happiness during a brief stint at university was largely dictated by alcohol intake levels, which would increase or decrease in line with my betting balance. Days were regularly spent in the local bookmakers desperately trying to accrue some beer money for that evening, with Saturday's being the greatest days in terms of turnover, a veritable feast of racing and football on which to splurge the student loan.
Regrettably it's difficult not to be suckered in by the main race on a Saturday. More often than not it's a tricky betting heat and this Saturday is no different with the Ladbroke Hurdle taking centre stage; thankfully my academic career is long gone, as this Saturday evening would almost certainly have been a sober one.
It's customary in ante-post previews to establish a shortlist, whittling it down until one is left with the winner. In theory at least. This time however it's virtually impossible to rule out any of those to have made the shortlist, which shall henceforth be known as the Shortlist That's Actually Quite Long. Or STAQL for short.
Our STAQL begins with Ptit Zig, thrice a winner since joining the yard of Paul Nicholls last autumn. The four-year-old boasts a profile of gradual progression, posting his best effort yet when winning the top autumnal French race for four-year-olds at Auteuil last month, beating subsequent Group 3 winner Le Grand Luce by two lengths. He may yet have a bit more to offer, though that could be when at two and a half miles rather than the bare two faced here.
Another that could have more to offer at two and a half miles is Swing Bowler, although if turning up she will certainly be capable of making an impact in this race. She has had a crack at 20 furlongs, at the Cheltenham Festival in March, but that was the only blot on her copybook so far and she was beaten before stamina became an issue. Her pedigree and style of racing very much support that theory, and it will be interesting to monitor her progress this season.
The Greatwood Hurdle could have a sizeable impact upon this contest, with the winner, the runner-up and the sixth all set to take part. Let's deal with them in reverse order, starting with Pine Creek who was hit with a 7 lb rise as a result of his reappearance win over this C&D. It was disappointing that he couldn't make a greater impact in the Greatwood, well positioned as things went, and it will probably take further improvement to land this.
Sametegal is a thoroughly likeable type, not once failing to give of his running and actually improving a bit when beaten only half a length at Cheltenham. He had the run of the race to some extent but it was still a smart effort, and one which augurs well for the season ahead, though again he will probably need to pull out a bit more to take the spoils here.
The winner of the Greatwood, Dell' Arca, was a completely unknown quantity going into that race, purchased by his new connections for €280,000 after finishing second at Auteuil in June. He showed much-improved form to score at Cheltenham, impressing with the way he tanked through the race especially when taking into consideration his inexperience, and he clearly boasts the potential for further improvement.
Rolling Star would be a fascinating participant were he to turn up, with Nicky Henderson's charge seeking to dispel the accusation that he "goes best fresh". Connections have always discussed him in glowing terms, nominating him as their Triumph horse after he won on his British debut in January, and he certainly impressed on his reappearance at Haydock last month. The suspicion is that he's simply got his act together over the summer after disappointing at both the Cheltenham and Aintree Festivals, though he does need to prove it on the track.
The STAQL has gone on long enough, it is now time to simply take the plunge and hope that it's successful. Chatterbox, a stablemate of Rolling Star, made the perfect start to his hurdling career last season, beating My Tent Or Yours at Newbury and then following up at the same track when getting the better of Lac Fontana. An excellent effort in defeat at the Cheltenham Festival marked him down as one to follow this term, and those impressions were reaffirmed by his effort on his seasonal bow in the Gerry Feilden last month.
Travelling noticeably well under Barry Geraghty, Chatterbox was simply unable to run down Ifandbutwhynot, who very much enjoyed the run of the race in being allowed to dictate matters from the front. The five-year-old is a chasing type, both on looks and pedigree, and his future almost certainly lies over fences, but the tailpiece to his Timeform report at Newbury could prove telling: "if sticking to hurdles, there's a big handicap prize with his name on it".
That prize could well be the Ladbroke Hurdle, and it would come as no surprise were Chatterbox to stamp his authority on proceedings at Ascot on Saturday.
Back Chatterbox in the Ladbroke Hurdle
Click HERE to listen to Matt's Ladborke Hurdle preview podcast on Timeform Radio