Timeform's Matt Gardner is the man tasked with finding a bet for this Saturday's feature event, the Betfair Ascot Chase...
QPR to win the Premier League (this season), York City to win the Champions League (this season), Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy (coupled) to never win another golf tournament and me to win Wimbledon (ever) are all bets that make greater appeal than backing either Pigeon Island, Vino Griego or Astracad for this weekend's Betfair Ascot Chase. Scathing though it may sound and without wishing to seem flippant, particularly so if the connections of any of the aforementioned horses are reading, it really does pay to simply rule out those that have little to no chance of success as it permits a greater amount of time, and a more sizeable chunk of my word count, to discuss those that could taste glory.
Whilst on this "one man and his keyboard" crusade we may as well get rid of Teaforthree, as he is unlikely to possess the requisite pace at this trip to trouble the principals, admirable though both his jumping and style of racing are, while his main target is the Grand National, and Big Fella Thanks, another with Aintree most certainly on the mind. Albertas Run must also go at the first fence as he will not be suited by the likely testing conditions, particularly with this being his first outing of the season, and trainer Jonjo O'Neill has mooted the possibility of him missing this event altogether and heading directly to Cheltenham.
Leaving in our wake a trail of destruction reminiscent of that seen in the factories of Findus UK's suppliers, we must now turn our sights upon Ghizao. His two-length defeat at the hands of Finian's Rainbow in the 2011 Maghull Novices' Chase and his third-placed efforts in both the Amlin Chase and the Peterborough Chase this season evidence the fact that he is more likely than those mentioned earlier to triumph, but the suspicion is that he simply doesn't possess as much ability as four of his rivals in this race so, for that reason alone, he is dismissed.
Of the quartet that remains the one that makes least appeal at the prices is the current market leader, namely Captain Chris. The nine-year-old has arguably yet to achieve over fences what both his physique and his hurdling career suggested he may, for all that he has won an Arkle and twice finished placed in a King George. He looked to have this season's renewal of the latter-mentioned event sewn up but for Long Run to rally and beat him by a neck and many will point to that being just about the best piece of recent form on offer, however I urge you to watch a replay of that race as Captain Chris was under pressure from a fair way out and it was only really as Cue Card and Grands Crus capitulated, and Long Run idled, that he got himself involved. The drop in trip isn't certain to be in his favour and he has long been prone to errors over fences, factors which all contribute to the 3.55/2 presently available looking rather on the short side.
Prior to his seasonal reappearance in the Amlin Chase, Finian's Rainbow would have been a "no-brainer" at 4.57/2, with the 10-year-old boasting the best form on offer and a consistent profile. However that outing, on ground softer than he had previously faced, was a poor one, the testing conditions fully taxing his fitness and eventually seeing him being beaten in the region of 24 lengths. He has reportedly undergone a breathing operation since, which could suggest that all may not have been well regardless of the ground, but the suspicion is that he may prove an entirely different proposition come the Spring Festivals.
Cue Card and Somersby, what to do with you two? I'm tempted to say that Cue Card wins, with his victory in the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter still fresh in the mind. He looked even better than he had done as a novice that day, which is high praise considering he briefly, and I mean briefly, looked a threat to Sprinter Sacre in the Arkle, and his effort in the King George, where he patently failed to stay three miles, can be readily forgiven. I've managed to convince myself that I'm round about 75% convinced that Cue Card will win this race (which I know doesn't sound very convincing at all) but, as things stand, there are three places on offer which means that we don't have to select the winner at all.
Clearly were Somersby to emerge triumphant it would greatly expand our financial gains, but he looks a cracking each-way bet at 7.06/1. The nine-year-old defeated Finian's Rainbow in the Victor Chandler Chase last season and made his seasonal reappearance this term in the same event, shaping well after nine months off but eventually striking as being in need of the run. He did look to retain all of his ability however and he has long since suggested that this sort of trip would bring out the best in him, and he would need only one if his main rivals to perform below-par in order to secure us a return. His Ascot record only further enhances his appeal, yet to finish out of the first three in four attempts, and it is far from out of the question that, were he to turn up at the peak of his powers, he could well trump the entire field and emerge triumphant.
If you steadfastly back on the nose then Cue Card is the one for you but the sensible money could well be on Somersby to hit the places. OK he hasn't always convinced with his attitude but on his day he is a top-class chaser and could well take advantage of any chinks in his rivals' armour, and it is certainly possible to find weaknesses with regards to both Captain Chris and Finian's Rainbow. I can't see myself gracing the courts of Wimbledon any time soon, as much as I'd fancy myself to blow Federer away in three, so Somersby for the Betfair Ascot Chase will have to do.
Back Somersby @ 7.06/1 win and place in the Betfair Ascot Chase