Timeform's Adam Brookes previews Saturday's competitive Holloway's Handicap Hurdle at Ascot...
"...it may just be worth taking a punt at a big price on Krugermac who likely needed the outing at Sandown..."
The Holloway's Handicap Hurdle over just short of two and a half miles at Ascot has only been going since 2008 - a similar race was run at Haydock in 2005 and Lingfield in 2006 - and it was actually downgraded from a Grade 2 to Grade 3 ahead of last year's renewal won by Rock The Kasbah. The winner of the first running was Lough Derg who enhanced his popularity by doubling up in 2009. Lough Derg had been tried over fences as a younger horse (and won), as had the 2011 Holloway's Handicap Hurdle winner Tiger O'Toole, and bidding to repeat the feat on Saturday could be Protek des Flos.
Protek des Flos finished a well-beaten fourth of five to Clan des Obeaux in the Grade 2 Berkshire Novices' Chase at Newbury in November on his chasing debut, and his supporters for the Holloway's Handicap Hurdle - he's the current ante-post favourite - will be hoping he can bounce back to the form he showed as a juvenile hurdler last season. The ex-French Protek des Flos beat the short-priced Clan des Obeaux in a Grade 2 at Cheltenham on his British debut last Janaury before following up at Sandown from two next-time-out winners, and he again ran well when just caught at Auteuil in March. He's worth another go over two and a half miles and is potentially well handicapped off 137, but that was a disappointing return (looks a chaser) and the the dry forecast may not do him any favours either (all hurdles runs on testing ground), so he's swerved at around 8.07/1.
Perhaps more interesting among the McManus entries is Drumcliff. This half-brother to high-class hurdler/top-class chaser Simonsig might not have won since his bumper debut at Taunton in December 2015 (beaten on all four of his starts over hurdles), but he was a big eye-catcher last time when a length second of 12 to Bigmartre in a handicap hurdle at Kempton the day after Boxing Day. After getting badly hampered two out, Drumcliff looked unlucky not to win; he certainly lost more ground in the incident than he was beaten by come the line. A 3 lb rise won't stop him winning in the future, though in terms of this race, he's yet to go beyond two miles and is also among the top dozen in the betting for next month's Betfair Hurdle.
Drumcliff actually finished four places - and six and a quarter lengths - in front of Wait For Me in that Kempton race, and it's hard to see why Philip Hobbs' charge should turn the tables. The fact the Wait For Me - who is surely a candidate to go novice chasing sooner rather than later - is a few points shorter than Drumcliff in the ante-post betting (and has seemingly attracted some early support) is presumably more of a pointer that he's an intended runner here.
Jaleo is again Timeform top rated as things stand. He filled the same position ahead of the Lanzarote Handicap Hurdle at Kempton last Saturday, but unfortunately for his supporters he fell at the first. The fact 7 lb-claiming amateur Alex Ferguson is already down to ride him suggests Jaleo is going to run, and he remains with potential, but it would still be quite a big ask for him to shrug off such an experience in a matter of days.
It's easy to see why Mr Mix is one of the favourites as he was only beaten two lengths, despite jumping sketchily, when fifth in the Silver Trophy at Chepstow on his reappearance and built on that when winning a 21-furlong handicap at Wincanton on Boxing Day by three-quarters of a length from Ruacana. The bare form of what he achieved there suggests a 6 lb rise may prevent him following up in this better race (he's joint top weight with his stablemate Adrien du Pont), but he's done little wrong in a fledgling career so far and represents a top yard, so could well pull out more.
Adrien du Pont won at this track (over two miles) on his only previous start in a handicap last April and is only 6 lb higher here. However, his early exuberance contributed to the fact he was starting to struggle before he unseated two out in the Relkeel Hurdle at Cheltenham last time, and he could be better off switching to novice chases now.
Le Rocher apparently finished second last time. It's farcical that the race he contest at Haydock just before Christmas was allowed to take place given how poor visibility had become, and given the field were possible to make out passing the post, the finishing positions have to be taken on trust. If he did finish runner-up - behind Clyne - it was probably an improvement on his return fourth here in November, which was his first outing since winning a Grade 2 juvenile at Cheltenham way back in January 2014, but obviously the form is very hard to assess.
Max Do Brazil is a complete unknown quantity given he's yet to race in Britain. He failed to kick on after winning his first two starts in France in December 2015 and January 2016 (beat Optimus Prime, who made a good debut for Dan Skelton in November and is currently rated 140p over hurdles), but he did run creditably when placed in big-field handicaps around 19 furlongs on his final two starts there and has joined David Pipe with a £160,000 price tag. Money for him would look significant, as it would for bottom-weight Krugermac who is a C&D winner and potentially well treated off 119 (dropped 3 lb since his return, when he probably needed the run). Gary Moore's charge is not out of this, nor is another completely unexposed one in Tintern Theatre.
Prime Venture made a winning bumper debut at Ffos Las in December 2015 and, after finished down the field in a Newbury sales event when next seen in March, made a winning hurdling debut in a novice at Sedgefield last November. Chances are he's bumped into two really promising horses at Lingfield (Daklondike) and Chepstow (Constantine Bay) since and he may have more to offer, though the fact he holds four other entries from Friday to Sunday means he's not one to back ante-post. A similar comment applies to Fakenham maiden winner Argante, who is also engaged at Taunton and Fontwell.
Gibralfaro finished placed off a mark of 140 for the second time a length second to Onefitzall at Newbury in November, staying on well on his first go over this sort of trip, but that form hasn't really worked out in the meantime and he's 3 lb higher now.
Protek des Flos and Drumcliff are undoutbedly both interesting (with preference just for the latter), though second-guessing which J. P. McManus-owned horses are going to run in any given race is always fraught with danger. Mr Mix is also considered, though his price is no more than fair given he will need to improve another chunk to win, so, in an open race, it may just be worth taking a punt at a big price on Krugermac who likely needed the outing at Sandown (attracted some support) on his first start for 13 months and is potentially even more favourably treated now.
Win back Krugermac in the Holloway's Handicap Hurdle