Saturday Racing Tips: Warrior has a fighting chance to win at Ascot
The National Hunt season steps up another gear this Saturday with two cracking cards at Ascot and Wetherby, and our regular tipster Tony Calvin is keen to point you in the direction of a quartet of selections...
"He didn't cut much ice in his next two starts but he is now only 5lb higher than for his win in this race last year, and Skelton came out earlier in the week and said he will be "spot on" for this big pot."
The most impressive aspect of Dan Skelton's training career to date - and, let's face it, there is plenty to applaud since he started training in 2013 - is how he has kept his remarkable strike rate as his string has increased.
It is one thing churning out winners at a near 20% level when you have a relatively small string, but when you keep to that level as the yard doubles in size - and some reports suggest the trainer is verging on 100 inmates now - it is a pretty astonishing feat and testament not only to his hunger and work-rate, but the competence of his team as a whole.
Not many trainers just starting their third season have already made those standard, and frankly annoying, "up and coming" tags superfluous, but Skelton has because in many respects he has already arrived - certainly in the eyes of the punting public, I'd wager - and he has already sent out 36 winners at a 22% strike rate this season.
But it is not a numbers game with Skelton, and he has the public openness and confidence of a man who knows the level of his horses and has a plan for them, very similar to that of a William Haggas on the Flat - and when he is guessing about their ability he admits it, as with the gambled-on, recent Aintree winner Abricot De L'Oasis, who was having his first start for the yard - and targets the horses accordingly.
In fact, he often embarrasses other trainers when reinvigorating and improving their former inmates, and that was the case with What A Warrior this time last year.
He had lost his way with Nigel Twiston-Davies but he bolted up on his debut for the yard at Ludlow, after which Skelton immediately listed this race as the target. And he duly won it, beating a well-treated Black Thunder ½ length, with six lengths back to the subsequent Hennessy third Merry King. Strong form.
He didn't cut much ice in his next two starts but he is now only 5lb higher than for his win in this race last year, and Skelton came out earlier in the week and said he will be "spot on" for this big pot.
And he has always been a horse that goes well fresh, probably running his best race for Twiston-Davies when just touched on his reappearance at Chepstow in October 2013. The drier the ground the better, and it was still good at Ascot on Friday morning after 8mm of rain overnight..
So What A Warrior rates a bet at [11.0] in the 15:25.
And I think the stable could well have a double as the drying forecast from hereon in will also suit Bellenos in the 14:15. He should be backed at [12.0] or better.
He looked a horse going places for the yard when winning over course and distance in December 2013 when he put in a round of jumping that couldn't be bettered.
But, the odd good effort aside, he hasn't really put it all together since. But he ran well in first-time blinkers at Aintree in April - they are on again here - and I reckon that an attacking ride on decent ground off an attractive mark of 133 could see him bounce back to winning form.
His jumping is the key to him, though. You want to see him get into a groove, as early mistakes have cost him in the past.
It could be a good day at Ascot for the ex-Ditcheat men as Harry Fry has a good chance in the 14:50 with Jolly's Cracked It, though I prefer last year's winner Sign Of A Victory in that race. The price is likely to be nothing to write home about though, and Skelton is represented by the unexposed Closest Friend, and I certainly wouldn't rule that one out.
Fry also prefers to run recent Ffos Las winner Voix D'Eau in preference to Presenting Arms (who I thought would just about win the race off a mark of 127 on his chasing debut) in the 13:45 and that one clearly has claims.
But I think Le Fin Bois is the one to back at [13.0] or better. The case is based pretty much solely on his improved reappearance effort on his chasing debut at Huntingdon and any progress from that could make him the one to beat here.
Over at Wetherby, Cue Card has been all the rage during the week for the Charlie Hall at 15:05 with opening 8-1 quotes a distant memory, though we all know that wouldn't have taken too much cash these days.
And you can see why, as he is the best horse in here by some way if he returns to his best of two seasons ago. Obviously he has had injury and breathing concerns since - a trapped epiglottis no less - but that leads me to believe that he will be plenty straight enough for this, especially after a racecourse spin at Wincanton. And he is unpenalised for all his good wins.
It is just the deflated price that puts me off.
The West Yorkshire Hurdle at 14:00 looks an intriguing contest, but is no-bet race for me. I can't resist throwing a few quid at Ma Filleule in the 14:30 at [3.5] or better, though.
A few fair judges thought she may be up to Gold Cup class after she waltzed home in the Topham off 150 but she couldn't quite deliver last season, despite putting up some cracking efforts, most notably when second in the Ryanair.
Now, this is a pipe-opener and she probably won't be cherry ripe, and others may prove too quick for her over 2m over hurdles. And one of her main assets is her fencing. But she is a traveller and I can easily see her winning this on the bridle if she is anywhere near straight, to be honest, as she is much the best horse in the race on pure talent, and her task was made a fair bit easier when Stephanie Frances was pulled out at 3:30pm on Friday afternoon
Back Le Fin Bois at [13.0] or better in the 13:45 at Ascot
Back Bellenos at [12.0] or better in the 14:15 at Ascot
Back What A Warrior at [11.0] or better in the 15:25 at Ascot
Back Ma Filleule at [3.5] or better in the 14:30 at Wetherby