The Ascot Chase is the last Grade 1 national hunt race that will be run before the 2016 Cheltenham Festival gets underway on the 15th of March.
This, combined with the assembly of a less than stellar field, has resulted in the 2016 Ascot Chase reminding me of an aging rock band playing an opening set for a big money act in front of an impatient crowd. A few people in the crowd sort-of remember one of their songs, but even they would prefer if the golden oldies shoved off and let the headline act take the stage.
On guitar and vocals is antepost favourite Silviniaco Conti, who last won a race in April 2015. On lead guitar is 2014 Ryanair Chase winner, Dynaste (who hasn’t won a race since then), and on bass is Boston Bob, who ended his career as a champion racehorse with a win in the 2014 Melling Chase and pulled up in his most recent race. Meanwhile the drummer took a fall in a 2015 NH flat race before launching a new career as a book binding.
This isn’t to say you should be tempted to say “bugger it” and save your stake for the Cheltenham Festival. The supporting cast for the Ascot Chase may be short on established champion racehorses, but does show flashes of raw talent and ambition. And every horse in the field aside from the favourite is currently priced within range of a profitable each-way bet.
An underpriced favourite
The first step, then, is to dismiss Silviniaco Conti as a credible favourite.
Besides pulling up in the King George VI Chase last time out, he’s not won over 21 furlongs since November 2011, and is very much a 3 mile specialist. At his peak his ability to pick up the pace over the final furlongs made him a formidable stayer over 3 miles, but this flagging talent will serve little purpose over 21 furlongs at Ascot.
So while he’s certainly good enough to place, he offers no value for this option thanks to his billing as antepost favourite.
In contrast Triolo D’Alene combines impressive credentials with good form. A winner in the 2013 Hennessy Gold Cup, he emerged from a year-long break in January to take the williamhill.com Chase at Kempton by 49 lengths. Although he achieved this in a listed race with a field of three, the fact that he did so over 20.5 furlongs suggests he’s in the right shape to make a challenge at Ascot. Throw in a price of 7/1 and he looks a good each-way option.
With our initial selection Vroum Vroum Mag pulled from the field, it offers relatively slim pickings. Flemenstar has been in handy form over 2 miles, but his slim victory margins don't suggest he'll stay the extra five at Ascot. Meanwhile Ma Filluele has a recent win over 20 furlongs to her credit, but achieved this against a mares only field - suggesting she's better value for the place than the win.
Silviniaco Conti just about outclasses this field based on past achievements, but offers little value at his price. This leaves Trio D'alene as the best option in the field - he could win it, but with an each-way punt is a good bet to pay you out on a place.