An American who will turn up when it rains? You bet. Nestled within the odds for the Ladbrokes Trophy 2018 is an Ante-Post bet you won't want to miss.
The Ladbrokes Trophy is a Grade 3 handicap chase run at Newbury Racecourse over a distance of about 3 miles 2½ furlongs. For 60 years it was known as the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup, but now sponsored by Ladbrokes, it is worth £250,000, and boasts prestige almost on par with the Cheltenham Gold Cup - nine winners have also won the Gold Cup.
The Ladbrokes Trophy tends to go to unexposed horses, who have yet to reach their peak. Second-season chasers, particularly those to have run well in novice events at the Cheltenham Festival in March have dominated in recent times.
Since 2004, Trabolgan, Denman, Diamond Harry, Bobs Worth have won this race on their first start since running in the RSA Chase (Many Clouds had a prep run between wins), while both Celestial Gold and Native River were second in the 4-mile National Hunt Chase at the Festival before winning here.
Carruthers and Smad Place won this as 8-year-old's, after being unplaced in the Gold Cup, and six-year-old winners, State of Play and Triolo D'Alene, had both won handicap chases at Aintree's Grand National meeting.
Elegant Escape (7/1 Bet365) and Thomas Patrick (8/1 Coral) dominated a graduation chase at Sandown on Sunday, which ought to prove a good pointer, and both have something in common with previous winners.
Elegant Escape fared best of the British runners when third to Presenting Percy and Monalee in the RSA Chase, and he showed a determined attitude to overhaul Thomas Patrick, after the latter had jumped his rivals silly for the most part - the lack of an outing just telling from the last.
Thomas Patrick doesn't have the Pattern-race background we expect here, but is a rapidly-improving youngster, who won the same 3m1f handicap chase at Aintree that State of Play won before his big-race triumph in 2006.
My initial reaction on watching the Sandown contest was that the runner-up was the horse to take from the race, and this good-bodied gelding is the type to thrive on racing. He received 2lb from Elegant Escape at Sandown, which was slightly less than he would have in a handicap, and with the winner getting a 4lb penalty, Tom Lacey’s charge will be 5lb better off. Given that fact, it’s hard to understand why he is a bigger price than his Sandown conqueror.
Al Boum Photo (16/1 William Hill) also comes via the RSA Chase, where he may well have finished ahead of Elegant Escape but for a penultimate-fence fall. He made amends in the Ryanair Gold Cup at Fairyhouse, and would have ended his season by winning at Punchestown but for Paul Townend’s much-publicised brainstorm.
He’s clearly of interest on profile, but his efforts haven’t escaped the attention of the handicapper, and he has his share of weight as a result. With only Thistlecrack and Don Poli above him in the handicap, it’s easy to see him ending up with top weight on the day, and that does temper confidence.
Trainer Willie Mullins also has last year’s winner Total Recall (20/1 Paddy Power), but he was lobbed in a year ago and is now 9lb higher. That’s a worry, but a bigger concern is that he took a crunching fall in the Gold Cup, and completely failed to fire on his next two starts.
It’s worth remembering that there are no less than eight Closutton-trained entries in the race, including National Hunt Chase winner Rathvinden (33/1 Coral) and Irish National runner-up Isleofhopesanddreams (16/1 Betway).
Both have utilised hold-up tactics when posting their best efforts, and despite the galloping nature of the track, it’s never easy to come from off the pace. Kemboy (16/1 Ladbrokes) is a doubtful stayer at this trip and like Pairofbrowneyes (20/1 Betway), was a faller in the Irish Grand National. The latter hasn’t been seen since.
American (33/1 Paddy Power) is an intriguing runner. There are strong reasons to support him after last year’s debacle when running on ground much too fast for him, despite trainer Harry Fry stating that he would only race on soft or deeper ground.
In fairness to his trainer, it would have been tempting to chance last year’s ante-post favourite on the official ground, but it ended up riding much faster, and the race times suggested the going was on the fast side of good. That was no good for American.
He bounced back when second in the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham, and while he was disappointing in the Gold Cup, his run in March mirrored the efforts of Ladbrokes Trophy winners Smad Place and Carruthers prior to their wins at Newbury.
American will benefit from a much better preparation having reportedly been kept on the go through the summer. He is 3lb lower than he was last year, and although the ground is again a potential issue, he’s available at 33/1 with Paddy Power this time around, and that is tempting enough without the benefit of an accurate forecast.
Like Native River and Celestial Gold, Ms Parfois (16/1 888 Sport) comes here having finished second in the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham, and this likeable mare also merits inclusion on the shortlist, even though she gets no mares’ allowance in this handicap.
She also finished in front of Elegant Escape when second in the Mildmay Novices’ Chase, won by Terrefort at Aintree in April, although some may point to the fact that Elegant Escape slammed the winner at Sandown recently as evidence that one piece of form should not be held sancrosanct.
Thomas Patrick has run the best trial for this by splitting Elegant Escape and Coo Star Sivola in a quality intermediate chase at Sandown, and he looks the most likely to improve further, so really ought to be clear favourite given he’ll be meeting the Sandown winner on 5lb better terms.
American is the forgotten horse in the race having been all the rage a year ago when the ground turned against him. He is one high-profile American who will definitely turn up if the rain arrives, and he could trump his rival, granted suitable conditions.
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