Saturday’s Warfield Mares' Hurdle at Ascot looks a hot affair with the Nick Williams-trained Culture De Sivola and the Paul Nicholls-trained If You Say Run heading the betting.
Harry Cobden is already jocked up on the Paul Nicholls contender and that gives an indication as to running plans. The forecast underfoot conditions of good ground would suit the seven-year-old, who triumphed off a mark of 131 in a handicap at Wincanton two starts ago.
She's 7/2 favourite in the Warfield Mare's Hurdle betting, sharing favouritism with Culture De Sivola, who also won a handicap hurdle recently, landing a 3m Kempton contest off a rating of 135.
Two similar mares then, topping the odds at Ascot, but are either the best bet to win?
First held in 2008, the Warfield Mares' Hurdle is a Grade 2 run over 2m7.5f for £50,000. This Saturday it's live on ITV4, and a key trial for the David Nicholson Mares' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, Vroum Vroum Mag winning both three years ago, and United, Sparky May and Bitofapuzzle all going on to place in the Grade 1.
This year's renewal may not look up to Cheltenham Festival class, but were top-rated If You Say Run to win, she would have to enter calculations, and an impressive win for any runner would also see them enter the betting.
When If You Say Run (7/2 Ladbrokes) won that handicap at Wincanton she beat Litterale Ci, the winner of three of her four preceding starts. Already in notebooks, she ran a highly creditable race in Listed company, finishing second over 3m, Culture De Sivola (7/2 Bet365) back in third.
The pair were beaten by the odds-on favourite Mia's Storm, but If You Say Run may well have finished closer had she not been forced to switch around rails in the closing stages.
While ordinarily the seven-year-old's hanging left-handed would be considered a negative, Ascot is a right-handed track, so assuming she only hangs in the closing stages, that will see her race against the stands' rail in the straight, and with an experienced jockey like Harry Cobden in the saddle, she'll be on the stands' rail anyway.
While it’s been over a year since we’ve seen Rons Dream raced over hurdles, she isn’t too far behind the best of her Warfield Mares' Hurdle rivals.
Together with the penalised Jester Jet (4/1 Coral), she is the oldest horse in the field at nine, but she has been in good form over fences this season winning a 3m Listed chase on good going at Carlisle in November, beating possible rival Casablanca Mix (6/1 Bet365).
A good second followed, while Peter Bowen’s charge showed tremendous reserves of stamina in finishing a staying-on fourth behind Elegant Escape in the Welsh Grand National at Chepstow last month.
The Kayf Tara mare was a distance sixth in the Warfield Mares' Hurdle behind Vroum Vroum Mag three years ago, but has since proven herself to be effective over much further than the 2m7.5f here and looks a decent each-way bet at 6/1 with Paddy Power.
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