The Ascot Chase, run over 2 miles and 5 furlongs at the Berkshire course, features three Grade 1 winners, Silviniaco Conti, Dynaste and Flemenstar, but all three have questions to answer for one reason or another (3.35pm Saturday, Ascot live on CH4 TV).
Silviniaco Conti (3/1) won the King George VI Chase at Kempton in 2013 and 2014, but was pulled up in the most recent renewal on Boxing Day and has been absent since. However, his trainer Paul Nicholls (pictured) reports that he is now free from the skin tumours, or sarcoids, which have blighted his season so far and he apparently pleased connections in a recent racecourse gallop at Wincanton. On the downside, Silviniaco Conti hasn’t run over 2 miles 5 furlongs for over four, though he does wear blinkers for the first time.
So too does his nearest market rival Dynaste (7/2), who was hugely disappointing when beaten 105 lengths by Thistlecrack in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot in December and hasn’t won for nearly two years. He has been beaten by Silviniaco Conti on five of the six occasions they have met in the past, but comes into this race on the back of a wind operation, which could bring about a resurgence. If it does, he is officially rated just 2lb inferior to Silviniaco Conti and could pose a serious threat.
Outside the front pair, Flemenstar (10/1) is a multiple Grade 1 winner over fences, but his most recent success at the highest level came courtesy of the fall of long odds-on favourite Un De Sceaux in the Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown in December. He was subsequently beaten 1¾ lengths by Felix Yonger in the Grade 2 Tied Cottage Chase at Punchestown on New Year’s Eve and, although he is officially rated just 4lb inferior to Silviniaco Conti, it will be surprising if he is good enough to beat the principals.
A similar comment applies to Royal Regatta (6/1), who has yet to win a Graded race of any kind as was beaten in the Bet365 Handicap Chase over course and distance, off a handicap mark of 149, four weeks ago.
Ma Filleule (6/1) has been dropped 9lb in the weights since finishing second in the Ryanair Chase at last year’s Cheltenham Festival, but subsequently finished miles behind Silviniaco Conti in the Betfred Bowl Chase at Aintree and is hard to fancy even on the pick of this season’s chasing form.
How much ability former Hennessy Gold Cup winner Triolo D’Alene (8/1) retains is anyone’s guess. He won what turned into a two-horse race last time on soft. He was very talented but is physically fragile nowadays. The remaining pair, Savello (14/1) and Amore Alto (25/1), appear outclassed.
With doubts about both Silviniaco Conti and Dynaste, it is hard not to be tempted by Flemenstar. But on balance it is too soon to be writing off Paul Nicholls’ 10-year-old, who has been the subject of some encouraging reports recently.