Birchdale makes his eagerly awaited debut over the larger obstacles in the 2m 2f Sky Sports Racing Novices’ Chase at Ascot this Friday (13:00) and is strongly fancied to make it a winning one.
This gelding was purchased by leading owner JP McManus after impressively winning his sole start in an Irish point. Birchdale thus had a huge reputation after joining Seven Barrows handler Nicky Henderson.
He was sent off the 9/4 favourite to make a winning debut under Rules in a 17-runner maiden hurdle at Warwick and got the job done in terrific style.
After racing in mid-division, Birchdale made stealthy headway to take up the running two from home under a confident Barry Geraghty and then quickened smartly on the run-in to readily beat stable companion Clarendon Street by four lengths.
He followed-up in good style in a Grade 2 at this venue when scoring by 18 lengths, albeit his task was made easier when Brewin’upastorm came to grief at the last when upsides and challenging.
That victory saw Birchdale sent off the 6/1 second-favourite for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, but he was never travelling well at any stage and eventually pulled-up.
However, his handler has always insisted that he was the type to come into his own as a chaser. Birchdale has the size and scope to go right to the top in that sphere should all go to plan.
So, with Henderson’s stable in fine form and operating at a strike rate of 31 per cent in the last 14 days at the time of writing, Birchdale looks a worthy 11/10 favourite with Ladbrokes to take this en route to much better things.
Fred can clinch double for Henderson
Henderson looks to hold outstanding claims of landing a quick-fire Ascot double with Fred in the 2m 3f Zeelo ‘National Hunt’ Maiden Hurdle (13:30).
This four-year-old had some useful form to his name in France when finishing runner-up on three occasions, including when beaten just 1 1/2 lengths by Fakir who finished a highly promising seventh of 22 to Cheltenham Champion Bumper runner-up Blue Sari at Punchestown last time out.
He was then purchased by Anthony Bromley on behalf of leading owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede, and ran very well on his first start for Henderson when third of 11 to Heaven Help Us in a decent maiden hurdle at Cheltenham last month.
Fred raced close up and held every chance when making a costly mistake two from home which knocked the stuffing out of him.
It was to his credit, therefore, that he then stuck to the task well to be beaten just over four lengths.
The winner has since come out and run well to finish third behind the smart Silver Forever at Newbury, whilst the fourth hone Getariver won next time up at Ludlow.
That gives the form a decent look and Fred is entitled to strip much fitter for that outing – his first in 208 days.
This also looks a less competitive class 3 affair and Fred runs in it instead of competing in a Listed contest on tomorrow’s Betfair Chase card at Haydock.
That five-day entry showed that he is held in high regard, so this looks like a nice opening for Fred to notch a first career success. He can be backed at 11/4 with BetVictor to do just that.
Red Force One weighted to strike in Ascot finale
In the 2m Rewarding Ownership With The ROA Handicap Hurdle that brings proceedings to a close on a cracking card (15:45), Red Force One looks the on to be on now eased in grade following a cracking second last time out.
That run came in an ultra-competitive 15-runner Listed handicap hurdle at Ascot where the Paul Nicholls trained four-year-old finished off strongly and failed by a diminishing neck to overhaul Gumball.
The winner, from who he was receiving 9lb, has since gone and run a blinder to finish a neck second to Harambe in the Grade 3 Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham off 8lb higher – so that gives the form a rock solid look in relation to this lower grade class 2 affair.
It makes 3lb rise in the weights for Red Force One look on the lenient side, especially as that was just his fourth start over the obstacles.
He was also thought good enough to be pitched into Grade 2 company in the second of those when a solid 13 1/2 lengths fourth of 12 to Fusil Raffles in the Adonis Juvenile Hurdle at Kempton.
As the winner went on to land a Grade 1 at the Punchestown Festival and landed the Elite Hurdle on return to action at Wincanton earlier in the month off an official rating of 152, it is again form of the highest order.
Red Force One could potentially be miles ahead of the assessor on a revised rating of 128 and the proverbial handicap “good thing”. The son of Lethal Force also has his optimum conditions at Ascot.
A repeat of his run behind Gumball should be more than good enough to see him land the spoils in this. Therefore, at 5/2 with William Hill, Red Force One looks well worth a wager.