La Bague Au Roi was one of the stars of last season and Warren Greatrex’s mare can maintain her impeccable record first time out by leading her rivals a merry dance in the Grade Two bet365 Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby today.
The eight-year-old surrendered her unbeaten record over fences when going down by a length and a quarter to Kalashnikov at Aintree on her final start last season but that was her sole defeat in five starts in the 2018-19 campaign.
Having made a successful debut over the bigger obstacles at Newbury last November, La Bague Au Roi took the step up to Grade Two company at the same venue in her stride three weeks later before completing a Grade One double when winning the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton on St Stephen’s Day and the Flogas Novice Chase at Leopardstown in February.
That’s a mighty impressive four-timer that looks even better when you look at the horses she beat. In her first Newbury win last season, she got the better of Colin Tizzard’s Lostintranslation, a horse who ended the campaign by winning a Grade One at Aintree with Talkischeap an outclassed third.
On her return to Newbury, she confirmed her superiority over Talkischeap, a horse who would end his campaign by running away with the bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown.
At Kempton, La Bague Au Roi got the better of subsequent RSA Chase winner Topofthegame and the high-class Santini.
Like Lostintranslation, Santini is towards the head of the Gold Cup market, a position Topofthegame would also occupy had injury not ruled him out for the season.
There’s nothing of that calibre in opposition this afternoon and her mare’s allowance and flawless record when making her seasonal reappearance only strengthens confidence in La Bague Au Roi.
Expect her to put down a serious King George marker by dominating her rivals from the front.
The market suggests the Grade Two bet365 Hurdle is a match between the veteran Unowhatimeanharry and Ballyandy but neither horse looks bombproof.
Having bounced back to form to win the Champion Stayers’ Hurdle at Punchestown at the end of last season, Unowhatimeanharry deserves to be at the head of the market but he has to defy a 6lb Grade One penalty for that success, no easy task for a horse rising 12.
Ballyandy, meanwhile, is two from 10 over hurdles and has never shaped like a horse crying out for a step up to three miles.
Given those doubts, a chance is taken on Le Breuil, winner of a gruelling National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival when last sighted on a racecourse.
If this turns into a slog, he certainly won’t be found wanting in the stamina department and the booking of Richard Johnson looks a real statement of intent.
Elsewhere at Wetherby, Lady Buttons is very hard to oppose in her bid to win the bet365 Mares’ Hurdle for a second successive year while Dan Skelton’s West To The Bridge gets a tentative vote in the bet365 Handicap Chase.
Ascot’s feature is the Grade Three Sodexo Gold Cup and Mister Malarky looks a fair each-way price at odds of 8-1.
Colin Tizzard’s charge won three of his six starts last season, with his best effort a Grade Two course and distance win last February.
There was no disgrace in finishing fourth in a red-hot renewal of the RSA Chase at the Cheltenham Festival and a repeat of that effort would make him very competitive today.
Like Mister Mister Malarky, Didtheyleaveuoutto started last season in fine form, winning twice, the second of which came at today’s venue.
That day, he got the better of Thomas Darby, a horse who went on to finish second in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
Admittedly, Didtheyleaveuoutto didn’t build on that success but it could be that he’s at his best at this time of the season and his liking for Ascot makes him an appealing betting proposition in the Sodexo Handicap Hurdle.
The likeable Speredek could prove hard to pass in the Byrne Group Handicap Chase while Earlofthecotswolds should go close in the Ascot Underwriting Chase.
Today’s biggest race comes from Down Royal where King George hero Clan Des Obeaux and RSA Chase third Delta Work are on a collision course in the Grade One Ladbrokes Champion Chase.
And with many of the Paul Nicholls team looking like they need their first run of the season and the Gordon Elliott team in sparkling form, Delta Work is taken to emerge victorious.