As Bayan battled on gamely to take the 2014 running of the Ladbroke Hurdle it might have come as quite a shock to see the 14/1 shot land the spoils, when in truth one look at who trained the gelding should have been a big enough hint.
It’s clear Gordon Elliott rarely brings one over for the big handicap hurdles unless he thinks it has a solid chance of glory, illustrated by his record in these kind of races.
Outside of the Cheltenham Festival, the trainer has had 10 runners in Listed or Graded Handicap Hurdles since 2011 and has returned four winners and three further places.
Even including the ultra-competitive races at Prestbury Park in March, the County Meath handler has an impressive 47 per cent strike-rate of horses either placing or winning.
He has three runners currently marked as possibles for this year’s renewal of the Ladbroke at Ascot, and while the betting suggests only one has much of his chance, you shouldn’t let a big price put you off.
Of the aforementioned quartet of winners, the average returned SP was a none-too-shabby 16/1, meaning it’s not all about the short-priced favourites for Elliott.
The one the betting suggests is the trainer’s best hope this time round is Diamond King (14/1).
Davy Russell’s booked mount has run two good races in handicap company this season, first finishing fourth behind the Grade 2-placed Fethard Player, before a better effort to finish second in a stronger race at Fairyhouse.
Transferred from a Donald McCain yard that was woefully out of sorts last season, if he can rediscover the novice form that saw him win four of his first five races, he could yet be well handicapped.
One thing that goes against the seven-year-old though is that the last eight winners of the race were aged between four and six, suggesting that the gelding may be a little long in the tooth.
He has, however, had less previous hurdle runs than the three most recent winners of this race, so could yet be open to more improvement.
At bigger prices (both 33/1) for Elliott are the pair of Hostile Fire and Vercingetorix.
The latter has been thoroughly frustrating for followers in the past 12 months, promisingly so much after an emphatic Maiden Hurdle win but delivering little.
Sent off favourite in four of his six runs since (three times at odds-on), the four-year-old has finished second or third on each of those occasions.
A drop down into handicap company could be just what he needs to strike, but an improvement on his performance on reappearance just over two weeks ago will be needed.
Hostile Fire finished behind Diamond King on October 31 when both suffered bad interference when hampered by a faller ahead of them.
He’s six pounds better off in the handicap with his stable-mate for that run, though after finishing tailed off on his most previous start, a return to form will be necessary.
He’s a horse that has come from a flat racing background, as Elliott’s most recent winner and 2013 third-placed Flaxen Flare were, so could do just that.
All in all, it will be dangerous to avoid whichever runners the 37-year-old trainer sends to Berkshire on Saturday.
With his record in these type of contests, it could just be worth throwing a few pounds on his representatives, be it all three or just a chosen one.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
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