Alex Hammond blog: National fiasco tarnishes Tiger’s legacy

With her fingers firmly crossed for the weather, Sky Sports Racing’s Alex Hammond looks ahead to Saturday’s card at Ascot and reflects on Tiger Roll’s withdrawal from the Grand National.

There is more than one storm battering the UK and Ireland right now. Dudley hit on Wednesday and Eunice is due to do her worst on Friday. However, there’s a third storm that has already brewed this week and it’s one I think we are all becoming tired of.

I’m talking Tiger Roll of course and the annual pantomime that surrounds his weight allocation for the Grand National. Now, I’m not going to go into a raging debate about the rights and wrongs of his rating and the owners are entitled to do what they choose, but please go about it quietly.

When you have got to the stage that you are looking forward to one of the greatest Grand National performers of all time retiring you know the storm has reached its depression.

Spare us the show. If they choose not to run that’s their prerogative, but let the little horse bow out with some dignity. His legacy is tarnished, and he does not deserve that.

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Former jockey Freddy Tylicki says Tiger Roll’s absence from this year’s Grand National will be ‘gutting’

Hoping for storm Dashel at Ascot

Back to the official storms then and let’s hope Eunice does not create havoc with this weekend’s fixtures. At the time of writing, Fakenham has been abandoned on Friday and Lingfield’s all-weather fixture on the same day is subject to a morning inspection.

Haydock are sounding cautious about their Saturday meeting, and Ascot must be hoping for the best. Let’s assume they all go ahead as planned and try and find some winners.

The feature race is the Betfair Ascot Chase, and we are in for a real treat here. The wonderful Dashel Drasher is bidding to become the first horse since Riverside Theatre in 2011/12 to win consecutive renewals of this Grade One, but this looks tougher than last year’s race and his price reflects that (he’s 5/1 with Sky Bet and has four horses in front of him in the market).

That does not mean he cannot overcome that, and my heart would love to see this charismatic character win again.

If you watched the Fleur de Lys Chase at Lingfield on their Winter Million weekend, and more importantly if you backed him, you may well have been throwing objects at the TV. He appeared to be dossing in the closing stages with his ears flicking back and forth and I am slightly surprised he has not been fitted with some form of headgear in this.

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Trainer Jeremy Scott is hopeful of a big run from Dashel Drasher on Saturday as he bids to defend his Ascot Chase title

Two For Gold beat him that day and reopposes, but he was receiving 6lbs from Dashel and it will be harder taking on Jeremy Scott’s nine-year-old back on his home turf.

Dashel’s Ascot record reads: 1st, 1st, 1st, 1st, 3rd. The defeat came in the 1965 Chase when it was Lostintranslation’s time to shine, and what an overdue day in the sun that was for Colin Tizzard’s likeable chaser.

He appears to have been particularly hard hit by the stable’s time in the doldrums, so nobody could begrudge him the win.

He was a cliff horse for me though and I had given up on him by then, so not such a glorious victory from where I was standing. He has since been well beaten in the King George (again).

There’s something to say about all the runners here, so bear with me. It seems remiss of me not to have kicked off with the Irish raider. Fakir D’Oudairies has been sent over for the race by Joseph O’Brien and that’s not good news for the other seven.

He is a classy individual who has already won two Grade One races and finished second to Allaho in the Ryanair at the last Cheltenham Festival. It’s hard to pick holes in him and it’s no surprise he’s been well supported all week and now (at the time of writing) trades as Sky Bet’s 11/4 favourite.

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Kevin Blake, racing manager to trainer Joseph O’Brien, believes Saturday’s Ascot Chase, live on Sky Sports Racing, could be Fakir D’oudairies’ best chance of a Grade One success this season

Only a fool would overlook a runner from the Venetia Williams yard at present and her Fanion D’Estruval is a horse I have plenty of time for. He was not disgraced over this course and distance last time out when bumping into Phoenix Wayand he’s also in with a chance in an open race.

Nicky Henderson has won the race three times, but he would prefer the storms had not come for Mister Fisher.

Paul Nicholls has the bragging rights though with four previous winners of the race and Saint Calvados gives him a strong chance of number five.

He made his debut for the stable in the King George where tactics did not suit, and the three-mile trip stretched him.

The drop back to two-miles-five-furlongs will be right up his street and the yard seem to have come out of the other side of a quiet spell in January.

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Trainer Paul Nicholls is hoping Saint Calvados will have a fitness edge on Saturday’s Ascot Chase rivals, having been rested since finishing third in the King George at Kempton on Boxing Day

That just leaves Waiting Patiently who needs to recapture his glory days at the age of 11 and on his second start for new trainer Christian Williams.

I have no doubt the trainer can work his magic and his training methods may spark a revival, but he is some way off the form that saw him win this race in 2018 when beating Cue Card.

To conclude, my head tells me Fakir D’Oudairies is the one to beat, but my heart goes with Dashel Drasher who can hopefully put his rivals to the sword with his relentless galloping style at a track that suits him to a tee.

Sky’s the limit for Thomas

I will be at Ascot for Sky Sports Racing (weather permitting) and another horse I am looking forward to seeing in the flesh is the Sam Thomas-trained Skytastic, who runs in the Join Kim Bailey Racing Novices’ Hurdle.

He comes here unbeaten in three starts and impressed at Doncaster last time out.

That form was given a boost when the runner-up, Godrevy Point, won at Hereford in the week and the first two pulled clear of the rest of the field.

Skytastic comes here for a bit more experience with the Cheltenham Festival in mind and he is 20/1 with Sky Bet for the Ballymore and that looks the aim at the moment according to his trainer.

The Bateaux London Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase is the other graded race on Ascot’s Saturday card. It does not look as strong a renewal as in some years but that does not make it any less competitive for punters.

Does He Know is the highest rated for Kim Bailey but the forecast rain on ground already described as soft puts me off. He’s Sky Bet’s 9/4 favourite but I am inclined to look elsewhere.

Annual Invictus ran an extraordinary race at Plumpton last time out and the fact he finished last of three does not tell the tale.

His chance appeared to have completely gone as he was tailed off down the back straight but he stayed on strongly to get back to a respectable two-and-a-quarter lengths third.

It looks like the step up to three miles is exactly what he wants. The addition of first time cheekpieces tell you that trainer Chris Gordon potentially feels he was keeping a bit to himself but if they stop him from dropping back in the field, he could run well and he’s 3/1 second favourite.

Image: Annual Invictus jumps to victory at Cheltenham under jockey Tom Cannon

Lucinda Russell’s Corach Rambler was fancied to run well in the Classic Chase at Warwick but carried top weight in the stamina-sapping contest and he was eventually well beaten in fourth.

He will wear a tongue tie for the first time on Saturday which is a slight red flag but hopefully we see a revival here as he’s well regarded by connections.

It’s possible I still have not mentioned the winner, but I do not think Doyen Breed is fluent enough at his fences yet, the ground does not look ideal for Fern Hill and J’Ai Froid has a bit to prove.

He is a risky proposition but in these conditions and with the hope that the cheekpieces work the oracle, I am going with Annual Invictus with Corach Rambler the horse I am most afraid of.

I reckon the Met Office missed a trick when they named one of the storms this week. I think they should have gone with Storm Dashel, let’s hope he can wreak havoc on the opposition (heart ruling head again).

He is a horse that has captured the imagination of racing fans and deservedly so. His connections let the horse do the talking and you would bet he has plenty to say! Have a great weekend and keep clear of the storm.

Source : Sky Sports