Aegean Dawn is the 5/1 antepost favourite with Ladbrokes for The Ladbroke (2.35pm) at Ascot on Saturday, December 18, and Nicky Henderson’s rapidly improving charge has been allotted 11st 2lb for the ultra-competitive Listed two-mile handicap hurdle.
Henderson’s contender may boast a perfect four from four record but he faces his stiffest task to date in The Ladbroke, worth £150,000 and the richest handicap hurdle run in Britain, and Cheshire trainer Donald McCain is hoping that the Tim Leslie-owned Drill Sergeant (10st 7lb, 25/1) can be the horse to lower the favourite’s colours.
Drill Sergeant, a tough handicapper on the Flat and placed at Group Two level for trainer Mark Johnston, has made a pleasing start to his career over hurdles for McCain this autumn. Of his four runs over hurdles to date, the most notable came in a novice event at Haydock on October 27, when the front-running five-year-old pulled himself up after a circuit before being galvanised to victory under Tony McCoy.
Drill Sergeant returned to Haydock for his most recent start on November 20. After making most of the running, the gelding went down by eight lengths to the impressive Paul Nicholls-trained Toubab, to whom he was conceding 6lb.
Toubab (11st 6lb, 8/1), the current joint second-favourite with Ladbrokes, is set to reoppose Drill Sergeant on 19lb worse terms in The Ladbroke, giving McCain cause for optimism.
McCain revealed today: “Although Drill Sergeant hasn’t had a lot of runs over hurdles, he has an awful lot of experience on the Flat in strongly-run handicaps, so that justifies his entry in The Ladbroke and it is an option we are looking at.
“Haydock is very sharp now and a strong galloping two miles suits him better - he may even prove to be better over two and a half miles. The last Haydock run was a very solid effort and we are handicapped to be competitive if he is fluent enough over his hurdles for this type of contest.
“Toubab beat us senseless last time but the turn around in the weights will help. I wouldn’t say we’re well in but Drill Sergeant had to do a lot of the work that day and it might be that he’s a better horse in a big-field contest like The Ladbroke.”
Topping the weights on 11st 12lb are the Jonjo O’Neill-trained Get Me Out Of Here (12/1), Grade Two Elite Hurdle victor Nearby (16/1) from the Philip Hobbs yard and the John Hanlon-trained high-class Irish raider Luska Lad (20/1).
Henderson’s potential contenders also include Aintree Grade Two victor General Miller (11st 7lb, 20/1) and Oscar Whisky (11st 8lb, 12/1) whose sole defeat came when fourth to Menorah in the Grade One Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham in March.
Sanctuaire (11st 8lb, 20/1) landed the Grade Three Fred Winter Juvenile Hurdle for Nicholls last term and the Ditcheat handler’s Tito Bustillo (10st 12lb, 16/1) and Advisor (10st 9lb, 20/1) could also take their chances.
Alan King’s trio of entries are headed by Mille Chief (11st 7lb, 9/1) who has a 17lb pull with Aegean Dawn (including the latter’s 5lb rider’s allowance) for a four and a half-length defeat over the course and distance in November. King could also run the smart Salden Licht (11st 4lb, 10/1) and Manyriverstocross (11st 4lb, 10/1).
Tocca Ferro (11st 3lb, 8/1) is looking for a hat-trick after Listed wins at Ascot and Newbury for trainer Emma Lavelle, while Nick Williams could seek victory with James De Vassy (11st 6lb, 25/1) and For Non Stop (10st 11lb, 10/1), and the Hobbs contingent also includes Oldrik (11st, 25/1) and Karasenir (10st 7lb, 25/1).
Bothy (10st 12lb, 10/1) ran Menorah close off a featherweight in the Grade Three Greatwood Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham last month and is one of three solid contenders from Brian Ellison’s North Yorkshire yard, the others being Palomar (10st 9lb, 14/1) and Ultimate (10st 7lb, 50/1).
The Irish-trained entries also include Pires (10st 3lb, 10/1), Son Amix (10st 12lb, 16/1) from the Tom Cooper stable and the James Hartnett-trained Lancetto (10st 11lb, 20/1).
Grade One winner Orsippus (11st 1lb, 40/1) could line up for Northumberland trainer Michael Smith, John Quinn’s novice Recession Proof (16/1) is set to carry 10st 10lb and the useful Karen McLintock-trained Bygones Of Brid (33/1) has 11st 4lb.
Others of note include the David Pipe-trained pair of Notus De La Tour (11st 3lb, 12/1) and Hunterview (10st 7lb, 20/1), as well as the Laura Mongan-trained Alsadaa (11st 2lb, 50/1), runner-up in 2007.
The Ladbroke - Latest prices from Ladbrokes
5/1 Aegean Dawn
8/1 Tocca Ferro, Toubab
9/1 Mille Chief
10/1 Manyriverstocross, For Non Stop, Pires, Bothy, Salden Licht
12/1 Notus De La Tour, Get Me Out Of Here, Oscar Whisky
16/1 Recession Proof, Nearby, Tito Bustillo, Son Amix
20/1 General Miller, Prince Of Fire, Montan, Advisor, Hunterview, Luska Lad, Lancetto, Sanctuaire
25/1 Karasenir, James De Vassy, Secret Dancer, Art Professor, Westlin' Winds, Oldrik, Drill Sergeant
33/1 Fiulin, Rebel Dancer, Ballybriggan, Bygones Of Brid, Caravel
40/1 Gifted Leader, Orsippus, Washington Irving
50/1 Heron Bay, Alsadaa, Ciceron, Dani's Girl, Dr Livingstone, Toshi, Ultimate
For more information, please contact:
Nick Smith - Head of Communications & International Racing, Ascot,
07771 791 449
David Williams - Horseracing PR, Ladbrokes, 07976 180236