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Somersby - Finian's Rainbow - Al Ferof - Victor Chandler Chase - Ascot - Jan 2012

Al Ferof (in rear) was five lengths behind Somersby (near side) at Ascot

  PICTURE: Getty  

Ferof's Ascot experience will be key in the Arkle

The emphasis returns to jumping in this week's blog and it was good quality racing at that. Somersby finally enjoyed his day in the sun at Ascot on Saturday andJohn de Moraville gives his thoughts on what Henrietta Knight's stable star actually proved in doing so. Other valuable contests are also covered, namely the mares' Grade 2 at the Berkshire venue and Haydock's Peter Marsh Chase.

SOMERSBY SHINES

With no Master Minded to spoil the party, Somersby gained the Grade 1 triumph he sorichly deserved in Saturday's Victor Chandler Chase at Ascot, writes John de Moraville.

Foiled heartbreakingly by a whisker by the sidelined ex-champion in the same race a year ago, Somersby - top-rated on official figures this time - ran to his mark of 166 to propel trainer Henrietta Knight back into the big time.

Finian's Rainbow, whose only previous chase defeat came in last season's Arkle, was an honourable second and posted a career-best 164, while third-placed Al Ferof (160) advertised his claims for this year's 2m novice title.

Somersby's Cheltenham target is expected to be the Ryanair Chase, which looks the right call as the extended trip will suit and he was found wanting in the Queen Mother Champion Chase last spring when fifth behind Sizing Europe (177), who is favourite to complete a famous double in March.

Saturday's defeat leaves Finian's Rainbow, who looked sure to win jumping the second-last, with a bit to find in the Champion Chase but the experience gained by the novice Al Ferof should be a significant asset against the likes of Sprinter Sacre (161) and Peddlers Cross (also 160) in what promises to be a vintage Arkle.

Cheltenham's uphill finish will help him as well, as was the case when stamina won himthe day in last year's Supreme Novices' Hurdle.

ACCORDING TO STEPHEN

It's been a while since I had to do any national hunt handicapping, writes Stephen Hindle,but I've been drafted in as Phil Smith has swanned off on holiday!

One good thing about that happening at this time of year is the chance to assess some better races and Saturday was no exception with the latest renewal of the Grade 2 Peter Marsh Handicap Chase at Haydock.

It looked competitive beforehand, with four last-time-out winners in the line-up and the majority of the 11-strong field going into the race in good form.

In the end the race boiled down to three, namely recent winners According To Pete and Consigliere and last-time-out faller Pearlysteps. According To Pete was 8lb out of the handicap when winning the Rowland Meyrick at Wetherby over Christmas and he proved that was no fluke in fine style here, looking value for slightly more than the three-and-a-half lengths he prevailed by from Pearlysteps.

Considering the first three were 23 lengths clear of the fourth in a competitive-looking race I felt they all deserved a rise.

Consiglierehas been as high as 148 in the past, a mark he achieved when finishing third in the 2010 Grand Annual but the winner of that race, Pigeon Island, has failed to progress and I felt more comfortable putting Consigliere up by 2lb to 147.

That meant a 3lb rise for Pearlysteps, who was three-quarters of a length in front of Consigliere, to 143. According To Pete, who clearly relishes testing ground, is now up to a career-high mark of 149 (raised 7lb).

None of the others ran to form, though Mon Mome can be forgiven a seemingly well-below-par effort as he wasn't that far behind when his rider called it a day. The 2009 Grand National winner presumably has that event on his agenda again this year.

DAVIS CUP

There was very little to choose between the majority of the runners in the Warfield Mares' Hurdle at Ascot on Saturday and, partly due to the steady pace, there was little to choose between them at the finish either, writes Martin Greenwood.

On my adjusted ratings, there was only a couple of pounds between Irish challenger Our Girl Salley (who gave 5lb to the rest of the field), Violin Davis, Kentford Grey Lady and Cloudy Spirit - the last-named trio renewing rivalries having all run in a Kempton handicap the time before. On that occasion, Kentford Grey Lady ran out a convincing winner receiving upwards of 10lb from the other two.

It was always going to be much harder for the grey racing off level weights at Ascot, though she was still sent off the preferred mare in the market. In the event, however,she couldn't quite peg back Violin Davis after the race turned into something of a sprint and she went down narrowly by half a length. The slightly eased down Our Girl Salley was just over two lengths back in third, with the rest of the field not much further behind.

There was little shuffling of the ratings needed afterwards - the winner is now 135 (matching the four-year standards for the contest)from 133, the runner-up 134 from 133 and Our Girl Salley remaining on 139 for now.

Incidentally, Love of Tara, who finished last, appeared to run 4lb above her pre-race rating of 122 but I have ignored the run and assumed she was flattered, a decision that helps prove the BHA handicappers don't always follow the robotic stance we are often accused of!

This blog appears courtesy of britishhorseracing.com

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