Henry’s Friend held off the late lunge of Kilbeg King to successfully move up in class and win the Sodexo Live! Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase at Ascot, on a tremendous afternoon for trainer Ben Pauling and jockey Ben Jones.

Pauling fitted Henry’s Friend with cheekpieces for the first time, despite him winning his last two outings.

And it certainly had the desired effect, as he showed real determination in the closing stages to win the Grade Two in the hands of Ben Jones.

Brave Kingdom attempted to make all, but he was beaten a long way from home which left 13-8 favourite Apple Away in front.

She could never quite break away, however, as Henry’s Friend, Kilbeg King and outsider The King Of Ryhope all had a chance jumping two out.

It was Henry’s Friend (13-2) who toughed it out best, winning by a head and earning a quote of 10-1 for the National Hunt Chase with Paddy Power, although Cheltenham is unlikely to be on the winner’s radar, as Pauling explained.

“He didn’t jump well enough early doors and it was fortunate for him they didn’t go much of a gallop,” he said.

“I thought they would go a right gallop and if they had done he wouldn’t have been in it. But he was brave from the back of the last and his jumping got better and he keeps improving.

“I thought he was well handicapped, but I just thought he would be better off in a smaller field. I’m thrilled because he had to improve and he has.

“He wants every yard (of three miles) and he will be a lovely staying chaser in time. Stamina would never be a worry for me with this lad.

“He’s got an entry at Cheltenham in the amateur chase, but I doubt he wants to go there after that – that looked a bit of a ding-dong and to go there so quickly might be stupid.

“We might look at Aintree for him or something like that, but I think that will do for now.”

Pauling also claimed the opening Ascot Shop Novices’ Hurdle with Pic Roc (11-2) as he continues to add to his crack team of promising youngsters.

His second to Hasthing at Catterick saw him qualify for Sandown’s European Breeders’ Fund Betfair ‘National Hunt’ Novices’ Handicap Hurdle Final and having downed the well-regarded 13-8 favourite Inthewaterside, his handler confirmed that would be his next assignment.

“He’s a nice horse who I’ve always thought plenty of but haven’t managed to win with him,” added Pauling.

“If you are going to lose your maiden status, here is a great place in a nice race.

“He will go to the EBF Final and he qualified for that at Catterick (when second to Hasthing). I just needed to get a run into him and tried that at Doncaster last week but it snowed.

“He doesn’t jump well enough to be a top-class novice this year – he needs a fence. But he will be a lovely novice chaser next year. He’s not a star of hurdles but he might be a nice staying chaser next year.

“We’ll just chuck him in the EBF, see how we get on and then maybe pull stumps for the year. We’ve got a lot entered in that race this year, but he would probably right towards the top of them now.”

The double marked a big Saturday afternoon for Jones, who has become a key member of Pauling’s Naunton Downs team following the retirement of Luca Morgan and steered home Harry Redknapp’s Shakem Up’Arry at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day.

“I’m absolutely delighted and it’s easy when you have nice horses underneath you,” said the 24-year-old.

“I’m just lucky that I’m able to go out and perform against the big boys and the big horses, so I’m delighted.

“As a jockey all you want to do is ride in the bigger races and at the bigger meetings and winners like that on the big stage mean a lot.

“The better the horse, the better the jockey and I’ve had a couple of willing partners today.”

And it was so nearly the stuff of dreams for the pair, with Bad going agonisingly close to giving them a quickfire hat-trick in the Thoroughbred Industry Employee Awards Handicap Hurdle but just missing out to Mothill in a bob of heads on the line.

Saturday’s BetMGM Clarence House Chase fixture at Ascot has been abandoned due to a frozen track.

The Berkshire circuit was due to host a seven-race card, with the Grade One feature set to stage a mouthwatering rematch between old foes El Fabiolo and Jonbon.

However, a third clash between the pair will not take place this weekend, with the track deemed unraceable following a 4pm inspection Thursday and further freezing temperatures forecast.

A statement from Ascot posted on X, formerly Twitter, read: “The BetMGM Clarence House Chase Raceday has been abandoned.

“Temperatures dropped to minus 6C overnight into Thursday and the track is still frozen in places at 4pm under the covers.

“Given the forecast remains for sub-zero temperatures over the next two nights there is no prospect of improvement before raceday on Saturday.”

An inspection has also been called ahead of Saturday’s meeting at Haydock, with officials set to check on conditions at 8am on Friday.

Clerk of the course Kirkland Tellwright admits the card, which is headlined by the Sky Bet Peter Marsh Chase, needs a “miracle” if it is to go ahead.

“We’ve not had a great day and the frost hasn’t even got off the running rail, so we are not looking great,” Tellwright said on Thursday afternoon.

“We will wait to see if the thaw starts early but there is no indication of it, so I think we will be put out of our misery in the morning.

“We just need to pray there is a miracle and the thaw starts in time.”

Friday’s meeting at Market Rasen was called off following a noon inspection, with the track frozen after temperatures dropped to minus 8C overnight.

Taunton’s meeting on Saturday is subject to an inspection at noon on Friday.

Saturday’s BetMGM Clarence House Chase fixture at Ascot is already in major doubt after an inspection was called for 4pm this afternoon.

The Berkshire circuit is due to host a seven-race card, with the Grade One feature set to stage a mouthwatering rematch between old foes El Fabiolo and Jonbon after the top-class pair were both declared as part of a four-runner field on Thursday morning.

However, it appears increasingly unlikely the clash will take place this weekend after temperatures dipped even lower than forecast on Wednesday night.

“We were expecting to get down to minus 4C last night, but we actually got down to minus 6C,” said clerk of the course Chris Stickels.

“It’s still colder than minus 2C now here and the forecast for tonight is for temperatures to get down to minus 4C.

“The course is frozen under the covers and with the forecast we’ve got, I would imagine we’re going to be unable to race. There’s nothing at this stage that gives me confidence.”

An inspection has also been called ahead of Saturday’s meeting at Haydock, with officials set to check on conditions at 8am on Friday.

Clerk of the course Kirkland Tellwright admits it is a “long shot” the card, which features the Sky Bet Peter Marsh Chase, will take place, but given a rise in temperatures is forecast on Friday, he will wait a little longer before making a final decision.

He said: “It’s a long shot but we have got one eye on this thaw.

“We will probably fail to race, but we think it’s worth running with it a little bit longer in case that thaw comes a bit earlier than expected.

“We got to minus 7C last night so the majority of the track is frozen, including some areas under the covers, so we have a steep gradient to climb.”

Nicky Henderson warmed up for a huge Boxing Day with a four-timer across both Ascot and Haydock on the final day of action before Christmas.

The two biggest names in Henderson’s Seven Barrows yard, Constitution Hill and Shishkin, will make their seasonal debuts at Kempton on Tuesday, in the Ladbrokes-sponsored Christmas Hurdle and King George VI Chase respectively. The first half of the season has not gone to plan for either of them, giving Henderson sleepless nights in the process.

Constitution Hill was due to run in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle, with the meeting lost to the weather only to be rearranged for a week later. Henderson did enter him for the rescheduled event at Sandown, but heavy ground prevented him from running.

He was meant to be joined in the rearranged Fighting Fifth by Shishkin – but he also sidestepped it for the same reason, having also missed out at Newcastle in the Rehearsal Chase. The latter had been an original Plan B after he blotted his copybook by refusing to race at Ascot.

Henderson was at Ascot to witness French import Excello win the Howden Graduation Chase and Luccia lead home stablemate Impose Toi in the Betfair Exchange Trophy, while Issuing Authority and Pawapuri got their heads in front at Haydock.

“It’s always nice when the horses are running well. You’ve got to make the most of it because you can get bad patches, but they are being very well behaved at the moment,” said the 73-year-old.

“It doesn’t make me any less nervous for Tuesday as they are all doing different things.

“Those first two up at Haydock were good and I was very impressed with the mare (Pawapuri) and I was impressed with him (Excello) too.”

While Henderson allows himself to enjoy the festivities, he admits his mind will be wandering elsewhere.

“I enjoy seeing the people over Christmas and then the family on Christmas Day, but you are chomping a bit. Your head is still buzzing about what is to come,” he said.

“The most important part is the team behind it and they’ve got to work solidly over this weekend. A lot would prefer to be elsewhere but we can’t do that, we’ve got to mix in, rally together and keep our heads down.”

As for his big two, he will just be pleased to finally get a run into the pair of them.

“They were all right this morning, but you only need them to tread on a peanut and they could be lame tomorrow, it’s not that easy,” he said.

“Shishkin has been away but nothing very dramatic that we wouldn’t normally do, pretty routine.

“I’ve had some very entertaining suggestions about how we can persuade him to start. I can’t personally say I’m not worried about it, of course I am, but I really don’t think it’s a big problem, I really don’t.

“Someone will go down to the start with him and I just need to check with the starter what we can and cannot do. What I think you can’t do is carry anything, certainly not a Long Tom (whip). If we could do that it would be simple. He’ll be all right.

“He’s in good form, I would have loved to have had a race, but we haven’t – there’s nothing I can do about it now. I’m pleased with the way the last week has gone.

“As for the other lad (Constitution Hill), we’ve got three more sleeps, something like that.

“When you have a horse with his mentality, all the messing about hasn’t bothered him. He makes it easier than most horses would.

“His temperament is due to his father, Blue Bresil, he’s passed the genes on and they are so relaxed.

“You still have to remember you are starting a new season and they don’t always come back the same, this is no given.

“If he comes through this and it goes like last year I’d be confident about the next bit. But the first day out of the year is crucial, it’s like a first day at school. He’s been good at home, but there are new kids on the block and he’s starting a new term.”

Nicky Henderson’s exciting French import Excello upset odds-on favourite Solo when running out a ready winner of the Howden Graduation Chase at Ascot.

In a contest previously won by the likes of Top Notch, Riders Onthe Storm and L’Homme Presse, Solo set out to lead all the way and looked comfortable enough out in front.

However, four-year-old Excello was also travelling well and jumped alongside the pacesetter at the third-last before powering past him on the home turn.

Two good jumps up the straight allowed Nico de Boinville just to keep his mount focused for an impressive six-and-a-half-length success over two miles and five furlongs.

The 11-4 scorer was a winner over fences at Auteuil in March, and Henderson said: “The whole plan was to go novice hurdling this season and then to come back chasing not as a novice.

“But the way he is doing that, would you really want to go back to novice hurdling? You may as well get on and do what he’s good at – and that’s jumping.

“He went a bit left a few times, but you wouldn’t be worried about that. At Ascot, you will always see them just wander that way, it’s a natural trait.

“We schooled him Tuesday to see if this is something we could do and he was so good. I wouldn’t bring too many four-year-olds here to jump those fences.

“That’s probably the handicap mark gone out the window as well, so that (route) is not an option. He’s five at Christmas, so he loses that four-year-old slight advantage.

“It’s very French and they have already run over fences as a three and four-year-old – and this is Mr Henderson trying to parler francaise.”

There was heartbreak for followers of Harper’s Brook when he threw away victory in the Howden Handicap Chase by faltering close home, allowing Triple Trade to claim a dramatic triumph.

Kielan Woods set a fast pace on Harper’s Brook, who ran his rivals ragged and jumped superbly throughout, with a big leap at the last fence looking sure to have sealed it.

However, he stopped to a near-walk on the run-in and Triple Trade swooped in the dying strides under Brendan Powell to oblige by half a length at 9-4.

Winning trainer Joe Tizzard said: “He hasn’t actually had his ground this season because he wants soft ground, but he’s winning anyway and had he not missed four out, which he missed badly, he would have been able to travel a bit longer, because when he hits the front, he doesn’t do a great deal.

“I would have taken second jumping the last and then the horse in front tied up. Brendan said he felt like he was treading water going to the last and then the horse got competitive again when he was closing in (on Harper’s Brook).

“He was a cheap horse and the owners are very good boys and we’re having a lot of fun with him. This time last year, we pulled up at Wincanton on Boxing Day and we were struggling to be honest, and then we won a couple at the end of the season and now look where we are.

“I said to the lads having lunch before, you’ll get used to these nice days and that’s where he’s taking them. He’s one of those horses who will take them to these lovely big days and he’s winning still at the moment, so quite where we end up I don’t know.

“We’ll see what the handicapper does and play our way, but we will take him to one of the festivals because the guys who own him deserve to have a runner there.

“The horse is probably putting himself in that picture, without getting too carried away. I’m not saying he’s going to go and win at a festival but he deserves to go and have that day out because he’s won four times in the last six or seven months.”

Top Cloud kept on gamely under Liam Harrison to get the better of Scamallach Liath in another thrilling finish to the Ascot Racecourse Supports Schools Photography Competition Novices’ Handicap Hurdle.

Market leader Scamallach Liath made a brave attempt to make all under top weight over just short of three miles but was pipped at the post by Robbie Llewellyn’s 11-2 scorer.

The six-year-old has now won four out of five since joining Llewellyn from Chris Grant after being snapped up for only £8,000 by his new connections in May.

“It’s magical and we want to be competitive on the big days,” said Wroughton handler Llewellyn after his charge had prevailed by a head.

“I haven’t got a lot of money to spend and I think our most expensive horse is £12,000. This time last year, we had one winner, but we’ve got a better team of horses and it’s paying off.

“We’re in a new yard just below Alan King’s, it’s brilliant and I think that’s our 12th winner now from about 50 runners, so I’m over the moon.

“This lad has a brilliant attitude and is as hard as nails, I don’t think he is a world beater but what he will do is go through the pain barrier for you and just puts his head down and grinds it out – he does it the hard way.

“He thinks he is faster than he actually is, but he has a great attitude and hardly leaves a nut, so you can go to war more times with him.

“You can have the best work horse and best rating, but if they don’t want to go through with it, they don’t win races – and his attitude has won him four races now.”

Paisley Park will try to match the great Baracouda’s record with a fourth triumph in the Howden Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot.

The highly-popular 11-year-old first won the contest in 2018 and returned to the Berkshire track to reclaim his title in 2020 before landing a rescheduled 2022 running at Kempton last Christmas.

While Big Buck’s and Reve De Sivola were each three-time race winners, no horse has yet equalled the Francois Doumen-trained Baracouda, who won the race in 2000, 2001, 2003 and 2004, as well as being beaten just a length into second in 2002.

Though now a veteran with 28 runs and 11 wins under his belt, the Emma Lavelle-trained Paisley Park looked to have lost none of his vim when lining up for the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury first time out this season.

He was beaten just a head by Jeremy Scott’s equally likeable Dashel Drasher, who reopposes on Saturday.

“He seems in great order at home and has done everything we have wanted since his last run and we’ll see,” said Lavelle.

“I was delighted with how he was at Newbury and these races take a lot of winning, so it is lovely to see so many of the old boys back again.

“He kept galloping, and that is what we wanted to see – and if he can keep doing that, and if his legs can go round fast enough, he will be giving it his all.

“We’re very much looking forward to running and seeing what happens. Hopefully, it can continue to be his favourite race.”

On the prospect of matching Baracouda’s record, Lavelle added: “It would be an extraordinary achievement, it really would.

“All we can do is hope and he’s just been the most remarkable horse for us. He certainly seems to be enjoying his racing the same as ever.”

Dan Skelton’s West Balboa was a winner on her seasonal debut when taking a class two hurdle over two and a half miles at Aintree in November.

The race was only contested by three horses, but 12 lengths behind her was Olly Murphy’s Brewin’upastorm, a Grade Two winner, and 10 lengths behind him was Grade One-winning chaser Millers Bank.

This Ascot contest is a step up in grade and trip for the seven-year-old, but she is proven over the latter after winning the Village Hotels Handicap Hurdle at Aintree on her final start last term.

“She’s in good form, she started off her season very well at Aintree,” said Skelton.

“She definitely deserves to be there and deserves her go at the top flight.

“It was a good run (at Aintree) and beating a good yardstick like Brewin’upastorm is a fine start to the season.

“With respect, this is harder and she’ll have to step up, but she’s a good mare.”

Nicky Henderson will be represented by Champ, the 2021 winner of the race who makes his seasonal debut in the contest after finishing fifth in the Liverpool Hurdle when last seen in spring.

Champ runs in the silks of owner JP McManus, whose racing manager Frank Berry said: “He goes well fresh and Nicky and the team seem happy with him.

“He’s not getting any younger, but we’ll see how he goes.

“There’s a few younger ones coming along, but they’re very consistent those older horses and he’s in good form, so you’d be hoping for a good run.”

Paul Nicholls has a pair of contenders in Red Risk and the four-year-old Blueking D’Oroux.

Red Risk progressed from handicaps to finish second in the Grade Two bet365 Hurdle and will be ridden by Bryony Frost, with stable jockey Harry Cobden taking the ride on Coral Hurdle winner Blueking D’Oroux.

“He is an interesting contender and it’s encouraging that two four-year-olds have won this race in the past,” Nicholls said of the latter horse via Betfair.

“Trying this trip of three miles is a bit of a shot in the dark at this stage of his career and I’d be happier if he was a year older. But who knows how good he might be?

“He’s improving all the time and galloped on strongly all the way to the line in winning the Grade Two Coral Hurdle over two miles, three and a half furlongs at this track a month ago.”

Of Red Risk, the trainer added: “He ran a cracker on his seasonal debut at Wetherby, where he kept on in determined style to finish a close second behind Botox Has in the bet365 Hurdle, with two classy types behind him.

“That’s really smart form. Red Risk was only just touched off in the Lanzarote Hurdle at Kempton in January and has the ability to run into a place.

Fergal O’Brien has a live chance in Crambo, last seen finishing third in a valuable handicap hurdle at Haydock.

Though he was unable to get his head in front on that occasion, he still ran with plenty of promise – enough to encourage connections to take the step up to Grade One level.

“He carried an awful lot of weight at Haydock and beat some good horses,” O’Brien said of the run.

“On another day and with a bit more luck, he maybe would have won and we’re very happy with him.

“He has to step up but he’s trained very well since Haydock and we felt it’d be foolish not to give it a go, it will tell us a lot about where we want to go with him next.”

The Gary Moore duo of Botox Has and Goshen and Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Gowel Road complete the line up.

Iberico Lord and Impose Toi give leading owner JP McManus two strong chances of victory in the Betfair Exchange Trophy at Ascot on Saturday.

Having shown glimpses of promise during his novice campaign, Iberico Lord looked an improved performer when claiming top honours on his reappearance in last month’s Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham and is well fancied to claim another major handicap victory this weekend.

His Nicky Henderson stablemate Impose Toi also made a successful return from a break at Cheltenham’s November meeting, albeit in lesser company, and the owner’s racing manager Frank Berry feels the pair are tough to split.

He said: “Their form ties in pretty closely and they’re both in good form. Nicky is happy with them and we’re hoping for the best.

“You’d be hoping they can both improve, it’s a lovely race for the two of them and a valuable race, so it’s nice to have two nice ones for it.”

The McManus-owned duo form part of a three-pronged assault for Henderson, who is also hopeful of a bold showing from his talented mare Luccia.

“We’re very happy with all three. Iberico Lord is in great order, he jumped five hurdles on Thursday morning and he looked very sharp,” the Seven Barrows handler told Sky Sports Racing.

“Impose Toi won at the same Cheltenham meeting. We were thinking of going to Sandown but that ground was so unattractive that we kept him back and JP was happy to run the two against each other.

“They are the same age, have similar profiles from France so they’ve got to take each other on, it’s a big prize. You probably need all the bullets you can find.

“Luccia is lurking there quite menacingly. She jumped half a dozen with Paul O’Brien on Thursday and he rides her. She’s in really good shape.”

Altobelli made a promising start to his campaign when second at Ascot in November and his trainer Harry Fry is confident there is more to come.

“His last run was his first run in a handicap and I was keen to get some more experience into him before going for a better race,” he said.

“Saturday is competitive, as you’d expect, but he’s in really good form with himself and should be all the better for that run.

“Hopefully he can be there or thereabouts.”

Gary Moore’s Hansard is allotted top-weight of 12 stone following his victory in Gerry Feilden at Newbury last month, although some of that hefty burden is offset by Niall Houlihan’s 3lb claim.

“He’s got his fair share of weight and it will have to be a big performance (to win),” said Moore.

“The good thing is Niall hasn’t been able to ride a winner recently, so he’s still able to take 3lb off. He’s a horse we’ve always thought highly of.”

Onlyamatteroftime is prominent in the market, despite having run out as favourite for the Greatwood Hurdle on his first start for Willie Mullins.

Kerry Lee’s Welsh Champion Hurdle winner and Greatwood fifth Nemean Lion, Dan Skelton’s Faivoir and the hat-trick-seeking Moveit Like Minnie from the Nigel Twiston-Davies yard also feature.

Harry Fry is looking forward to raising Might I’s sights in an intriguing renewal of the Howden Noel Novices’ Chase at Ascot on Friday.

The seven-year-old was a high-class novice hurdler a couple of seasons ago, placing behind Constitution Hill and Jonbon along the way, while he also picked up minor honours in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival last term.

He has been switched the larger obstacles this autumn and having pushed Complete Unknown close on his introduction before opening his account in a match race at Exeter last month, he will now test his powers at Grade Two level in Berkshire.

“This is obviously his third start over fences. He made the most of a match opportunity the last day, but it was still good experience nonetheless,” said Fry.

“We take the step up in grade, hopefully he puts in a good round of jumping and if he does that then I’d hope he’ll have every chance.

“There’s not much between the four runners, he deserves to be in there for sure and hopefully he’ll give a good account of himself.”

The quartet is headed by Dan Skelton’s Unexpected Party, who is eased in class and upped in trip after finishing fifth in the Grade One Henry VIII Novices’ Chase at Sandown a fortnight ago.

“He’s come out of Sandown very well. He didn’t figure prominently in the Henry VIII and this is not a dissimilar type of race, so he’s got a lot to do to win but he deserves his place in these types of races,” said Skelton.

“They’re not getting massively supported so if we’ve got one, we’re going to run them. He’s gone well at Ascot before so there are no negatives there.”

Djelo bids to make it three from three over fences for Venetia Williams following a couple of impressive handicap wins, while the Paul Nicholls-trained Kandoo Kid makes a similar move after beating Williams’ Frero Banbou in a Newbury handicap last time.

Bryony Frost will be on the sidelines for a couple of days following a fall while schooling on Monday.

Frost, who has been in a rich vein of form in recent weeks, hopes to be back in action at Ascot on Friday and then again on Saturday when she is due to ride the Paul Nicholls-trained Red Risk in the Howden Long Walk Hurdle.

She had been due to ride at Fakenham on Tuesday and Newbury on Wednesday, but has sat those out in an attempt to ensure she is fit for the weekend and, further ahead, the ride on Frodon in the King George on Boxing Day.

Her agent Iain Turner said: “She’s had a spill while schooling and we’re planning on her being back at the weekend.

“It’s one of those – with Boxing Day coming up it’s just a case of not taking any risks, which is frustrating as she had some nice chances at Fakenham.

“She’s been on a good run since her injury, and of course she was just touched off in the December Gold Cup on Il Ridoto on Saturday so this has just halted everything.

“As far as I know everything is set for her being back at Ascot on Friday, then she’s got Red Risk in the Long Walk and Frodon on Boxing Day to look forward to.”

Marie’s Rock is being readied for a defence of her Relkeel Hurdle crown on New Year’s Day after connections decided against a tilt at Saturday’s Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot.

Nicky Henderson’s dual Grade One winner proved much too strong for Dashel Drasher in the Relkeel at Cheltenham last season, prompting the Middleham Park Racing team to seriously consider stepping up to three miles in the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Festival in March.

Ultimately, though, she was kept against her own sex in a bid to secure back-to-back victories in the Mares’ Hurdle, but failed to fire as retiring superstar Honeysuckle stole the show.

Having subsequently run with credit over the extended distance at Aintree in the spring, optimism was high when she tackled three miles again in last month’s Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury, but Marie’s Rock could finish only fourth behind her old rival Dashel Drasher, prompting a change of direction.

“She was a bit too free and fresh at Newbury to get an accurate reading on whether she stayed the three miles and we’ve decided to go back to what we know for her next start,” said Middleham Park’s National Hunt racing manager Tom Palin.

“I was probably a bit too bullish for my own good before Newbury, but horses to have a tendency to make you look silly at times! She was certainly the liveliest I’ve seen her in recent memory in the parade ring beforehand and Nico (de Boinville) felt the damage was done before the tapes even went up.

“We’ll go back to two and a half on soft ground at Cheltenham, which we know she loves, burn some more freshness off her and get her really fit before going back up to three miles, either in the Cleeve Hurdle back at Cheltenham on Trials day or there’s a Grade Two mares’ race at Ascot on January 20.”

Palin is fully aware the Relkeel Hurdle will be no penalty kick for Marie’s Rock, with Henry de Bromhead’s resurgent Irish star Bob Olinger among her potential rivals.

He added: “It’s not a bad race the Relkeel, by the way – it’s not a case of we’re dodging the Long Walk and ‘only’ going for the Relkeel. It was a very competitive race last year and it looks like it’s going to be at least as strong this time around.

“Unless it’s very obvious in the Relkeel that she doesn’t want any further, we’re keen to give her another go over three miles afterwards as that will tell us whether we aim for the Mares’ Hurdle again at the Festival or have another look at the Stayers’ Hurdle.

“She is a mare at the end of the day, so let’s see if we can get some more wins into her, starting off in a race where we know everything should be right for her.”

Two runners from the Kentucky Derby meeting in 2024 will be offered wild card entries for the Epsom Classics run in June four weeks later.

A runner from the Edgewood Stakes, run on Kentucky Oaks day (May 3), will receive an entry and travel incentive for the Betfred Oaks on May 31, while a colt from the American Turf Stakes on Kentucky Derby day will get the same privileges for the Betfred Derby.

Jockey Club Racecourses and Ascot have been coordinating with Churchill Downs Incorporated to create links between historic races in the UK and the top turf races in the United Stakes, with the aim of increasing runners between the two countries.

With that in mind, there will also be wild card spots up for grabs in the Twin Spires Turf Sprint Stakes for the King Charles III Stakes (formerly King’s Stand) and the Old Forester Turf Classic Stakes for either the Prince of Wales’s Stakes or the Queen Anne at Royal Ascot.

In return, a runner from the Prince of Wales’s Stakes and the Queen Anne will receive the same incentive for the Arlington Million and a runner from the Falmouth will be invited to the Beverly D Stakes.

The winners will be invited but should they not take it up, the racecourses may turn to the placed horses instead.

Matt Woolston, assistant racing and international racing director at The Jockey Club, said: “We’re delighted to develop these links with races at the Kentucky Derby Meeting in its 150th year.

“A trip to Churchill Downs is one that should be on the bucket list for every racing fan, the world over. The Kentucky Derby itself can trace its origin back to Epsom Downs in 1780, when Diomed won the very first Derby, and we are proud to reinforce this historic link.

“These historic races already have an international reputation and we want to welcome more and more international runners in the years to come.”

Nick Smith, director of racing and public affairs at Ascot racecourse, said: “We are very excited to be working with Churchill Downs and the UK Jockey Club on this exciting new initiative.

“We were very pleased to play our part hosting the Churchill team at Royal Ascot last year, with the Kentucky Derby trophy on display as they built up to this important 150th running of the world’s greatest dirt race.

“We have a rich modern history of American runners at Royal Ascot and their success always adds hugely to the meeting.”

Ascot has announced an increase in prize-money for 2024 when the King’s Stand sprint will also be run as the King Charles III Stakes for the first time.

Prize-money for 2024 will be worth £17.5million, an increase of 3.9 per cent on 2023, with Royal Ascot accounting for £10million on its own.

The figure excludes the industry-owned Qipco British Champions Day fixture in October.

Group One races at Royal Ascot will be run for a minimum of £650,000 (up from £600,000) while no race will be worth less than £110,000 at the big meeting.

Royal Ascot 2023 benefitted from the first royal winner since the King’s succession to the throne through William Haggas’ Desert Hero.

Nick Smith, director of racing and public affairs at Ascot, said: “We are pleased to be delivering these prize-money increases in 2024 against a backdrop of uncertainty and an unprecedented number of negative headwinds for the industry. The financial impact on all facets of the industry is already being acutely felt.

“It is, however, crucial for Royal Ascot to maintain its position on the global stage at a time when participants at home and abroad have so many alternative lucrative options away from Britain.

“Whist the main increases have been made to the Royal meeting to enable us to get to £10million for the first time, we have made increases in other areas of the programme as well.

“These include increases to fit with the new Premier fixture structure, including at the Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup, where there is a particular focus on maintaining full fields.

“Importantly, no race at Ascot will be run for less than in 2023 including at our core (non-Premier) fixtures. This is in spite of a reduction in central funding to this element of the programme, which has therefore required further increases in executive contribution.”

Boothill booked his ticket to the Clarence House Chase as he continued his Ascot love affair in the Jim Barry Hurst Park Handicap Chase.

Harry Fry’s eight-year-old won the race off a mark of 140 last year – and having acquitted himself well in some hot novice events afterwards, defended his title off a 15lb higher mark having triumphed again over the course and distance on his return to action.

Sent off the 11-4 favourite there was still all to play for as Boothill and Jane Williams’ Saint Segal approached the last locked together, but a fall for the 5-1 shot opened the door for Johnny Burke and his willing mount, who had enough in reserve to repel a late rally from 7-2 second-favourite Frere D’Armes.

He finished with half a length in hand, to the delight of his trainer who had suffered a narrow reversal with Whitehotchillifili in the previous contest, and although holding an entry for the Tingle Creek at Sandown on December 9, Fry suggested his winner will now return to his favourite playground for a shot at the two-mile Grade One on January 20.

“Sometimes you have to get the rub of the green in this game, I’m just pleased to see the faller at the last get up,” said Fry.

“It was still all to play for and it just went our way.

“I was delighted with the performance and it was brilliant to come here and win this again, he really likes this track. It’s great to see him win it again and we may have got away with it, but it’s a great prize and it’s onwards and upwards.

“We have the entry in the Tingle Creek, but that is only in a fortnight’s time. I suspect we will wait and aim to come back here for the Clarence House and it will feel like a home match.

“I think he deserves his chance in these Graded races now. Obviously it is going to be a big step up again, but he deserves to go there.”

Blueking D’Oroux demonstrated his class with a taking victory in the Coral Hurdle at Ascot.

The four-year-old was sent off at 4-1 in a field of five, most of whom carried with them more experience and higher ratings than Paul Nicholls’ runner.

Harry Cobden bided his time, only asking the winner to throw down a challenge over the second-last and finding him comfortably able to go on and take the Grade Two by a length from Strong Leader.

Shishkin stunned onlookers at Ascot when refusing to start in the Nirvana Spa 1965 Chase, which went the way of Pic D’Orhy.

Nicky Henderson’s top-class chaser was returning to action in the Grade Two contest, which only attracted four runners.

Nico de Boinville was partnering the gelding, who was the short-priced favourite, but at the tapes he did not budge and the race went ahead without him.

Page 1 of 5
© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.