The Ladbroke returns to Ascot on Saturday, December 16, for the first time since 2003 and the exciting £150,000 handicap hurdle has attracted 58 entries - two more than when the race was run at Sandown Park last season.
With just six of the 58 possible runners currently allotted less than the minimum weight of 10 stone, an ultra-competitive contest is guaranteed.
Jointly heading the weights in the leading two-mile handicap hurdle is the French challenger Sphinx du Berlais (11st 12lb), successful in Listed company both over fences and hurdles in his home country. His trainer Robert Collet, who rarely has runners in British jump races, has also entered Allodial Land (11st 8lb).
Other high-class performers include Crow Wood (11st 12lb), winner of the Grade Two Elite Hurdle at Wincanton earlier this season, and Mephisto (11st 11lb), a dual Grade Two scorer in 2005.
There is a particularly strong Irish contingent, with nine possible starters.
The Irish challenge includes the smart Noel Meade-trained performer Jazz Messenger (11st 10lb), recent impressive Cheltenham winnerand 7/1 second favourite Tipperary All Star (11st 7lb), the consistent Breathing Fire (11st 6lb), Sweet Wake (11st 5lb), Power Elite (11st 3lb), Artist's Muse (10st 10lb), Victram (10st 10lb), Jaamid (10st 2lb) and Well Mounted (10st 1lb).
Champion trainer Paul Nicholls has entered Pirate Flagship (10st 10lb), twice a winner at Cheltenham last season, while David Pipe, whose father captured the last two runnings of The Ladbroke, has four possibles, the 2005 scorer Desert Air (11st 6lb), Acambo (11st 4lb), winner of the valuable Swinton Hurdle at Haydock in May, Wee Dinns (11st 1lb) and Medison (11st).
Philip Hobbs’ four entries include French Saulale (10st 10lb), who looked a promising performer as a novice last season, Fair Along (11st 10lb), Symphonique (10st 12lb) and Bureaucrat (10st 11lb).
Brighton-based trainer Garry Moore is obviously keen to win The Ladbroke for the first time, entering six - Verasi (11st 1lb), Heathcote (10st 7lb), Guru (10st 3lb), Prime Contender (10st 2lb), Nation State (10st) and Tamreen (9st 5lb).
Nicky Henderson, successful with Chauvinist in 2002, is not far behind with four entries, headed by Caracciola on 11st 6lb, with the others being Royals Darling (11st 3lb), Tarlac (10st 12lb), successful in the Sodexho Prestige Handicap Hurdle at Ascot on November 17 and the 6/1 market leader with Ladbrokes, as well as Greenhope (10st 6lb).
Overstrand (11st 5lb), winner of his last two starts, could represent rookie trainer Dr Richard Newland, a Worcestershire-based GP.
Venetia Williams enjoyed success in The Ladbroke with Thesis in 2003 and she may be on the mark again with Chief Yeoman (11st 6lb), Chivalry (11st 2lb) or Gods Token (10st 12lb).
The Ladbroke has taken place at Sandown for the last two seasons because of Ascot’s redevelopment.
David Williams, spokesman for Ladbrokes said today: "We're thrilled with the entries for the Ladbroke and it's already shaping up to be a top quality renewal.
"Tarlac handled the testing conditions admirably last month and has bundles of potential. We're expecting plenty of interest in Nicky Henderson's charge along with Tipperary All Star who landed the big gamble at Cheltenham last month."
Chris Stickels, Ascot’s Clerk of the Course, commented today: "The Ladbroke is our most valuable jumps race in 2006 and the cornerstone of the BGC Christmas Meeting.
"We're absolutely delighted with the entries - both numerically and in terms of quality - and especially so as the number of Irish entries is so high. It is one of our aspirations to re-establish The Ladbroke as a big Anglo-Irish showdown and a great betting race on both sides of the Irish Sea.
"It's also good to see that Robert Collet has jointly entered two for The Ladbroke and the BGC Long Walk Hurdle and it'll be interesting to see which way they go."
Opening Ladbrokes prices for The Ladbroke
7/1 Tipperary All Star
14/1 Overstrand, Victram
16/1 Royals Darling, Artist’s Muse, French Saulaie, Pirate Flagship, Well Mounted, Kings Quay
20/1 Crow Wood, Premier Dane, Sweet Wake, Crossbow Creek, Medison, Daryal, Slew Charm, Demi Beau, Nation State
BLACK JACK KETCHUM HEADS 23 IN ASCOT'S BGC LONG WALK HURDLE
Hurdling sensation Black Jack Ketchum is among 23 entries received for the £100,000 BGC Long Walk Hurdle, run over three miles and a furlong at Ascot on Saturday, December 16.
Jonjo O'Neill's superstar, unbeaten in seven starts, could be joined by stablemate Fire Dragon in the Grade One hurdle, which often has a major bearing on the outcome of the Ladbrokes World Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March.
Inglis Drever, who captured the Ladbrokes World Hurdle in 2005, made light of a year-long absence to capture a Grade Two race at Newbury last month.
His trainer, Howard Johnson, also has 2005 Ballymore Properties Novices' Hurdle victor No Refuge engaged.
Blazing Bailey could represent last year's winning trainer, Alan King, while the Paul Nicholls-trained Neptune Collonges, runner-up to My Way De Solzen a year ago, may bid to go one better this year, despite a successful start to his British chasing career this season.
The French dominated this race between 2000 and 2004 with the great Baracouda, whose only defeat during that period came in 2002 when outgunned by Deano's Beeno.
Allodial Land and Sphinx Du Berlais could run this year for French trainer Robert Collet, while Ireland has two possible runners in Celestial Wave and Bullhill Flyer, trained by Adrian Maguire and Sabrina Harty respectively.
Other interesting entries include useful staying hurdler/chaser Redemption, trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies, Nicky Richards' lightly-raced nine-year-old Jazz D'Estruval, and the Henry Daly-trained Mighty Man, a good second to Hardy Eustace at Ascot in the Grade Two Coral Ascot Hurdle on his seasonal reappearance last month.
The BGC Long Walk Hurdle, which traditionally attracts the best long-distance hurdlers, returns to Ascot after being run at Chepstow and Windsor.
BGC also sponsors the three-mile BGC Silver Handicap Chase, worth £70,000, on December 16.
THE LADBROKE HURDLE ROLL OF HONOUR (1987-2005)
Ascot, Saturday, December 16,
run at Sandown in 2005 (January 7, 2006) and in 2004 (January 8, 2005); run at Leopardstown in January up to & including 2000
Year Winner Age/Wt Owner Trainer Jockey SP
2005 DESERT AIR 7-10-09 Belinda Harvey Martin Pipe Tom Scudamore 25/1
2004 TAMARINBLEU 5-10-11 Arthur White Partnership Martin Pipe Tony McCoy
2003 THESIS 5-11-02 1961 Partnership Venetia Williams Brian Crowley 33/1
2002 CHAUVINIST 7-10-00 Bunny & Nick Roberts Nicky Henderson Norman
2001 MARBLE ARCH 5-10-11 Martin & Mary Wilson Rory Sweet Hughie Morrison
Norman Williamson 7/1
2000 MANTLES PRINCE 6-9-12 R J McSharry Pat Hughes IRE Fran Berry 12/1
1999 ARCHIVE FOOTAGE 7-11-08 Michael Smurfit Dermot Weld IRE David Evans
1998 GRAPHIC EQUALISER 6-10-00 BRASK Syndicate Arthur Moore IRE Conor
1997 MASTER TRIBE 7-10-04 Jebel Ali Racing Stables Jenny Pitman Norman
1996 DANCE BEAT 5-9-12 Mrs E Queally Jessica Harrington IRE Anthony Powell
1995 ANUSHA 5-10-02 G A Hoggard Michael Hourigan IRE Shane Broderick 25/1
1994 ATONE 7-10-08 Robert Sinclair Bunny Cox IRE Kevin O’Brien 10/1
1982 MAYOTTE 7-10-11 B Davies Richard Holder Paul Richards 15/8F
1981 Abandoned due to snow
1980 DERRING ROSE 5-11-11 Peter Savill Fred Winter John Francome 7/1
1979 JOHN CHERRY 8-10-11 Milton Ritzenberg Tom Jones Steve Smith Eccles 6/1
1978 KELSO CHANT 6-11-07 Mrs M Richardson Jumbo Wilkinson Steve Charlton
1977 JOHN CHERRY 6-10-11 Milton Ritzenberg Tom Jones Steve Smith Eccles
1976 Abandoned due to frost
1975 LANZAROTE 7-12-05 Lord Howard de Walden Fred Winter John Francome 4/9F
1974 GO BINGO 5-11-12 Guy Reed Sam Hall David Munro 9/4
1973 SOLONING 8-11-08 Mrs C Thornton Fred Winter Richard Pitman 9/2
1972 HIGHLAND ABBE 6-11-12 Mrs K Hankey Les Kennard Mr R Smith 11/1
1971 ST PATRICK’S BLUE 6-11-12 P Aunger David Tatlow Bill Smith 7/2F
1970 ROUGE AUTUMN 6-10-05 Bryan Jenks Fred Rimell Ken White 9/2F
1969 CANDID CAMERA 6-10-06 R F P Ross Ted Goddard Joe Guest 100/8
1968 Abandoned due to waterlogging
1967 Abandoned due to foot and mouth epidemic
1966 SIR EDWARD 6-10-09 R Heaton Ryan Price Josh Gifford 7/2F
1965 MINUTE GUN 8-10-04 Bill Shand Kydd Bill Shand Kydd Richard Pitman 100/8
Race run as a handicap prior to 1971
LABELTHOU HAS SIGHTS ON BRIT INSURANCE NOVICES' HURDLE & REVELEY EYEING CHELTENHAM TARGETS FOR ACCORDELLO
Emma Lavelle is looking to make Saturday, December 9, ladies day at Cheltenham as the Hampshire trainer reports her classy mare Labelthou a likely candidate for the Grade Two Brit Insurance Novices' Hurdle.
Labelthou will bid to make it three from three this term after winning at Towcester in November and scoring an impressive 22-length verdict over the well-regarded Granit Jack in the Grade Two Ballymore Properties Novices' Hurdle at Sandown on December 1.
Lavelle revealed today: "There's a fair chance at this stage that Labelthou will go for the Brit Insurance Novices' Hurdle. She seems in good order after Sandown. I think the ground would be one of the keys for her as she would definitely want it on the soft side.
"I was delighted with her last run. She's taken the step up in grade really well. One thing I would say is that Granit Jack is maybe a bit more of a chaser than a hurdler and just a bit weak still, so I'm not actually sure how strong the form is, but she could only win the way she did."
The seven-year-old mare's latest triumph came over an extended two and a half miles, and the Brit Insurance Novices' Hurdle will be her first attempt at three miles, but Lavelle is unconcerned about the extra distance for her strong-galloping charge.
She reported: "I think, the way she's been, I'd have to say the further the better for her. When they crossed the line at Sandown everything else was stopping and Barry (Fenton) was having to actually pull her up.
"I don't think she's a very quick horse but she just loves soft ground and will gallop away all day, and I don't think there are many horses that will do that. I think that's why she's as impressive as she is, and her jumping out of soft ground is very accurate, so she saves time and that makes a big difference."
Lavelle is Labelthou's fourth trainer, the mare having initially been trained in France by Guy Cherel. Short spells with Frank Jordan and Lucy Wadham in Britain proved frustrating and Labelthou returned to Cherel, winning at Auteuil in May, prior to arriving at Lavelle's Andover yard.
The trainer said: "She arrived here at the end of the summer. I think she had a tendon injury at some point, but I don't know what's gone on with her prior to her arrival and she's been super since she's been here.
"I wasn't expecting to be in this position with her. I'd say, given the way she's performed so far, that her long term objective would have to be going to The Festival for one of the staying hurdles. Which one we plump for would depend on how she runs at the weekend."
Another exciting mare who could take her chance in the Grade Two contest is Accordello, although her trainer Keith Reveley is favouring the three-mile Pertemps Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham the previous day, Friday December 8.
The five-year-old scored a smooth victory in a two and a half mile handicap hurdle at Aintree on November 19, and has been allotted 9st 6lb in the Pertemps Handicap Hurdle.
Reveley revealed: "Accordello is in the handicap on Friday, which is the preferred option, but I can only run in that if Korelo pulls out at the top and the weights rise, so I have to find out what Mr Pipe's doing and then I can decide. She has an entry in the Brit Insurance Novices' Hurdle and I wouldn't rule that out if we don't go Friday, because it's a nice race to go for.
"My preferred option would be the Pertemps Handicap Hurdle because if we could creep in there off bottom-weight it would qualify her for the Pertemps Final at The Festival if we needed that option.
"I was amazed how she could pick them up on ground that was bordering on the quick side for her at Aintree. She ran really well in what was a competitive handicap."
Accordello is a daughter of the top-class Mary Reveley-trained mare Marello who won the Grade Two Long Distance Hurdle at Ascot and the John Smith's West Yorkshire Hurdle at Wetherby in a prolific career that saw her win 11 of 15 starts.
Reveley commented: "Her mother was a top-class race mare and a real superstar for us and this is her first foal. You never know, in time Accordello may be somewhere near that. Options are very open as she's a novice and she's able to get in good handicaps off quite a low weight, so we'll see what we can do."
The Brit Insurance Novices' Hurdle was won last year by the brilliant Black Jack Ketchum - who is set to contest the Grade Two Mears Group Relkeel Hurdle (1.30pm) on Saturday's card - and the prestigious three-mile contest has attracted 14 entries this year.
Howard Johnson could saddle the highly rated Tidal Bay, who is unbeaten in two starts over hurdles, as well as Hockenheim, while the Philip Hobbs-trained Massini's Maguire defeated Wichita Lineman in the Gideon Kasler Novices' Hurdle at the course in November and could also take his chance.
The Boylesports International stages two days of fantastic racing on Friday, December 8, and Saturday, December 9. All races will take place on Cheltenham's New Course, which has not been used since May.
The feature Boylesports.com International is the season's premier race for Smurfit Kappa Champion Hurdle candidates. Boylesports, Ireland's fastest growing independent bookmaker, has transformed the prize money and is also offering a huge £200,000 bonus (£180,000 to the owner, £10,000 to the trainer & £10,000 to the yard's stable staff) to any horse that can win the Boylesports.com International and the Smurfit Kappa Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham on March 13.
TARANIS & EXOTIC DANCER PROVING POPULAR IN BOYLESPORTS.COM GOLD CUP
Taranis and Exotic Dancer are the two horses attracting support in the Boylesports.com Gold Cup.
Leon Blanche of Boylesports commented: "Since we opened betting on the Boylesports.com Gold Cup, there has been constant support for Taranis. We opened him at 6/1 and he is now 5/1 favourite.
"In the past couple of days, there have been very positive reports about Exotic Dancer and that is where we have seen the money go.
"Although Exotic Dancer is still 6/1, we are predicting that we may have joint favourites come tomorrow."
Latest Boylesport prices:
Commercial Flyer 6/1
Exotic Dancer 6/1 (from 8/1)
Ross River 8/1
Copsale Lad 12/1
New Alco 12/1
Kill Devil Hill 14/1
Graphic Approach 14/1
Hasty Prince 14/1
No Full 14/1
Pearly Jack 16/1
Mariah Rollins 20/1
Bannow Strand 20/1
Madison Du Berlais 20/1
Darby Wall 20/1
Kalca Mome 25/1
Butler's Cabin 25/1
Flying Spirit 33/1
Each-Way 1/4 the odds a place - 1, 2, 3, 4
Tickets will be available on the door for both days of the Boylesports International.
Admission prices for both days are Club/Tattersalls: £20 (16-24s: £15); Best Mate £8.
Parking is free on both days.
Gates open at 10.00am.
After a dry night, the going remains good to soft on all courses at Cheltenham ahead of the Boylesports International. The forecast is for a dry day today with between six and seven millimetres of rain expected to fall on Thursday. A few millimetres of rain is likely on Friday, while Saturday should remain dry.