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Star Novices clash in Kennel Gate Hurdle on Ascot’s opening day

Ascot’s Ladbroke Hurdle meeting gets under way on Friday with the Grade 2 Kennel Gate Novices’ Hurdle given star billing. Nicky Henderson’s Volnay De Thaix has won his last three starts in great style and is likely go off a short priced favourite.

The French-bred son of Secret Singer was barely out of a canter to beat his three rivals at Newbury last time but had disposed of better opposition in similar style at Kempton previously. It is going to take a good horse to get him off the bridle and Paul Nicholls takes him on with the unbeaten Irving tomorrow.

The five-year-old has been every bit as impressive and looked festival material when cruising home at this course in November. Nick Scholfield has ridden him to both of his recent victories and gets the leg up again on Friday.

The other four runners are all previous winners and the pick of them may be Prince Siegfried. He battled on gamely to win at Huntington last time but faces much stiffer opposition here.

Henderson has an abundance of talent in the novice hurdle department and runs three in the opening race. Big Hands Harry and Medieval Chapel both won last time out but Barry Geraghty has chosen to ride Royal Boy despite a poor run at Kempton.

Although Henderson has a very strong hand, all three may struggle to beat Pleasant Company. David Pipe’s five-year-old won a bumper here by eight lengths last time and looks one to follow.

The Betfred Novices’ Chase at 2.35 has also attracted some decent performers including former Ladbroke and Scottish Champion Hurdle winner Raya Star. He was not disgraced when beaten by Dodging Bullets at Cheltenham and should be better suited by this course.

Tony McCoy has a very promising book of rides and he will be holding up Mr Mole for a late swoop. The biggest danger could be Fox Appeal who forced Wonderful Charm to pull out all the stops at Wincanton.

McCoy also has strong claims with Rio De Sivola in the 1.30 and Carningli in the last.

Selections: 1.00 Pleasant Company, 1.30 Rio De Sivola, 2.00 Irving, 2.35 Raya Star, 3.10 Joanne One, 3.40 Carningli