Ascot expansion will only strengthen flat racing’s showpiece and Dreal Deal proves to be the real deal

ROYAL ASCOT EXPANSION ADDS QUANTITY AND QUALITY

So Royal Ascot is expanding permanently with seven races now scheduled to go off on each of the event’s five days.

And despite worries over dilution of the cards and a perhaps later than ideal off time for the last race, this is one change racing should welcome with open arms. 

The meeting is scheduled to go off on June 15 this year and had been expected to go back to its more traditional six-race cards, starting at 2.30pm each day.

But following its expansion in 2020 to allow extra runners a chance to race following a curtailed start to the season thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, The Queen has given her stamp of approval to expanding it permanently.

And while I am far from a supporter of expanding an already huge Cheltenham Festival any further, these extra five races strike me as the right thing to do at the Royal meeting.

These days, six race cards feel a little thin and perhaps lacking slightly in value to the racegoer, no matter the quality of action in those races.

So the addition of a seventh contest has to be good news – even though it will mean the event running into the early evening, with no plans to bring forward the time of the first race – something which would of course impact on the royal parade.

Ascot has now doubt taken in feedback from bookmakers into how the extra contests last year were received by punters and I will also be interested to see if ITV will be able to broadcast all seven races each day – but you would like to think that ITV4 could be used if possible.

And you never know, having an extra race after the time people traditionally finish work could attract a bonus number of viewers, keen to add some high class racing to a summer’s evening.

While talk of expanding Cheltenham – which already has seven races each day – to five days feels like it would severely dilute the product, this feels like strengthening the flat’s biggest week once again.

DREAL DEAL AWAKENS HUNT BALL MEMORIES

It takes a special kind of horse – and a special kind of trainer – to be able to run up a sequence like that attained by Dreal Deal at Punchestown on Sunday.

The six year old has now won his last six – four over timber and two on the flat – starting off on a lowly hurdles mark of just 84 in Navan in September. 

Well on Sunday he managed to win the Grade 2 Moscow Flyer Hurdle and is now rated 141 in that sphere.

That he was dismissed as a 22/1 shot on Sunday was incredible and there seems to be little sign of him suddenly losing his form yet – with the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham in March his next target, for which he is a non-too-shabby 16/1 shot.

It’s an utterly incredible amount of improvement – and evokes memories of another horse who shot up the ratings from nowhere before going on to winning at the Festival in the shape of Hunt Ball.

Owner Anthony Knott’s chaser started his 2011/12 season with a win in a six-runner Class 5 handicap at Folkestone off a lowly mark of just 69. Wins at Fontwell (off 75), Folkestone again (85), Plumpton (102), a double at Wincanton (108 and 117) and Kempton (127) tuned up him neatly for a blistering eight length win in the Listed Novices’ Handicap Chase at Cheltenham off a mark of 142.

He was then pitched straight into Grade 1 company at Aintree, beaten just over three lengths in third in the Bowl, finishing the season with an official rating of 157 – 88lbs higher than he started it five months earlier.

Hunt Ball  – and Knott – were not to everyone’s taste and the story didn’t have a particularly happy ending after that Cheltenham win. 

Hunt Ball only won once again over fences, along with three hurdle wins in the care of Nicky Henderson and new owners.

Knott, meanwhile, was suspended from racing in November 2014 for passing inside information about a horse.

But we will always have that Tuesday afternoon in March 2012 and Knott’s famous “I told you he had two stone in hand” shriek to Nick Luck on Racing UK.

ONE FOR MIDWEEK

I didn’t want to depart without a quick midweek tip to tide us over to the weekend and that comes in the shape of REQUINTO DAWN in the 5.30 at Southwell on Wednesday. He loves it here, is in form, and is taken to make it a hattrick. See you Friday night for a full preview of all Saturday’s ITV action.

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