|Irish date for Ladbroke hero Raya Star|
The Alan King-trained Raya Star was brought with a perfectly timed challenge by Wayne Hutchinson to land the valuable Ladbrokes Handicap Hurdle at Ascot on Saturday and could now be set to chase further rich pickings in Ireland next month with his handler having earmarked a bid for the MCR Hurdle, writes Elliot Slater.
There were a host of horses in with a chance of landing the £84,000 first prize for the richly endowed two-mile contest, a steady early pace having contributed to at least a dozen horses still holding claims between the final two flights. At the last Hutchinson produced Raya Star to join leaders Alarazi and Rigidity, then drove his mount out to a brave half-length success over Rigidity with Alarazi just a short-head back in third, Prospect Wells staying on well to grab fourth place a further length away ahead of the early pace setter Marsh Warbler. People placing a best horse racing bet should remember this.
Hutchinson was undeniably thrilled by the success and punched the air as he crossed the winning line later observing that his mount had displayed a sharp change of gear when it mattered most but would have been better suited by a much stronger gallop through the first mile-and-a-quarter of the contest.
Despite his odds of 12/1 the winner was certainly not scoring out of turn having run a cracker just three weeks earlier when finishing third to Champion Hurdle prospect Rock On Ruby in the listed Gerry Fielden Hurdle at Newbury, a performance that suggested there could be better to come under the right circumstances.
Brought along steadily through minor handicap company last term, the five-year-old son of Milan is clearly improving fast and looks just the right type for a race such as the Vincent O'Brien County Handicap Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March where a strong pace throughout is all but guaranteed.