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Last Updated: 21/12/13 10:19am
Brian Ellison: 'Very happy' with Totalize
Trainer Brian Ellison is confident the heavily-supported Totalize will make his presence felt in the Ladbroke Hurdle at Ascot on Saturday.
With a prize fund of £150,000, it is no surprise the two-mile contest is one of the most fiercely competitive handicap hurdles of the season, with 21 runners to face the starter.
Totalize has won twice from four starts over timber and was fifth in the Fred Winter Juvenile Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival on his latest outing over jumps.
He has since made three appearances on the Flat, with a win at Pontefract followed by a good run in defeat in the Movember Handicap at Leopardstown in November.
Market support has seen the four-year-old backed in from as big as 25/1 to single-figure odds.
Ellison said: "He's in good form. It's competitive and the more rain the better for him. I'm very happy with him. If he's good enough, he'll win. If not, I'm sure he'll run well anyway. He couldn't be better. The owners haven't backed him, but someone has jumped on the bandwagon somewhere along the line."
David Pipe launches a formidable assault on the valuable prize, with Greatwood Hurdle winner Dell' Arca one of six runners for the Pond House handler.
Pipe said: "Dell' Arca is in good order. He did it nicely at Cheltenham. I think this a tougher race with more unexposed horses in there, but he deserves to take his chance.
"I think the ground will be OK for him. He might be a better horse on better ground, but we'll see how he goes.
"Swing Bowler goes well fresh and is in good order. If you go back to her third in the Betfair Hurdle last season that gives her a chance.
"The softer the ground the better for Shotavodka. He keeps running well without winning and, as a result, keeps creeping up the weights, which is why we're claiming off him. Hopefully he'll run well.
"Waterunder ran well in what was not a true-run race at Sandown last time and there should be more pace.
"Dan Breen was third in this race last year and Ronaldo Des Mottes is another who would have a small each-way chance on his best form.
"Obviously, Dell' Arca and Swing Bowler look the best of our chances."
The Paul Nicholls-trained Ptit Zig was last seen winning a Grade One at Auteuil over two and a half miles, earning him a mark of 151 and top weight for his return to handicap company. The Ditcheat handler also saddles outsider Irish Saint.
Nicholls said: "When we got Ptit Zig we thought he wanted better ground, but he won over two and a half on heavy at Auteuil and it should suit him fine at the weekend.
"Irish Saint is a big price considering his form from Cheltenham, Kempton and Aintree last season. He has slipped under the radar a bit and isn't without a chance. I hope it doesn't come a week too soon but I could see him going well."
Nicholls' former assistant Dan Skelton has made a flying start to his own training career and has an interesting contender in Willow's Saviour, a winner at Ascot and Musselburgh on his last two starts.
Skelton said: "We have obviously trained him for this race since Musselburgh and everything has gone very smoothly. We've had no hold-ups at all with him.
"It's a massive step up in class. We're pleased with our horse, but we're not underestimating the competition. I don't know that the ground will suit us, but I do know stamina is not a problem as he won over two miles and three furlongs at Ascot in early November.
"From a tactical point of view, conditions could actually suit us as the ground will just blunt the speed of one or two of those Flat-bred types. It's a massive day, but I was involved in enough of these races during my time at Paul's to know they are very difficult to win."
John Ferguson's Pine Creek won a valuable race over the course and distance on his penultimate start and was not disgraced when sixth in the Greatwood.
Ferguson said: "He has obviously won a nice handicap at Ascot already and I have no reason to believe he won't run very well again.
"We were happy with his run at Cheltenham. He's in good form and he won on soft ground at Doncaster, so the conditions shouldn't be a problem for him. I'm looking forward to seeing him run again."
A close second behind Pine Creek at Ascot was the Gary Moore-trained Chris Pea Green, who went on to finish third in the Gerry Feilden at Newbury.
Moore said: "I certainly hope he'll run a good race, but he isn't the best handicapped horse in the race. He's run two good races this season and he's paid for it, so we'll just have to see what happens. The big thing that is in his favour is the ground, as he loves to get his toe in."
Champion trainer Nicky Henderson is represented by market leader Rolling Star and Gerry Feilden runner-up Chatterbox.
The latter carries the colours of Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Bobs Worth and part-owner Malcolm Kimmins is hopeful of a bold show.
Kimmins said: "We were very pleased with his first run, especially as he had been held up in his work, and it's a race Nicky has done well in the past."