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Coral Hurdle: Horse-by-horse guide to Saturday's big Ascot race, live on Sky Sports Racing

Tom Chilman from attheraces takes a close look at the five runners in the Coral Hurdle at Ascot on Saturday, live on Sky Sports Racing; will Goshen defend his crown in the Grade Two contest under new jockey Niall Houlihan? Will Nicky Henderson or Paul Nicholls claim another big prize?

Strong Leader ridden by jockey Sean Bowen come home to win the Boylesports Best Odds Guaranteed Novices' Hurdle during Boylesports Becher Chase Day at Aintree
Image: Strong Leader disappointed on his reappearance but had some good form to his name last year

Saturday's Coral Hurdle (2:05) provides an early-season target for some of the best middle-distance hurdlers over 2m 3.5f at Ascot.

Big names to win this Grade Two prize in recent years include Annie Power (2013), Faugheen (2014) and Rock On Ruby (2015), while last year's winner Goshen will bid to emulate the likes of Baracouda (2001, 2002), Hardy Eustace (2006, 2007) and If The Cap Fits (2018, 2019) by winning back-to-back renewals for trainer Gary Moore.

Nicky Henderson is the trainer with the best record in the race, however, having won it on four occasions since 2008, with Seven Barrows represented this time around by the only mare in the line-up in Theatre Glory.

Tom Chilman from attheraces takes a close look at each of the five runners....


Jockey: Niall Houlihan, Trainer: Gary Moore

Last year's winner returns to defend his crown but for the first time in his 19-race National Hunt career the seven-year-old will be without the services of Jamie Moore, following a recent fall at Lingfield. Niall Houlihan, conditional jockey for the yard, represents an able deputy, and he will know better than most the difficulties that come with riding the enigmatic 154-rated hurdler, though nothing can replicate racing itself, of course.

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Goshen jumps to victory in the Coral Hurdle at Ascot
Image: Goshen jumps to victory in last year's Coral Hurdle at Ascot

Still, this is at least a hurdles contest, and a Grade Two one at that, with Goshen's convincing victory in this race 12 months ago securing his third such win at this level (the other two coming in Wincanton's Kingwell Hurdle in 2021 and 2022). Runner-up efforts in last season's Long Walk (3m 0.5f) at Kempton and Select Hurdle (2m 5.5f) at Sandown suggested his future may lie over further, but he should put up a good fight here first - should being the operative word.


J: Tom Bellamy, T: Alan King

A high-class performer for connections for the best part of a decade, Alan King's likeable veteran failed to repeat his 2022 Listed success at Kempton last month - subsequently his only win in an otherwise honourable six-race campaign - and now arrives here looking for his first victory in Grade Two company in over two years.

Sceau Royal
Image: Sceau Royal is still going strong at the age of 11

Surprisingly, this will be the 11-year-old's first run at Ascot, and his two seconds at this level last season in the Elite Hurdle (1m 7f) at Wincanton and National Spirit (2m 3f) at Fontwell would give hope that he can at least be competitive here. However, with regular pilot Daryl Jacob getting the call to ride Bravemansgame up at Haydock, coupled with the fact the now Tom Bellamy-partnered runner is yet to win over further than 2m 1f in all his career starts, it would be somewhat disappointing if he were to prove the best of these.


J: Sean Bowen, T: Olly Murphy

The excitement around Olly Murphy's progressive novice hurdler certainly took something of a hit in the Welsh Champion Hurdle (2m) last month, with the six-year-old trailing home some 20 lengths last of the 10-runner field. With little in the way of excuses for that disappointing effort, it may have just been a case of racing over an inadequate trip on unfavourable ground (officially good to soft, soft in places, but appearing softer underfoot) at a course that did not suit.

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One thing that is for sure is Strong Leader would be a fair bit shorter for this had he not turned up at Ffos Las, given the strength of his form in novice company last season. Following victories at Uttoxeter (2m) and Aintree (2m 1f), he made it a hat-trick of wins at Southwell (2m) before proving the best of the British in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle (ninth). A month later at Aintree, Strong Leader improved further to finish a staying-on second in the Top Novices' Hurdle, and he could just be underestimated here despite having what appears to be his ideal conditions.


J: Harry Cobden, T: Paul Nicholls

The sole four-year-old runner in the field, Paul Nicholls' French recruit made a fairly inauspicious start to life for his new yard when pulled up on debut in a Grade Two juvenile at Cheltenham (2m 0.5f) around this time last year. The vibes for the former Arnaud Chaille-Chaille runner were strong enough to see him sent off 6/4 favourite for that graded contest, and he was again very disappointing when sent off a similar price in a lesser event at Taunton (2m 0.5f) the following month.

Angus Cheleda riding Blueking D'Oroux clear the last to win The Royal Ascot Racing Club Juvenile Handicap Hurdle at Ascot
Image: Blueking D'Oroux scores at Ascot in April

Unsurprisingly, a wind operation was soon on the cards, and three months later Blueking D'Oroux appeared a different animal when staying on strongly to land a 1m 7.5f juvenile handicap hurdle at Ascot from a better-fancied stablemate. A solid second under a winners' penalty at Aintree (2m 0.5f) just 12 days later was another step forward, as was his second success for the yard on his return in the Masterson Holdings Hurdle (2m 0.5f) at Cheltenham last month. This demands more upped in grade and distance, however.


J: Nico de Boinville, T: Nicky Henderson

A dual Listed-winning mare for a yard that usually does well with them, Theatre Glory bids to go two places better than when last seen finishing third in Sandown's Select Hurdle (2m 5.5f) back in April. Just over a length ahead of the six-year-old that day was Goshen, with Gary Moore's runner-up appearing to outstay the 2/1 favourite on his favourable soft ground, but there is every reason to believe the daughter of Fame And Glory can reverse that form here.

Theatre Glory ridden by Nico de Boinville on their way to winning the Mares' Novices' Hurdle at Huntingdon
Image: Theatre Glory on her way to victory at Huntingdon two years ago

After unseating her rider in the Gerry Feilden last November, she then ran a cracker (again on unsuitably soft ground) to claim third in a 2m 5f handicap at Kempton before producing her best performance to date in a Listed contest at Warwick (2m 5f), slamming three 140+ mares by 11 lengths on good ground. That appears to be the key to her, though she still ran respectably enough to finish sixth in the Mares' Hurdle at Cheltenham (soft) prior to her latest effort at Sandown. Assuming the rain stays away, she looks a player.


A tight-looking affair despite the small field, and, as with most races that he runs in, this largely revolves around which Goshen turns up. If it is the same version that saw him win this by a comfortable margin 12 months ago, he is an obvious threat to all. But with question marks over his ideal trip (could now need further) and with a new partner on board, it may prove best to swerve him on this occasion.

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Sceau Royal and Blueking D'Oroux arrive at opposite ends of their respective racing careers, with neither yet to prove themselves over this intermediate trip, so the pair to focus on may turn out to be STRONG LEADER and Theatre Glory. The latter is likely to get her favoured better ground, while Nicky Henderson could hardly be in better form for this time of year, but slight preference is for Olly Murphy's charge as he looks to rebuild his somewhat-tainted reputation. Connections have consistently stated the six-year-old will improve for this distance on better ground, so there are unlikely to be any excuses should their second-season hurdler fail to fire again here.

Watch all the action from Saturday's meeting at Ascot live on Sky Sports Racing with the first race at 12.20pm.

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