There is no doubt that the National Hunt season is up and running properly. That much was clear last weekend when racing fans were treated to some cracking contests and the high calibre racing continues this weekend courtesy of the November Meeting at Cheltenham. This brilliant three-day affair often gives us lots of pointers for the Festival itself in March and there are certainly some races on Saturday that should be instructive with regards how things might go in four months’ time.
ITV Racing are broadcasting no fewer than five races from the home of jumps racing on Saturday as well as two important All Weather Championships qualifiers at Lingfield. As ever, we’ve picked out the best bets from each of the live ITV races in our Saturday Racing Tips … and here they are!
1:40 From The Horse’s Mouth Podcast Novices’ Chase
Grade 2, 2m
Of the many reasons to be excited about the current National Hunt season, the strength of the novice chasing division is right up there. This Grade 2 contest, known by most as The November, or as an Arkle trial, usually plays an important role for some very smart novice chasers and this year’s renewal is shaping to be as good as ever.
Fusil Raffles is the bookies’ favourite having won both of his starts over fences. Nicky Henderson was much happier with the five-year-old’s performance at Cheltenham last time compared to his chasing debut at Uttoxeter but in neither race was he pushed particularly hard. As such, we feel this might be a bit much for him at this stage of his chasing career so 5/4 looks too short to us.
Quel Destin is an interesting option at longer odds of 9/2 on his chasing debut, whilst French horse Zarkareva won at Punchestown last time out, heads here seeking a hat-trick and should be a major player. All that said, we fancy that Eldorado Allen is the one they’re all going to have to beat at a general price of 4/1.
Robbie Power must have had his heart in his mouth when the six-year-old made a mistake at the last of his chasing debut at Newton Abbot. However, he just about stayed on his feet and had already done enough to see off his competition in what was an impressive win after 212 days away from the track. Eldorado Allen can confirm that he is one to watch for the rest of the season with a big win at Cheltenham and is well worth thinking about for the Arkle in March.
2:15 Paddy Power Gold Cup Handicap Chase
Grade 3, 2m4f
The Paddy Power Gold Cup is arguably the biggest handicap of the National Hunt season so far and a big field of 17 will do battle for the £74,035 prize going to the winner. Some of the most successful trainers around are represented in the field including Paul Nicholls, who is going for his third win in this race. His two previous winners – Al Ferof and Caid Du Berlais – were both on the way up in their chasing career and the same looks to be the case for Saint Sonnet.
The five-year-old was last seen finishing seventh in the Marsh Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham. That looks a decent performance given he went off at 33/1 but the run was even better than the result suggests. Saint Sonnet was right up there with the first three home, each of whom had strong Cheltenham Festival form, and was just done for a bit of pace.
Off a generous looking handicap mark and with more time to mature, that lack of pace is unlikely to be as much of an issue, especially with the likely softish ground. A slower finish could well see Nicholls celebrating along with punters who take the very fair looking price of 4/1 available about Saint Sonnet’s chances.
2:50 Paddy Power Games Handicap Hurdle
Some experienced horses are set to line up for this Listed handicap hurdle, producing what looks like a very interesting renewal. The progressive Tea Clipper is the bookies’ favourite and for good reason but he’ll have to be better than ever to overcome what looks a fairly punishing mark and there are more appealing options in the betting in our opinion.
One of those is the veteran, Dell’ Arca. The 11-year-old has been kept busy since the return of racing, running over both hurdles and fences. Whilst he is some way from his very best, he heads into the Paddy Power Games Handicap seeking a hat-trick after twice proving he is good enough to win off a mark of 125.
Partnered once again with Fergus Gillard who claims 5lb, Dell’ Arca has attracted a fair amount of support in the betting. The odds are not quite as long as they might have been but an each way bet still looks the best option, especially with Dandy Dan offering such appeal at 6/1.
Even with Kim Bailey’s yard in such good form of late, the quality of Dandy Dan’s run in his first start for over 300 days and since undergoing wind surgery was a surprise. He might even have won in a handicap chase last time out at Sedgefield were it not for a mistake at the last. Dandy Dan is 15lb better off over hurdles than fences which is enough of an advantage for him to earn a first win at Cheltenham.
3:05 Betway Churchill Stakes
The advent of All Weather racing throughout the winter was taken up at different speeds by different trainers. Whereas some belatedly viewed it as a chance to keep horses ticking over, others quickly realised that there were good prizes to be won and that some of their string would be better suited to artificial surfaces than running on turf.
John Gosden understands the value of All Weather racing. He has deliberately kept Dubai Warrior nice and fresh for the big races to come as his four-year-old attempts to successfully defend the Winter Derby which he won last February. His sole outing of the summer ended in predictable defeat in what was only his second start on turf but Dubai Warrior will look a different animal back at Lingfield as evidenced by his price of 8/15. That may seem short but we think he is a really solid favourite and even at those odds the value is there.
3:25 Paddy Power First Millionaire Qualifier Intermediate Handicap Hurdle
Class 3, 2m5f
Punters will have to do some work to pick out the best value on Saturday but as with our last tip, it should be as easy as simply backing the favourite in this handicap hurdle. Captain Tom Cat did some very good work in the summer months but was better than ever after a short break when he won on his handicap debut at Cheltenham last month. The handicapper could not have missed that performance and Captain Tom Cat will have to carry 6lb more this time out but that should still give him room for improvement so he is the right favourite at 11/4.
Anybody looking for an each way option to take against the field should consider Topofthecotswolds at 8/1. Nigel Twiston-Davies’ six-year-old will likely have his best days when he goes chasing again but he still has plenty to offer over hurdles. His only weakness is a lack of genuine speed but that is unlikely to be an issue over this trip on ground that is likely to soften up with so much rain in the forecast, so expect the aptly named Topofthecotswolds to battle away for a place here at Cheltenham.
3:40 Betway Golden Rose Stakes
Just like the first ITV Racing offering from Lingfield, the Golden Rose Stakes features a well backed favourite. Good Effort isn’t quite as short but you might find that the 5/2 available at the time of writing is long gone by the time the race starts. Ray Dawson’s five-year-old is a very smart performer on the All Weather and is in good form having produced a career best effort last time out in what was his return from a 10 month break.
Judicial rates as the main danger according to the bookies but last year’s winner is carrying a penalty which just might make life too difficult for him. Anybody looking to take the favourite on should instead consider supporting On The Warpath as the Godolphin horse has a better chance than the odds of 7/1 suggest if he can get back to his best after a break of around three months.
3:55 Karndean Designflooring Mares’ Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race
A National Hunt Flat race brings the ITV Racing coverage to a close. Some smart horses have graduated from this contest over the years so it could pay off in the long run to stick around for this one. In the short term, the rewards could come from backing Ucanaver at 3/1, a horse who could prove up to the Champion Bumper come March.
It took just one run for her to be snapped up by a new owner and sent to Anthony Honeyball. Her debut for new connections could not have gone any better as she won by a massive margin of 20 lengths, even if it was a little difficult to ascertain just how good that run was given the relative calibre of her opponents. We’ll all learn more about Ucanaver from her run at Cheltenham, where she can confirm that she is indeed a smart prospect.