The winter is really starting to bite with some pretty horrible weather up and down the country but this is one of the best times of year for all National Hunt racing fans. The new season is very much underway and we have brilliant racing to enjoy each and every weekend for the foreseeable future. The crescendo of the Cheltenham Festival remains some way off but we have so much top class jumps racing to get our teeth into before then.
Top class is an apt description of this weekend’s ITV Racing coverage from Ascot and Haydock. The highlights include the Betfair Chase, the Betfair Exchange Stayers’ Hurdle and the 1965 Chase but there is opportunity in all eight races, which is why we’ve previewed them all in our regular Saturday racing tips.
1:50 Betfair Racing Only Bettor Handicap Hurdle
Class 2, 2m3f
Kid Commando looked every inch a horse who has plenty of scope for improvement over hurdles as he made a winning start to life as a handicapper at the end of October. The six-year-old was able to dominate a race which looked competitive on paper and was run at a good gallop. The handicapper has had his say by raising Anthony Honeyball’s charge 7lb. That is a considerable burden to carry in what could be quite soft conditions, but we fancy it should be in Kid Commando’s capabilities at a price of 4/1.
The ITV Racing opener is by no means a one horse race though. Indeed, Shakem Up’Arry trails just behind in the betting at general odds of 11/2, whilst there is sure to be a big market mover on the day of the race in what could be a fascinating betting heat. In that regard, make sure to keep an eye on the price of Forest Bihan. The nine-year-old looks to have been written off somewhat at 18/1 as he is carrying top weight on his seasonal return but if Brian Ellison has got him fit, he could be a danger over a trip which should bring the best out of him. He arguably possesses the best turn of foot of any of these so can make up some serious ground late on if in a position to lay down a challenge.
2:05 Chanelle Pharma 1965 Chase
Grade 2, 2m5f
The National Hunt season really got going with last weekend’s November Meeting at Cheltenham and at this stage of the season the trials for the biggest races at the Cheltenham Festival start coming thick and fast. The 1965 Chase is one such race even if there are any number of different paths for successful horses in this Grade 2 contest.
Itchy Feet’s Cheltenham ended in disappointment last season when unseating his rider after a poor jumping performance in the Marsh Novices’ Chase but Olly Murphy is hopeful of much better things during this campaign. Imperial Aura was a Cheltenham Festival winner last year thanks to a taking win in the Northern Trust Company Novices’ Chase in March. That performance and his winning return to action at Carlisle at the start of November have combined to make the seven-year-old the bookies’ favourite at Ascot but preference just about goes to Real Steel at the price of 2/1.
Paul Nicholls’ seven-year-old was last seen in the Gold Cup where he ran very well for sixth place. He had every chance of winning as they turned into the home straight but from there his challenge just petered out. It will be interesting to see whether he is campaigned for another crack at the Gold Cup or if connections believe his best chances of a Cheltenham win will come dropped down in trip. Either way, Real Steel is a top class horse who can get his campaign off to a winning start at 2/1.
2:25 Betfair Exchange Stayers’ Handicap Hurdle
Grade 3, 3m½f
The Stayers’ Handicap Hurdle at Haydock is arguably the best race of its kind this side of the New Year. This Grade 3 contest always attracts some of the very best stayers around as is evidenced by a roll of honour which includes Paisley Park, Sam Spinner and Grands Crus in the last 10 years.
The Jam Man is the one who looks the most likely to kick on and taste success right at the top level of the staying hurdle division after an emphatic win at Navan a fortnight ago. The seven-year-old sets the standard and is the rightful favourite but this is a wide open race in which it is possible to make a strong case for as many as six runners.
Of those with a shot at winning, the price of Relegate stands out. Charles Murphy has a small but select string of horses to go to war with this year so whenever one of his makes the trip over the Irish Sea it is worth sitting up and taking notice. As a former Champion Bumper winner, Relegate doesn’t exactly go under the radar but winning this will require his best run to date so punters aren’t exactly falling over themselves to back him. That means more value for those who do decide that his best is just around the corner and the 5/1 available about Relegate’s chances is certainly a tempting price.
2:40 Coral Hurdle
Grade 2, 2m3½f
Just three runners have made it through the final declaration stage for the Coral Hurdle. As disappointing as that is, we should still be in for a proper race here with all three available at 11/4 or shorter with the bookies in what is a pretty wide open affair.
Laurina is a rather weak favourite. She is clearly a very talented mare but has a whole lot to prove after failing to live up to her billing when tried over fences last season. Many are hopeful that she will be better than ever in her first start since wind surgery and for Paul Nicholls.
As encouraging as it would be to see Laurina firing again, she faces a tough task getting the better of a fit Call Me Lord. Nicky Henderson’s seven-year-old looked as though he needed the run two weeks ago at Aintree and if he does come on for his first start of the season as expected, he is the most likely winner at 13/8.
3:00 Betfair Chase
Grade 1, 3m1½f
The Betfair Chase is the standout race of the weekend and this year’s renewal is shaping to be particularly exciting. Another race with a small but select field, the battle is set to be especially fierce between the top three in the betting – Lostintranslation, Bristol De Mai and Clan Des Obeaux.
All three were last seen finishing in various positions behind Al Boum Photo in the Gold Cup. A return to the Cheltenham Festival for another shot at the blue riband race is the hope for connections of all three. Of them all, Lostintranslation is the one who has the best chance of ending Al Boum Photo’s run of Gold Cup success, just as he ended Bristol De Mai’s stranglehold on the Betfair Chase last year and at Haydock in general.
Lostintranslation was able to take advantage of good to soft ground and a warm up race to win this race 12 months ago. He has neither advantage this time around which should tilt the race in Bristol De Mai’s favour. The grey’s record at Haydock is superb and the tougher the conditions the better so rain in the forecast is music to the ears of Nigel Twiston-Davies and all connected to Bristol De Mai. Neither Lostintranslation nor Clan Des Obeaux will be too perturbed by the likely soft, turning heavy perhaps ground, but on balance, at the odds, Bristol De Mai is the horse to back for Betfair Chase glory at 9/4.
3:17 Coral Hurst Park Handicap Chase
Class 2, 2m1f
Paul Nicholls is no stranger to striking while the iron is hot. He has sent Magic Saint to Ascot fresh off the back of last week’s impressive win in the Mucking Brilliant Paddy Power Handicap Chase at Cheltenham and the bookies have responded by making the six-year-old the 11/4 favourite. The only problem with Magic Saint’s Cheltenham win was that it took him up to 159 in the official ratings, making him very tough to place. Many thought he would have to make the step up to Graded company and with 11st 12lb on his back he is surely there to be shot at in a handicap like this.
Those who agree that this is a favourite to be taken on should consider lending their support to Abbey Magic at the considerably bigger price of 5/1. Henry De Bromhead’s nine-year-old has already made two starts this season. Those runs took her record to four wins from five starts over fences, with her only defeat coming by just a head. Off a mark of 143 she has plenty of scope for improvement and can get the better of some very good opposition at Ascot.
3:35 My Odds Boost On Betfair Stayers’ Handicap Chase
Class 3, 3m4½f
There are few courses which sap the stamina as much as Haydock when things get sticky. With rain set to fall throughout the afternoon the 3m4½f handicap chase which brings the card to a close is going to be an almighty struggle for each of the horses in the field if the forecast proves accurate.
Last year’s winner, Perfect Candidate, got the job done on good to soft ground and may find the softer underfoot conditions too testing for him this time around. It might just be different for last year’s third, Kings Monarch who is appealing at 8/1 off a mark of just 127.
However, the best bet in our opinion looks to be Financial Outcome who is even better treated off just 119 – that’s 6lb better off than he was when beaten by Kings Monarch at Ffos Las in October. He can’t afford a repeat of the jumping mistake that cost him at Wetherby last time out but Financial Outcome is now fit and ready to give his best so 8/1 is a cracking price.
3:50 Coral Supporting Prostate Cancer UK Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race
Class 4, 1m7½f
The organisers at Ascot will be hoping that the final race on their card isn’t too close so that they can avoid a repeat of the photo finish controversy from Cheltenham last weekend in the fading winter light.
If two horses are inseparable at the line it is most likely to be Kandoo Kid and Wraysford, the pair who are attracting most support in the betting on their debut under rules. That support is based only on their breeding and a few reports from the yards though so it could pay to take the top two on with a more experienced rival. Entre Deux is certainly worth chancing for an each way bet at the really rewarding odds of 25/1. Like all of his opponents, Paul Henderson’s six-year-old is making his debut under rules but he has ample point-to-point experience and can make that count by running on to earn a place.