It’s not just kids who are starting to get very excited about Christmas. For racing fans, the festive period really is one of the happiest times of the year with so much top quality National Hunt action to enjoy. This weekend’s racing is something of an appetiser for the big contests to come with racing from both Ascot and Haydock landing on our screens.
The ITV Racing cameras are ready to roll from both tracks and we are ready as well with our selection of the best betting tips from all six live races.
1:50 “For The Love Of Racing” Handicap Chase
Class 2, 2m3f
The “For The Love Of Racing” Handicap Chase is the first contest of the day shown live by ITV Racing and includes a few horses who have been building towards a big performance. Early Du Lemo made a most pleasing return to action after a break of almost two years last time out at Sandown, finishing second after an almighty battle with his stablemate Darebin. That he has only been raised five pounds for that run has not been missed by punters and at 7/1, Gary Moore’s seven year old has been backed as though he’s the horse most likely to get the better of the 9/2 favourite Saint De Vassy.
This might just be too big a step up after such a long absence though so Early Du Lemo goes into the pile of horses who are worth keeping a close eye on with preference in this race going to Drumcliff.
After a spell without winning, J. P. McManus decided to move his horse over to Aidan Howard’s yard in Ireland for last season. That didn’t produce the win that Drumcliff’s owner was after so he’s returned to Harry Fry’s care for this season and has shown signs that he might be about to return to his best. The nine year old plugged on gamely to finish third last time out at Ascot despite making a mistake three from home and has every chance of earning at least another place on his return to the track at a tempting price of 10/1.
2:05 Betfair Exchange Handicap Hurdle
Class 2, 2m3f
Albert’s Back made a successful return to action last month and is taken to go in again in the Betfair Exchange Handicap Hurdle. That return at Wetherby came over hurdles which was something of a surprise as he finished the last campaign running in chases. Originally it seemed that was a smart move to take advantage of a generous handicap mark over hurdles but he has only been raised five pounds for that recent win and Mick Easterby clearly believes that modest raise affords his six year old space to improve further and win again.
The market has a slightly different take on the race, making War Lord the 3/1 favourite. The five year old is another who could have a big future ahead of him and he certainly rates as the main danger to Albert’s Back. But it is Easterby’s horse who is more generously treated by the handicapper and is available at a more tempting price of 7/2.
2:25 Porsche Long Walk Hurdle
Grade 1, 3m½f
The ground at Ascot will be one of the main talking points on Saturday. The going was already described as soft before Friday’s racing and even more rain fell overnight so each race on the card is going to be a real slog. That is especially true of the Long Walk Hurdle which takes place over a distance of 3m½f.
The challenging conditions throw up a chance of a surprise result in this year’s renewal. It is already a very competitive race with a two-way battle for favouritism between Paisley Park and Thyme Hill who are both available at 2/1. Those two met recently in the Long Distance Hurdle with Thyme Hill coming out on top but Emma Lavelle has been talking glowingly about Paisley Park’s chances of returning to his best as he bids to regain his crown in the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Punters have several choices if they wish to take the favourites on with Roksana, The Jam Man and Thistlecrack all coming in for support. The best option, however, is Main Fact at odds of 13/2. The seven year old’s incredible winning run of nine victories on the bounce has delighted the syndicate who own him and racing fans everywhere. The question now is, just how far can Main Fact go? This is by far his biggest task to date but his ability to tough it out on soft ground gives Main Fact every chance at Ascot.
2:40 Betfair Tommy Whittle Handicap Chase
Class 2, 3m1½f
We have another race with joint favourites next up. Both Hill Sixteen and Sojourn are available at 7/2 for the Tommy Whittle Handicap Chase and for all that they are the two most likely winners, this is no two-horse race.
Enquarde, who runs off a low weight, is one of those who could throw down a challenge to the favourites. This is quite an ask on his British chase debut but Enqarde has run well in this country for Dr Richard Newland and won a chase in France so he may not prove to be out of his depth and is an interesting option at 7/1.
A win might just be out of Enqarde’s grasp though, especially as Hill Sixteen has shown a real aptitude for running well on bottomless ground. His season began with a monster 46-length win in a chase at Ffos Las before toughing out a hurdle win last time out. Carrying that sort of form into this race should be enough to account for a 12 pound rise in the weights so he is the most likely winner at odds of 7/2.
3:00 Good Luck Hollie In SPOTY Silver Cup Handicap Chase
The Conditional is a strong-looking favourite for the Silver Cup Handicap. The eight year old’s support in the betting comes largely from a hugely impressive run on his first start of the season at Newbury. That run came in the Ladbrokes Trophy in which Cloth Cap provided such an impressive front running win that those in behind him were somewhat overlooked; but quality of The Conditional’s run at 14/1 was noteworthy for anybody who watched it.
David Bridgwater’s eight year old has more than just an impressive recent run under his belt to strengthen his claims for this race. He has solid form on testing ground under his belt and knows exactly what it takes to win in a big field, competitive handicap having claimed the Ultima at Cheltenham. We have seen some very classy horses win some very competitive handicaps having been sent off as favourite already this season and The Conditional can add his name to that list at Ascot at odds of 10/3.
3:35 Betfair Exchange Trophy
Grade 3, 1m7½f
Buzz is the next classy favourite looking to prove his class in a competitive handicap. Nicky Henderson has an excellent record at Ascot and he’ll be feeling justifiably confident about his six year old’s chances after he dismantled the field in a handicap hurdle last time out.
The difference for Buzz is that this is a step up in class to Grade 3 company and the field is much more competitive. Indeed, this looks on paper to be arguably the trickiest ITV race to call of the afternoon. Of all those who should be considered for each way support, Harambe is the best priced at 16/1. Alan King’s seven year old is a consistent and reliable performer who was unlucky to fall in each of his last two starts. Providing he has no mental scars from those two falls, Harambe should be right in the mix come the closing stages.