Assuming the weather makes no late interventions, we have a truly bumper day of horse racing to enjoy on Saturday. The already busy card at Sandown has been boosted by the rescheduling of the Cotswold Chase from the cancelled Trials Day at Cheltenham. What’s more, there is a varied card at Musselburgh and a pair of Grade 1s from the Dublin Racing Festival being covered by ITV Racing.
We had expected the ITV cameras at Wetherby to televise their Towton Novice’s Chase, however they switched to an all hurdle card which included the diverted Cleeve Hurdle, with the Chase Course not raceable, though this has now also been abandoned.
With more chances to win than usual from the Saturday racing, we have gone through all of the live races and made our best racing betting tips for you below. Here’s looking forward to a cracking day of action and hopefully plenty of winners!
1:15 Virgin Bet Handicap Chase
Class 2, 1m7½f
Talk about horses for courses, Dolos is going for a hat-trick of wins in the Virgin Bet Handicap Chase. Paul Nicholls’ eight-year-old hasn’t set the world alight so far this season with a pair of fourth place finishes all he has to show. However, he was hardly in excellent form when approaching this race 12 months ago having finished seventh of eight so he is expected to give his best running on his return to Sandown.
Moonlighter (6/1) might be the best placed challenger to stop Dolos in his tracks. He too has to improve on recent form but loves running on heavy ground and connections will hope that he can dig in to produce a big run. He’ll have his backers but on balance it is the shorter priced horse for us here.
1:35 Ladbrokes Dublin Chase
Grade 1, 2m1½f
Paul Townend is a hugely experienced jockey who has ridden some excellent horses but he still gets very excited about special rides. Excited is probably an understatement for how Townend felt after riding Chacun Pour Soi to victory in the Grade 1 Paddy’s Rewards Club Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas. The return to his sparking best came after a run at Cork where he was below par but still managed to grind out the win and Townend is hopeful that we’ll see something closer to the Leopardstown performance when he returns to the track for the Dublin Chase.
Chacun Pour Soi isn’t the easiest character to train and he can be a bit unpredictable out on the course. That won’t do on Saturday with stablemate Min ready to pounce on any mistakes from the favourite. He will also have to run his race to get the better of Notebook who is a 7/1 shot for Henry de Bromhead and Gigginstown.
Those happy with taking 4/9 about a horse in such a high class race will most likely get a return for their money. Others will prefer to back Min each way at 4/1 in the hope that he comes good. Once again, on balance it is the jolly for us here, a nice addition to any Saturday accas you might opt for.
1:50 Virgin Bet Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase
Grade 1, 2m4f
The Grade 1 Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase has been won by some very good horses over the years but this has to rank as one of the most exciting renewals for a while. There are some potentially very smart chasers in the betting market which is topped by Shan Blue. Dan Skelton’s seven-year-old is unbeaten in three starts over fences, showing an excellent fleetness of foot which underlines his pinpoint jumping.
The concern for the favourite is that he is dropping back to 2m4f from 3m in a very strong looking race. The competition includes Dame De Compagnie who looked a natural when beating the talented Cornerstone Lad in his chasing debut. Messire Des Obeaux is another who looks a natural over fences and all the hard work done at home to finally get the nine-year-old on track to make his chasing debut in December paid off as he is two from two in this sphere.
Preference, however, just about goes to Hitman at 11/4. Another who won his chasing debut in taking style, this big, rangy horse was beaten only by the more experienced Allmankind on his first attempt at a Grade 1 at Sandown in December. He could go one better on his return to the track to the delight of his owners who were confident they were onto a good thing when bringing him over from France.
2:05 bet365 Scottish County Hurdle
Class 2, 1m7½f
The first live race from Musselburgh is over 2m shorter than the slog which ends the ITV Racing. However, the testing ground expected at the Scottish track and the presence of some pacey types in the race suggest that those towards the bottom of the weights have an opportunity to take advantage.
Ashington is already the second lowest rated horse in the field but gets a further 7lb allowance due to the claim of his jockey Oakley Brown. There isn’t a whole to shout about in his results but when you look at those performances more closely it’s clear that he’s been the recipient of some bad luck in running and might have more to give. This is a big race for Ashington on his debut for new trainer Brian Ellison and that change might be all he needs for a change in fortunes.
2:20 Cotswold Chase
Grade 2, 3m
The rescheduled Cotswold Chase will feature six of the original cast due to do battle at Cheltenham last week. The change in venue won’t be to all of their liking but Nigel Twiston-Davies won’t be concerned for Bristol De Mai who is a previous winner at Sandown. The popular grey sits right at the top of the betting and with the sort of heavy conditions that he relishes you can easily understand why.
The problem for the favourite is that he looks a little short at 9/4 given the strength of his opposition. Santini is ranked as the most likely to get the favourite beaten at 5/2. Nicky Henderson is targeting the nine-year-old for another crack at the Cheltenham Gold Cup but sees him as a potential Grand National horse for the future and has even entered him for the big race at Aintree this year for all that he’s unlikely to run. A Grade 2 chasing win on heavy ground would surely see him given his chance again at Cheltenham and Santini has the class to get the job done at a nice price.
2:30 William Hill Cleeve Hurdle
Grade 2, 3m
Note: This race has been abandoned. The Cleeve Hurdle was one of the casualties from the abandonment Cheltenham’s Trails Day last weekend. Having originally not been scheduled to be re-run, this race has benefitted from the cancellation of Wetherby’s Chases, with parts of the course unraceable.
Paisley Park is the notable absentee, with Emma Lavelle’s charge bypassing Wetherby for a tilt at the Stayers’ Hurdle at the festival, citing the forecast heavy ground as an issue. This leaves a highly competitive field, with the market currently headed by Nicky Henderson’s On The Blind Side at 10/3. The bottomless ground was no problem for him three weeks ago at Market Rasen, keeping on well under top weight over 2m7f.
Itchy feet hasn’t won since this weekend last year and steps up in trip. Olly Murphy’s 7 year old has plenty of scope but 7/2 is perhaps on the skinny side so we think the value lies with the horse that is third in the betting, Main Fact. David Pipe’s 5/1 shot faded badly back in seventh place to Paisley Park in Ascot’s Long Walk Hurdle just before Christmas but that came of the back of a hugely impressive win in the Stayer’s Handicap Hurdle at Haydock the month before and conditions will suit in Yorkshire.
2:55 Virgin Bet Warriors Handicap Chase
Class 2, 2m4f
This 2½m handicap is up there with the most challenging betting heats of the day for punters. Connections of almost all of the 10 confirmed runners will believe that their charges have a chance of landing the prize on heavy ground at Sandown even if they know it’s going to take a gutsy performance to win.
Alnadam had a couple of options for the weekend so his presence in the field immediately catches the attention. The bookies haven’t missed him though and Harry Skelton’s eight-year-old may just be a bit short at 4/1 from near the top of the weights. Instead, consider backing Doitforthevillage at 6/1.
The plucky 12-year-old was a little fortunate to end a long losing run at Sandown at the start of the year as the strong favourite for another 2m4f handicap chase crashed out. However, the form still looks good, he’s only been penalised 3lb (and is at the bottom of the weights) and saves his best stuff for heavy ground, so may be able to produce another very good run.
3:15 Chanelle Pharma Irish Champion Hurdle
Grade 1, 2m
The Irish Champion Hurdle is a race of such standing that it deserves a field of the calibre assembled for this year’s edition. This really should be a cracker and for is the highlight of a top day of racing.
For many, it’s Honeysuckle who sets the standard and the bookies’ favourite is certainly going to take some beating here. Henry De Bromhead’s unbeaten mare looks set to go to the Cheltenham Champion Hurdle if everything goes to plan here. Although she wasn’t overly impressive when winning the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse in November, Honeysuckle didn’t have the benefit of a warm up race as she did the previous year and deserves nothing but credit for the way she ground out the win.
Sharjah (5/2) comes into the race after an excellent showing when winning the Matheson Hurdle in December. Patrick Mullins will look to utilise his wonderful turn of foot again to serve it up to Honeysuckle. Sharjah is a real danger and the same could be said of Abacadabras (10/1) and Saldier (14/1) who both have excuses for their poor runs in that Leopardstown contest.
With a handsome prize on the line and plenty of clues to be gleaned ahead of Cheltenham this really is a must-watch race. Ultimately though, the favourite is expected to win as Honeysuckle is in receipt of the 7lb mares’ allowance which will likely make the difference in in such a tight race.
3:30 Virgin Bet Masters Handicap Chase
Class 2, 3m
Fans of National Hunt racing will often tell you that their love for the sport comes from the heart and determination shown by the equine stars. A big heart will go a long way at Sandown on Saturday given the punishing conditions underfoot and grit and desire could be the deciding factors in this 3m handicap.
Kiltealy Briggs will need to show as much battling spirit as ever as he is giving weight to all but one opponent here. Jamie Snowden has seen some encouraging signs having stepped his seven-year-old up in trip and fancies that he could have a good staying handicapper on his hands. Those credentials will be well tested at Sandown but it’s a test he can pass at a fairly generous price of 5/1.
3:45 bet365 Edinburgh National Handicap Chase
Class 2, 4m1f
The day on ITV Racing comes to close with the marathon Edinburgh National Handicap. 12 horses have been entered for this monster 4m1f trip but it would be something of a turn up if half of that number complete the race. A trip in excess of four miles in what are sure to be testing conditions means that, rather obviously, bags and bags of stamina are what is needed here.
Ideally punters will want to side with a horse who is not overly encumbered by the weight they have to carry and will relish being pushed to the limit over this trip. Classic Europe could be that horse for Grand National-winning trainer Dr Richard Newland. Classic Europe gave a really good effort when finishing second over 4m½f in the Scottish Borders National in December and with a nice gap to recover from that effort he can go in again to reward his backers.