It’s the weekend before the race meeting of all race meetings, the Cheltenham Festival. That means that many of the best jumps horses in training are being kept nice and safe at home, ready for their trip to the Cotswolds over the coming days. Before attention turns entirely to Cheltenham, however, there is some good National Hunt racing taking place at Sandown on Saturday.
The Sandown card is supported by an important all-weather card at Wolverhampton. With seven live ITV races to enjoy, we have ample opportunity to earn some nice winners to build up a nice bankroll ahead of the Festival and we’ve picked out our best Saturday racing tips below.
1:50 European Breeders’ Fund Paddy Power ‘National Hunt’ Novices’ Handicap Hurdle Final
Grade 3, 2m4f
This is a great yet challenging way to start the Saturday racing. It should be a fantastic watch for racing fans because it is wide open with many, if not most, of the 18 runners in the field being in with a chance of winning. That, of course, makes it challenging for punters who have the difficult job of trying to whittle down the field to find one standout bet.
This is a race for which horses have to qualify but it’s by no means the pinnacle of the ambition that connections have for their runners. It’s open only to horses aged between four and seven years and there are a lot of horses with plenty of scope for improvement, including Striking A Pose for Colin Tizzard. He arrives at Sandown searching for a hat-trick but has not been penalised for his most recent win and should be better than his mark of 130. That makes him a tempting each way prospect at odds of 14/1.
2:05 Bombardier Lady Wulfruna Stakes
We’re just approaching spring but preparations are already underway for the ramping up of the flat season. That means some high-quality horses are starting to make appearances at various all-weather courses. We certainly have some good racing to enjoy at Wolverhampton on Saturday, including the Lady Wulfruna Stakes with a competitive field of eight entered for this Listed contest.
The top two in the betting – Highland Dress and Documenting – have both been seen a fair amount over the winter. They look to be the right two to lead the market with preference narrowly going to the older horse, Documenting, who can reverse the form with Highland Dress from their meeting in November as he goes well after a break.
2:25 Paddy Power Imperial Cup Handicap Hurdle
Grade 3, 2m
The Cheltenham Festival is not right for every horse. Big-name trainers and owners often send promising horses to Sandown for a crack at the Imperial Cup rather than testing them at Prestbury Park the following week and we have another strong-looking renewal lined up on Saturday.
Younger horses tend to have the better of things in this race but eight year olds are by no means written off and connections of the fairly lightly raced Mick Maestro will believe he can be a serious player at odds of 11/1. The team at David Pipe’s stable will similarly hope that experience pays with their 10 year old Eamon An Cnoic an interesting each way option at odds of 12/1. However, the big battle here could well be who fills the minor places behind bookies’ favourite Natural History.
Gary Moore is one of the very best dual trainers around so he is perfectly placed to guide Natural History’s career as he goes from a 101 rated horse on the flat to a hurdler. The six year old is yet to finish outside the top two in his three starts for his new yard and the horse who was owned by the Queen until December should be crowned the winner of the Imperial Cup at odds of 3/1.
2:40 Bombardier British-Hopped Amber Beer Lincoln Trial Handicap
Class 2, 1m½f
For many, the Lincoln Handicap marks the start of the flat season proper but there is a qualifying process for that big race which includes this 1m½f contest at Wolverhampton. Competition for a place in the race is considerable and there is a full complement of 13 runners in the field.
There hasn’t been a winning favourite of this race in the last three years but the shortest priced option won in each of the three years before that so those who like the chances of Mission Boy should not necessarily be put off the 11/2 favourite’s tag. He does have some serious challengers though including Man Of The Night who is slightly bigger at odds of 7/1. Last seen when second to Zabeel Champion in the bet365 Handicap at Newmarket, Man Of The Night can outperform his mark of 97.
3:00 British Stallion Studs EBF Mares’ Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race
It’s not the biggest news of a non-runner in the last couple of days but Miss Lamb’s defection from this Listed mares’ bumper has further opened things up in the betting. There isn’t a whole lot of form to go on (at least when it comes to runs under rules) so it’s a little surprising that the bookies have had trouble calling the race correctly with just two winning favourites in the last 10 runnings.
The odds of 22/1 available about Precious suggest that she has a challenge to serve it up to the likes of Rainyday Woman (4/1), Tweed Skirt (13/2) and Flirtatious Girl (7/1). But there was a lot to like about her sole run to date when winning a bumper over 2m1½f. She was a little green but the drop back in trip should help if she is overly keen once again. The most striking thing from her debut was the heart she showed to stick on to win and it’s that sort of battling spirit that could see her at least claim a place at a generous looking price.
3:15 Betway Handicap
Class 2, 6f
The final live race of the day from Wolverhampton is another competitive-looking handicap featuring some classy turf performers. Summerghand (10/3) and Brian The Snail (5/1) set the standard with both used to competing in the big sprint handicaps over the summer months. The latter has been kept the busier during the winter and his all-weather form is good enough to suggest that he could be difficult to stop.
If there’s one horse in the field who can get Brian The Snail beaten, then it is Repartee. The four year old’s season tailed off tamely last season but the fact that Sheikh Mohammed Obaid Al Maktoum and Kevin Ryan have gelded him suggest that they believe he has genuine quality so 11/2 is a price worth taking even if it’s for an each way bet.
3:35 Paddy’s Reward Club Novices’ Handicap Chase
It could be a very good day for Gary and Joshua Moore at Sandown. High Up In The Air is their second live chance as he arrives at the course on a tremendous run of form that has seen him win each of his last five starts. Clearly, that run has not gone unnoticed by the handicapper and he runs off a mark of 135 having started his winning streak some 35 pounds lower. While that might not be the limit of his ability, it could be just a little too penal for him to win this competitive-looking chase at odds of 5/1.
No Getaway is the only horse in the field shorter than High Up In The Air and he will rightly get some support to become the first winning favourite in the short history of this race but the best betting option looks to be Belargus at 5/1. The JP McManus-owned six year old has been quite busy of late but he’s been kept to shorter trips and this return to 2m4f on good ground could bring even further improvement out of him.