Horseracing is a very tough sport to be a part of in any capacity. Many of the jockeys, trainers and stable staff who worked so hard during the Cheltenham Festival are right back to work the very next day with a fairly busy Saturday of racing. No matter whether they had a Cheltenham to remember or a total ‘mare, it is straight back to it and the same is true for us punters!
There’s also no rest for the ITV Racing team who are broadcasting the pick of the action from Uttoxeter and Kempton on Saturday. The calibre of horses taking part may not be at the same level as the Festival feast but there are some very good opportunities for punters throughout the seven races. There is no rest for the wicked and so here are our usual Saturday ITV racing tips.
1:50 Marstons Brewery Handicap Hurdle
Class 3, 2m7½f
Theme Tune is the favourite for the ITV Racing opener this Saturday. The six-year-old arrives at Uttoxeter chasing a hat-trick of wins following victory in a maiden hurdle at Ludlow on heavy ground and then a novice’s hurdle win next time out on soft ground at Carlisle. Jonjo O’Neill is hopeful that his charge will improve even further on his handicap debut. The step up in trip should help this gritty performer but he was sloppy over his hurdles last time out and may find that costs him against these more experienced rivals.
Steal A March is the same age as Theme Tune but he has experience of this sort of handicap and can make that pay on Saturday at 6/1. Nicky Henderson’s gelding will need to improve for his most recent showing but the return to slightly better ground will help. He ran very well to come from last to third on his first run of the season and that sort of performance could secure a win for the Queen’s horse.
2:05 Virgin Bet Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase
Class 3, 2m
It is always interesting when a trainer enters a horse very quickly after a disappointing run and Zoffee is a good example in the Virgin Bet Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase. The five-year-old had to be pulled up last time out at Doncaster but Philip Hobbs clearly believes there was a good excuse for that as he is back in action just two weeks on.
It was a bad mistake that ultimately cost him at Doncaster and Richard Johnson felt there was no option but to take him out of the running. Clearly, Zoffee will need to improve over his fences but connections are confident about his ability to bounce back and at 5/1 he must be considered a good price.
2:25 1834 Novices’ Handicap Chase
Class 2, 3m
There is a real mix of youth and experience in the 1834 Novices’ Handicap Chase. On the one hand you have seasoned old performers such as Brianstorm and Seemorelights who are looking to recapture former glories and on the other you have horses who are still very much improving such as the bookies’ favourite, St Barts.
Progression has been the name of the game for Philip Hobbs’ seven-year-old, first over hurdles and latterly since being sent chasing. He has never been far from the top of the betting in his three chase starts nor has he finished worse than second. St Barts is still learning the ropes and is prone to the odd poor jump at times but his engine has got him out of trouble more often than not and he is ready for another big step forward at decent enough odds of 5/2.
2:40 Virgin Bet Silver Plate Handicap Hurdle
Class 2, 2m5f
Vive Le Roi has been steadily coming down the ratings over the last 18 months or so. That means two things. First, it means that he’s not been winning races. Second, it means that he is getting closer to a workable mark. The 10-year-old goes off a mark of 128 of the Virgin Bet Silver Plate Handicap which may be low enough for him to really get into things.
Kempton is a fair track with course form not usually considered overly important but Vive Le Roi has particularly enjoyed himself here over the years. His best run for some time came when finishing second in the Listed Lanzarote Handicap. A return to that sort of level could see him land for each way bets at a general price of 10/1.
3:00 Burton Union Handicap Hurdle
Class 2, 2m4f
Connections of Wilde About Oscar have set their sights pretty high for their six-year-old. The six-year-old has already rewarded the Newboulds with some wins this season but he was a major disappointment when run in the Grade 1 Challow Hurdle, with a mistake forcing Harry Skelton to pull him up.
There is little doubt that Wilde About Oscar is the classiest horse in the field but class does not always tell and he may find this handicap a little too tough to win at top weight as he goes back up in trip following a win over 2m1f at Exeter last time out.
Anybody looking to take this favourite on should consider Gustavian at the longer odds of 6/1. Anthony Honeyball’s five-year-old has taken his performance up to a new level with each run so far this season and does still look to be well treated by the handicapper off a mark of 135. Expect a big run and at least a serious challenge to the favourite.
3:15 Virgin Bet Handicap Chase
Class 3, 2m4½f
The Virgin Bet Handicap Chase is the third straight outing at Kempton for Mellow Ben. The bare form of fourth and eighth doesn’t catch the eye but if you look a little deeper it’s easier to make a case for Mellow Ben to win this race at 9/2.
The first of those Kempton outings saw him run in a hot handicap over 3m which was won by Royale Pagaille who went on to run in yesterday’s Cheltenham Gold Cup and saw the strong Cap Du Nord and Double Shuffle fill the places. Then came another run over 3m when he just did too much early on trying to set the pace and fell away. Those sort of positive tactics could well work as he drops down to 2m4½f and off a fair enough mark, Mellow Ben looks one of the bets of the day.
3:35 Marston’s 61 Deep Midlands Grand National
The Midlands Grand National is the feature race of the day and is always a tremendous test for the competitors and punters alike. A full field of 20 horses will compete in this gruelling 4m2f handicap but you can probably strike a line through a number of them due to the going. Clearly, it requires huge stamina reserves to win this race but the drying ground won’t be to the liking of many of these who need a softer surface to show their best form. With the forecast looking dry, this will not quite be the usual stamina test and so less obvious horses are worth a second look.
Doing Fine is one of those in the field who has proven form on good ground and the veteran could be a major player here at the really nice price of 25/1. The 13-year-old is certainly in good form at the moment with victory over some good rivals last time out which came one month after a good third on heavy ground. That recent form probably surprised as much as delighted connections as he had looked vulnerable to younger opponents earlier in the season and had previously enjoyed racing on spring ground. It may well be that Doing Fine has hit a purple patch and he can do very well indeed in the Midlands Grand National at a massive price.