For many racing fans in the north, the jumps season doesn’t really begin until the Charlie Hall meeting gets underway at Wetherby, located just north of Leeds. The first day of action on Friday was very enjoyable for those who turned up or watched on from afar and it’s primed to get even better on Saturday.
A strong card which is headlined by the Charlie Hall Chase itself is the anchor meeting for this week’s ITV Racing action on Saturday. There is also some excellent jumps racing from Ascot while the big race from Ireland, the Ladbrokes Champion Chase, provides even more to enjoy on this bumper day of racing. With 10 races split across three venues we have plenty of opportunity to land some winners and here are our tips for each and every race.
1:20 bet365 Handicap Chase
Class 3, 2m3½f
It’s fair to say that nobody connected to Road Warrior was expecting him to reel off a handicap when he turned up to Newcastle for a National Hunt Flat race on the all weather in January. The seven-year-old had gone 20 starts without winning under rules but showed that he knows how to get his head out in front by winning that race and then doing likewise twice over fences.
That said, Road Warrior was fourth of five on his first start of the season. The form from that race was hardly strong and he was never really in it but Rebecca Menzies was using the race as a chance to get him match fit. A fully fit and firing Road Warrior will have a better chance of winning the opener than his odds of 14/1 suggest so he is very much one to support each way.
1:35 Ascot Underwriting Chase
Class 3, 2m3f
Some potentially very good chasers are marking their first start over fences in the Ascot Underwriting Chase. The market prices Kid Commando as the most likely to make a winning start to life novice chasing. That’s fair enough when you consider that he has a habit of running well off a break and has always looked as though chasing would be his game, however, it’s Sam Barton who makes the most appeal for Emma Lavelle.
Lavelle has form when it comes to improving a high calibre novice chaser with De Rasher Counter making big strides forward a few years ago and connections believe she may have an even better performer on her hands in Sam Barton. He is a very impressive specimen and has reportedly been schooling well at home so Sam Barton can get off the mark straight away over fences at 7/2 and could be a profitable horse to follow this season.
1:55 bet365 Mares’ Hurdle
Wetherby is a very good jumps course with many loyal fans but of the seven runners in the bet365 Mares’ Hurdle only one has run previously at the Yorkshire track. That appearance from Zambella will not live long in the minds of connections but it could be a different story this time around for the Nigel Twiston-Davies inmate.
Zambella is still only six and the Twiston-Davies team have taken some time to work out just what her best distance is. When she was last seen she was running over 3m when she tried to take the legs out of her rivals by running from the front. There has clearly been a quite dramatic change of plan but the drop all the way back down to 2m could prove inspired as Zambella does have a taking turn of pace which she can utilise to full effect to win on her Wetherby return at a very nice looking price of 13/2.
2:10 Bateaux London Handicap Hurdle
If this season pans out the way that some think it will do for Boothill then we should be seeing him quickly climbing out of Listed company. Harry Fry will exercise some caution as his charge was only able to run once last season, bringing expectations to a disappointing end, but with a bit of good luck the coming months should be much better for this former Irish point to pointer.
Boothill has only been seen twice in Britain but he was victorious at both Kempton and Taunton. The form of his bumper win first off has proven to be particularly strong and Boothill should be another from the race to win multiple times subsequently. Sam Twiston-Davies has to be careful that Boothill’s exuberance doesn’t cost him by doing too much. If the jockey gets it right on the 11/4 favourite, the rest of the competition could find Boothill far too good at Ascot.
2:30 bet365 Hurdle
Grade 2, 3m
The long distance hurdling division has been one to keep a close eye on in recent years and we look set for another competitive season at the top level. Paisley Park and Thomas Darby could be serious players at the top end of the division but Master Tommytucker looks the best betting option on Saturday.
On the face of it, Paul Nicholls appears to be giving Master Tommytucker a chance to sharpen up ahead of another campaign over fences. That plan may change if the 10-year-old does win the bet365 Hurdle as we think he can at 9/2. He has been caught out by making some sloppy mistakes over fences so if he really takes to this reversion to the smaller obstacles he could well stick around to challenge the very best staying hurdlers over the winter and into spring.
2:45 Byrne Group Handicap Chase
One For Rosie hasn’t been with current trainer Kim Bailey for a year yet but there is no doubt that all connected to the eight-year-old know what conditions bring the best out of him. He has won both of his starts for his current trainer, the first coming on heavy ground and the second on soft. If Bailey has been doing a rain dance for Saturday then it has worked as rain on Friday softened the going up at Ascot and there are more heavy downpours in the forecast for race day.
The heavier the rain is on Saturday morning the more One For Rosie’s price is likely to shorten for the Byrne Group Handicap. He would love it were this race to become a slog as he is able to save such a lot of energy thanks to his pin-point jumping. Expect David Bass to make the running from the front and for One For Rosie to run a big race at what looks a more than fair pice of 6/1.
2:50 Ladbrokes Champion Chase
Grade 1, 3m
The Ladbrokes Champion Chase is the big race of the weekend in Ireland and indeed the big one from the British Isles in general. The five horses in the field include last year’s Gold Cup winner Minella Indo, last year’s King George winner Frodon, and Galvin, who could well be one of the favourites for the Grand National come April. Delta Work and Ravenhill should be up to winning some good races this season too, but you’d have to think that the winner will come from the top three in the market.
As good as this race is shaping up to be, the three main protagonists are all being campaigned with bigger races in mind. It could, therefore, come down to which of them is fittest. In that regard, the noises coming out of the Paul Nicholls yard about how well Frodon has been working at home are interesting. His rise up the handicap chase ranks to a Group 1 winner is one of the stories of the last couple of years of jumps racing and he can give Bryony Frost reason to cheer by landing another huge win at 5/2.
3:05 bet365 Charlie Hall Chase
Grade 2, 3m
This time last year Shan Blue had just made a very taking debut chasing performance at Wetherby. The nature of his win suggested that this 140-rated hurdler was going to be even better over fences and he went on to win his next two races including the Grade 1 Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton. Although he was unable to win any of his next three races, the Skeltons learned a lot about what makes him tick at Sandown, Cheltenham and Aintree and it’s no surprise to see him thrown in such deep waters for his first run of the season.
If Shan Blue is to win again at the Group level he’ll have to get the better of the talented but unpredictable Cyrname. Paul Nicholls sounded bullish about the nine-year-old’s chances in the week, saying he’d be concerned if Cyrname doesn’t run a big race as he’s worked very well at home. Cyrname is 20lb higher than Shan Blue in the official ratings but 6/5 is too short about the somewhat temperamental favourite, so the progressive Shan Blue is very much the value play at general odds of 4/1.
3:20 Bateaux London Gold Cup Handicap Chase
Grade 3, 3m
Vinndication, top of the weights and top of the betting markets for the London Gold Cup Handicap Chase, will likely end up being one of the best backed horses of all on Saturday. Kim Bailey’s eight-year-old has all the required class to win a Grade 3 and for all that he has to beat some good horses, he does look the one to beat.
The issue with backing the favourite at this point is that any value has now very much gone. Although there aren’t too many tempting options to take Vinndication on with, Glen Forsa could be worth each way support at a big price of 25/1. There is a feeling thar Glen Forsa is drinking in the last chance saloon with his form in open company never quite hitting the heights of his novice campaign. The switch to Charlie Longsdon’s yard could prove to be the ignition that the nine-year-old needs to get back to the levels that we all know he is capable of.
3:40 bet365 Handicap Hurdle
Class 3, 2m3½f
Mackenberg has been the sort of horse about whom you can almost get very excited. It is clear from looking at him travel that this is a horse with a very good engine and connections seem to have found his trip at around 2m4f. The only thing that has really let him down from being competitive out of handicaps is his jumping ability. He has a habit of getting in too close to his hurdles but connections are hopeful that he will return from his summer off a better, more confident and well-rounded horse.
If Mackenberg does avoid making any errors which are too costly in the final live ITV Racing contest on Saturday then he can provide favourite backers with a nice finish. The 9/2 currently available about his chances looks fair enough about a horse who could have a nice season with plenty of progression ahead. Not one to pile into, this still looks a decent price and is worth a small bet at least.