As the weather becomes colder, the National Hunt season continues to go from strength to strength. Hot on the heels of an excellent weekend of racing at Newbury and Ascot we have an equally strong Saturday at Aintree and Sandown ahead of us.
The Tingle Creek Chase is the highlight of the day but it’s not the only Grade 1 race of the day as the exciting Third Time Lucki bids for yet more success in the Henry VIII Novices’ Chase. With the Grade 2 Many Clouds Chase and the Becher Chase taking place over the Grand National fences there is an awful lot to like about Saturday’s racing. There would be even more to like with a few winners and we’ve been through the card in search of this week’s Saturday Racing Tips.
1:30 Unibet Proudly Supports ‘Racing Is Everyone’s Sport’ Fillies Juvenile Hurdle
A Listed hurdle for juvenile fillies opens up the day’s action on ITV Racing. This isn’t the highest calibre contest of the day but it may be that we see a star of the future in the shape of White Pepper. After a decent career on the Flat, Gavin Cromwell’s three year old wasted little time making an impression in the National Hunt sphere as she won on just her second start over hurdles last time out at Galway. That run opened up a couple of different options for connections to take with her and it is interesting that they’ve decided to send her over to Britain.
British racing fans have the weather to thank for White Pepper’s appearance at Aintree as she wouldn’t have travelled over had the rain not fallen over the last week. With the sort of soft ground that Cromwell says she relishes, this progressive filly will take some beating in the opener and should live up to her billing as the 7/4 favourite.
1:50 Close Brothers Henry VIII Novices’ Chase
Grade 1, 1m7½f
The Henry VIII Novices’ Chase is the first of two Grade 1 races in Britain on Saturday. While the rain around the country has eased the going at many courses, it’s not the same story at Sandown so only six horses head to post but this race usually attracts small but select fields. That’s an accurate description of this year’s contest where Third Time Lucki sets the standard but will have to beat some strong rivals to complete a hat-trick of wins for the season.
Dan Skelton is hopeful that there are even bigger prizes in Third Time Lucki’s future but his career may struggle somewhat by a preference for good ground. He is a horse likely to be at his best at the start and end of the jumps season and the Skeltons are right to take advantage of the uncharacteristically good ground so Third Time Lucki is the right favourite at odds of 7/4.
2:05 Unibet Many Clouds Chase
Grade 2, 3m1f
The big news ahead of the Many Clouds Chase is the return of two time Grand National winner Tiger Roll. A win for the 11 year old would bring the house down at Aintree but his trainer Gordon Elliott has confirmed that his main aim for the season is the Cross Country race at the Cheltenham Festival so this is more of a chance to blow away the cobwebs than anything else, hence his price of 20/1.
Tiger Roll might not be winning the Many Clouds Chase but another 11 year old may well do. Four of the last five winners of this race were nine or older, including Native River who is taken to win again at a price of 5/2. The rain has come at just the right time for Native River who has won four Grade 1 chases in his career including the 2018 Cheltenham Gold Cup. The soft ground should allow Native River to dominate with the relentless galloping which has brought him such success before as he takes his positive form at home to the track.
2:25 Betfair Tingle Creek Chase
Grade 1, 1m7½f
The new National Hunt season has picked off where the old one left off in terms of Irish raiders plundering the biggest prizes in Britain. The partnership of Rachael Blackmore and Henry De Bromhead is represented again in the Tingle Creek but they would need something remarkable to happen in order to win with Captain Guinness who is a 14/1 shot. Instead, it’s the Willie Mullins-trained Chacun Pour Soi who carries Ireland’s hopes in Saturday’s big Grade 1 chase.
Chacun Pour Soi fluffed his lines the last time he was seen in Britain. His rider Patrick Mullins later admitted that the team from Closutton got their tactics wrong holding him up in the Champion Chase but the team at the Dan Skelton yard would argue that their horse, Nube Negra, was simply better on the day. The Skeltons are hopeful that the fact Nube Negra has already had a winning run this season will give their seven year old the edge again but the good ground at Sandown surely plays into the hands of Chacun Pour Soi who should get his season off to a winning start at odds of even money.
2:40 Unibet Becher Handicap Chase
Grade 3, 3m2f
There is a temptation to view every race over the Grand National fences as a trial for the Grand National itself. Certainly, several of those in the field for the Becher Chase will go on to run again at Aintree in April but no horse has completed the double. There, however, is a much stronger correlation between previous form in the Becher Chase and running well in the race again.
Among the horses who have previously run well in the Becher Chase in the field for Saturday’s race, Vieux Lion Rouge is perhaps the most appealing from a betting perspective at 11/1. He may be 12 but David Pipe has reported that he is full of vim and vigour at home and there was plenty to like about his comeback run at Chepstow even though he finished just seventh. With just two pounds extra to carry than when winning this race last year, Vieux Lion Rouge is a generous price to run into at least a place.
3:00 Betfair Exchange London National Handicap
Class 2, 3m5f
Christmas In April had steadily worked his way back down the handicap ratings until winning right at the end of last season in May at Newton Abbot. The concern for connections was that another bump in his ratings would mean a long wait until he could be competitive again. That turned out to be an unfounded fear as he was very good when finishing second as a 16/1 shot at Carlisle on his reappearance at Carlisle at the end of October.
Those two most recent outings have confirmed once again that Christmas In April is a stout stayer. His assignment at Sandown on Saturday is among better company than he’s faced for a while but the step up to 3m5f on the sort of good ground that he has run very well before should negate that. Strictlyadancer looks a strong favourite having won at Haydock just a fortnight ago but there is enough in Christmas In April’s price of 13/2 to back him each way.
3:15 Unibet – 2021 Horserace Betting Operator Of The Year Handicap Hurdle
Class 2, 2m4f
Sometimes there is little a trainer can do in a given race. Tom Lacey has been in very good form at the start of the season with his yard and he had Pounding Poet nicely prepared for his run at Aintree in October. The progressive five year old was bidding for a hat-trick but found the conditions a little too firm for him, especially as the race was very slowly run and turned into a bit of a sprint in the closing stages.
The rain that has fallen around Aintree will be a welcome boost to Pounding Poet’s chances of getting back into the winner’s circle. He should also find that there is a bit more pace on in this handicap hurdle which can allow him to use his reserves of stamina. The field is competitive but 6/1 is a good price about Pounding Poet’s chances.
3:35 Betfair Daily Rewards December Handicap Hurdle
Paul Nicholls has a tremendous record with French imports and Samarrive is one of the current crop who could go on to big things. At least, that was the billing he had before finishing seventh of 12 when sent off as the 5/2 favourite at Cheltenham in October. No doubt, that was a disappointing result but the performance wasn’t as bad as it looks on paper.
Paul Nicholls was confident about Samarrive’s chances before his run at Cheltenham but sounded a note of caution about this being the four year old’s first run in a big field handicap. Maybe because he was overexcited being around 11 other horses, Samarrive was outpaced when the race really got going late on but he will have learned a lot for that outing and should be fitter for it. He’s also partnered by Nicholls’ top jockey Harry Cobden this time around so Samarrive can get back to winning ways at odds of 7/1.