It’s that time of year where you can’t move for Christmas jumpers at British racecourses. Ascot and Haydock join the party this weekend with their own pre-Christmas meetings and hopefully things won’t be diminished. The grandstands and hospitality sections will still hopefully be full of friends, family and co-workers enjoying a day out at the racing and thankfully there is some excellent entertainment for all to enjoy.
The Grade 1 Long Walk Hurdle is the biggest race of the day with a stellar field set to compete at Ascot. Other highlights include the Tommy Whittle Chase and the Betfair Exchange Trophy. All of the best races are live on ITV Racing and we’ve covered them in this week’s Saturday Racing Tips. It’s a slightly smaller number of races than usual but even so, hopefully we can find six winners to set you up nicely for Christmas!
1:50 Howden Handicap Chase
Class 2, 2m3f
Sully D’Oc AA is already down 3lb on the official ratings after just three runs this season. That suggests that he hasn’t run particularly well and it is true that he hasn’t yet looked like the horse who went very well at Aintree and then won a nice prize at Punchestown in May. Clearly, the hike he took in the ratings for that Punchestown success is a factor but there are other excuses. The unusually named Sully D’Oc AA needed his first run at Ascot and then got some bad luck with traffic when making the turn for home again at that same course.
The presence of Palmers Hill, who still appears well weighted even after winning his first run of the season at Wetherby, is just one reason why this is a tough task for Sully D’Oc AA. It is interesting that Anthony Honeyball is keeping his charge busy though. The trainer knows that if his horse runs as well as he can he will be a factor, so a bet here is in order at the very solid looking price of 11/2.
2:05 Virgin Bet Handicap Hurdle
Class 2, 2m3f
The handicap hurdling division can be a complex one at times. The Virgin Bet Handicap Hurdle is a good example of this. Among the nine entries are battle-hardened handicappers such as Soul Emotion and Minella Charmer, up and coming youngsters like Little Awkward and Up For Patrol, and everything in between as well.
Recent winners of this race have skewed towards younger horses with five five-year-olds and three six-year-olds among the last 10 winners. At the prices, Little Awkward is the most appealing of the younger horses. Oliver Sherwood’s five-year-old has only run twice over hurdles but he has already shown a very likeable attitude, running strongly against some good opponents. For all that Little Awkward lacks experience, this is surely more than an outing to see how he gets on. Indeed, he can go all the way to win this at 8/1 if making only a slight improvement from his previous form.
2:25 Howden Long Walk Hurdle
Grade 1, 3m½f
Paisley Park has had a strange season so far. Emma Lavelle was praising his homework six weeks before his first run and even suggested that he may be seen over fences at some stage. The nine-year-old has yet to bring his form at home to the racecourse though. First he was outpaced in a slowly run race at Wetherby and then he failed when trying to make the running in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury.
The two-time Long Walk Hurdle winner was the favourite for each of those races but so disappointing were his runs that he is as big as 10/1 for a third win here. Suggestions of his demise may be somewhat exaggerated but it’s going to take something very special to beat such a strong field and even at 10/1 we’re not convinced he offers any real value.
Buzz, winner of the Cesarewitch Handicap on the Flat and the Grade 2 Ascot Hurdle last month, is the bookies’ favourite for good reason. This is a big step up in trip and is surely a way for Nicky Henderson to get a feel for how he would go in chases when he inevitably makes the switch. It’s a horse going the other way who catches the eye at 5/1 though. JP McManus has always had high hopes for Champ and would love for him to have another crack at the Gold Cup. Champ’s inconsistent jumping is his Achilles heel but he is a Grade 1 chase winner at the Cheltenham Festival so if he’s well tuned on his seasonal return he could be tough to beat.
2:40 Virgin Bet Tommy Whittle Handicap Chase
Class 2, 3m1½f
The potential ill effects of a fall on a horse are two-fold. As well as the obvious potential for physical injury, some horses never quite get over the mental scars of a big fall. That is the worry for connections of Remastered. He was surely going to be a major player in the closing stages of the Ladbrokes Trophy before falling just after making his move. If he returns with no mental demons and runs just as well at Haydock, the bookies’ favourite will be difficult to beat in the Tommy Whittle Chase at fair looking odds of 7/2.
Remastered’s chances have not been missed by the bookies and some punters will feel that his price is perhaps just a shade too short to be appealing. Anybody in that boat should consider backing Acey Milan each way at 14/1 instead. His best hurdles form came at Haydock when he placed second in a Grade 3 handicap and he has gained some valuable chase form since. It’s also Acey Milan’s second start after wind surgery so he is very appealing at the odds.
3:00 Howden Silver Cup Handicap Chase
Punters are clearly hopeful of big things from Belami Des Pictons on Saturday. He made a very pleasing return to action after a really lengthy spell of 641 days off the track at Bangor-on-Dee and is entitled to improve for the outing. Although he is potentially well handicapped on previous form, this is a tough one to win with no favourites obliging in the last six renewals.
If the favourite doesn’t win then the second favourite, Grand Sancy, looks well placed to take advantage. He appeared well treated off a mark of 139 at Newbury last time out where he may have gone on to win were it not for a costly mistake at the last fence. Paul Nicholls was obviously disappointed that Grand Sancy couldn’t win but being dropped 1lb for what was a good run is a more than acceptable consolation and the seven-year-old can prove 138 is too lenient by winning at 13/2.
3:35 Betfair Exchange Trophy
Grade 3, 1m7½f
No Ordinary Joe looked a horse of some potential when winning a pair of novice hurdles last season. Those wins came courtesy of some improvement having been thrown in at the deep end on his hurdling debut. It was a similar situation on his handicap debut last time out, where his lack of experience cost him in the Greatwood Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham. Connections are hopeful that he will have learned enough from that to take the Betfair Exchange Trophy off a mark of 136 and punters are of a similar mind, backing No Ordinary Joe into favouritism at 4/1.
Make no mistake though, this is another big ask. He’ll have to get the better of Samarrive, West Cork, Goshen, Tritonic and Metier among others to secure the win. Metier is appealing while the 20/1 about his chances last but the ground isn’t quite soft enough to be ideal for Harry Fry’s five-year-old so it’s Samarrive who gets the nod at the shorter odds of 11/2.
Only four, Samarrive has already proven himself in handicap company with his win at Sandown last time out. The handicapper has raised him 11lb for that performance but with more improvement to come that still offers scope for this talented horse to kick on again and provide Paul Nicholls with his first win in this race.