The quality of racing is slowly winding up after a slight lull following Christmas. We certainly have a lot of good racing to enjoy on Saturday where the ITV Racing cameras will be present at Haydock, Ascot and Taunton.
We have a nice mixture of racing to enjoy and a combination of promising up and comers and battle-hardened warriors feature in this week’s Saturday Racing Tips.
1:25 Sky Bet Supreme Trial Rossington Main Novices’ Hurdle
Grade0 2, 1m7½f
Jonbon is the first of a handful of short-odds favourites who should maintain and even improve upon strong reputations with wins on Saturday. Owned by JP McManus and trained by Nicky Henderson, Jonbon has featured prominently in the betting for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham ever since winning his debut over hurdles at Newbury in November. Although both of his wins came in races that featured very little pace early on, he has done more than was expected of him, winning in impressive style each time.
With the best will in the world, there aren’t any horses in the field for this Supreme Novices’ Hurdle trial who should worry Jonbon. If the favourite turns up fit and healthy he will surely win but his price of 4/9 isn’t exactly tempting. It could, therefore, be worth enjoying the favourite’s performance if he wins, and we’ll be supporting the improving Lebowski each way at odds of 22/1. He has a lot to find on the bare numbers with this level of competition but the seven year old has done very well since turning up at Michael Scudamore’s yard and can take another step forward with a big run at Haydock.
1:45 SBK Holloway’s Handicap Hurdle
Class 2, 2m3½f
As one of the leading jump jockeys around, Harry Skelton knows the importance of grinding out wins from good performances. He did not win last season’s jockeys’ championship by settling for second place in any race but he also works very closely with his brother Dan so understands the value of good form. Therefore, the Skeltons will both be happy with the performances of Unexpected Party in his last two races even though he narrowly missed out on victory on both occasions.
Unexpected Party did get a win back in October for which he was raised 11 pounds by the handicapper. His performances subsequently suggest that the handicapper is yet to get the better of the seven year old so his odds of 7/2 for the SBK Holloway’s Handicap Hurdle are well worth taking.
2:00 New One Unibet Hurdle
Grade 2, 1m7½f
When Brian Hughes partnered Tommy’s Oscar to victory in a 2m½f handicap hurdle at Doncaster in December, he said, “I don’t have to sing the praises of the trainer anymore – she’s fantastic.” Ann Hamilton has been training horses as a hobby since the 1980s and has upset plenty of big and powerful yards in that time. The job she has done with Tommy’s Oscar shows that she very much maintains her zest for the game and her golden touch when given a quality horse.
Tommy’s Oscar has gone from a point-to-point winner through the handicap hurdle ranks and is now taking his chance in Grade 2 company in the New One Unibet Hurdle. He’s taken his rise in the ratings from 138 to 150 in his stride and looked very much like a horse capable of winning against Graded opposition when scoring at Musselburgh on New Year’s Day. He has the pace and the jumping ability required for this short hurdle and can come up trumps for his trainer and all connected to him at the short price of 4/6.
2:20 SBK Mares’ Hurdle
Grade 2, 2m7½f
It’s not the biggest head to head of the day but the contest between Molly Ollys Wishes and Western Victory in the SBK Mares’ Hurdle is one well worth tuning in for. The former is the bookies’ favourite as punters support her bid to run back to form after she was never a factor in the Coral Hurdle. It’s the latter who is the one to support though as there are no concerns about her form following a nice win at Clonmel six weeks ago.
That victory for Western Victory prompted Swanbridge Bloodstock Limited to shell out to bring her over from Ireland. She was promptly sent to Emma Lavelle which may well prove to be a very shrewd move. Lavelle has had some time to get to grips with her new inmate and Western Victory can show her new yard what she’s capable of with victory at odds of 9/4.
2:35 Peter Marsh Handicap Chase
Grade 2, 3m1½f
Venetia Williams was so impressed with Royal Pagaille when he finished second in the Betfair Chase that she said the plan was “definitely” to head to Kempton for the King George. Unfortunately, he suffered a wound in running and could not make it to it Kempton on Boxing Day. He is over that setback and is the bookies’ favourite for the Peter Marsh Handicap Chase on his return to action.
There are no worries about Royal Pagaille’s suitability to Haydock as he won this race last year. He was partnered by Tom Scudamore that day but could he be the jockey who beats the favourite this time around? Scudamore is booked to ride Remastered, just as he did a few weeks ago in the Tommy Whittle Handicap at Haydock. There was a lot to like about that run and in receipt of over a stone to Royal Pagaille, Remastered looks much the better value at odds of 4/1.
2:55 bet365 Handicap Chase
Class 2, 3m1½f
Palmers Hill has been all the rage in the early betting for the bet365 Handicap Chase. Jonjo O’Neill’s charge is very lightly raced for a nine year old and his improvement has shown no sign of slowing down of late. If Palmers Hill does take another step forward he may prove too good to beat but the battle-hardened Fanion D’Estruval is up to the challenge of taking the favourite on.
Fanion D’Estruval does have the burden of top weight to carry at Ascot but he looked better than a handicapper last time out at Newbury. Venetia Williams knows what she is doing when it comes to placing her horses and she’ll view this as a very good chance to win a nice pot. If Fanion D’Estruval does win at 9/2, expect him to be running in Graded company soon.
3:15 BioWaveGo Portman Cup Chase
Class 2, 3m4½f
The Portman Cup is the biggest race of the year at Taunton. As a local, Paul Nicholls has always been keen to support the Portman Cup since its introduction in 2019. Each year he has sent a very good horse to Taunton with Bryony Frost and he’s won two of the three renewals. Both of those wins came with the very popular Yala Enki who is a best price of 4/5 to complete the hat-trick on Saturday.
Now 12, this is as big an ask as ever for Yala Enki. His rivals include Elegant Escape and Ramses De Teille, horses who have run well in better company than this but head into the race on poor runs of form. Gary Moore’s seven year old, Full Back, is arguably the biggest danger to Yala Enki but the favourite loves this track, is made for this race and can claim what would prove a very popular win.
3:35 SBK Clarence House Chase
Grade 1, 2m1f
The finale to Saturday’s racing comes with the mouthwatering clash between Shishkin and Energumene. It is to Nicky Henderson and Willie Mullins’ credit that they have allowed their two stars to face off before their much-hyped engagement in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham in March.
A win for either horse will move the ante post odds for Cheltenham but more so if Energumene wins as Shishkin is the favourite for both races. After a less than perfect start to the season where he had a few issues at home, Shishkin wowed on his eventual return to action at Kempton over Christmas. He impressed many seasoned judges with his Desert Orchid Chase win but it was the promise of even more to come that has really got people excited. Energumene was also very impressive in his first run of the season, beating a decent field in a Grade 2 at Cork. He will have to improve to beat Shishkin though and with the promise of more to come from the favourite, it’s Shishkin who should advance to Cheltenham with a win at odds of 4/6.