The fortnight before the Cheltenham Festival is supposed to be a bit of a racing hinterland where the quality of the action takes a steep downward turn. It doesn’t feel like that on Saturday though. The ITV Racing cameras have no shortage of quality races to broadcast from Kelso, Doncaster and Newbury, while big name horses such as Buveur d’Air and Cloth Cap are in action.
From a betting perspective there is a nice mix of well-fancied favourites and open looking races to give punters a chance of earning some profit from the bookies. In that quest we have gone through each of the live ITV races in this week’s Saturday Racing Tips.
1:15 Play Pick 6 And Win £1000 Veterans’ Handicap Chase
Class 2, 3m2f
The Veterans’ Chase Series continues to provide some excellent racing involving very popular horses. The popularity of the series extends to trainers, with Venetia Williams saying at the start of the season that she was hopeful Aso would drop to a handicap mark which would allow him to run in veterans’ races.
That drop has indeed occurred and Aso has run in three races from the Veterans’ Chase Series, earning a second and third place finish. The 12-year-old should run just as well again and may just go even better and come out on top of a real stamina test at Newbury. It’s always a concern carrying top weight but that was the burden he was under last time out when running very well at Exeter. Aim to profit from another big run from Aso by backing him to win at 5/2.
1:30 bet365 Premier Novices’ Hurdle
Grade 2, 2m2f
Even the very best horse racing trainers lose more than they win so they will always jump at any chance they can get to have an unbeaten record, even if it comes with an asterisk. Alan King will be going for just that on Saturday when North Lodge becomes his first ever runner at Kelso. If the five-year-old can land the bet365 Premier Novices’ Hurdle then he will give King a 100% record at the track by default. It looks to be within his capabilities.
Connections initially hoped that North Lodge would go to Cheltenham for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle but he just isn’t ready for that sort of high class test quite yet, even if he won a Grade 2 at Cheltenham last time out. With just two races under his belt, it is not surprising that North Lodge has shown considerable signs of greenness at times but he has been able to keep his own 100% winning record intact. King’s race manager, Iain Turner, has done a great job of placing North Lodge thus far and the decision to break their Kelso duck can be rewarded at very tidy odds of 3/1.
1:50 BetVictor Greatwood Gold Cup Handicap Chase
Grade 3, 2m4f
The BetVictor Greatwood Gold Cup is always one of the big betting races of this weekend. The Grade 3 contest has seen some shorter priced winners including two favourites during the last 10 years but there is always a horse at juicy prices inside the places at least.
The market is struggling to put too much between Dublin Four and Tamaroc Du Mathan. Punters could be wise to let those two battle it out and go for some each way value instead. The pick of the each way prices is the dependable Amoola Gold. It is rare that he fails to give his true running and caught the eye when plugging on for third last time out. His course form reads 5-2-3, with that second place just a short head from being a win, so he clearly has no problem with the track. Amoola Gold will also have no problem with the going so warrants each way support at a very nice price of 14/1.
2:05 bet365 Handicap Hurdle
Class 2, 2m5f
Wilde About Oscar will be on many shortlists this weekend despite the fact that he has beaten just one horse in his three runs this season. Just a year ago and Dan Skelton’s charge looked to be on the cusp of becoming a very good performer but his form has subsequently hit the skids. The reason for the interest in him at 6/1 for the bet365 Handicap Hurdle is that this is his second start since wind surgery, the point at which many shrewd punters believe the most improvement can be expected.
There were signs of life from Wilde About Oscar at Huntingdon last month. He would surely have finished closer to the winner had he not made a couple of mistakes with his jumping as he travelled well throughout. A better round of jumping at Kelso could see Wilde About Oscar roar back to form and with improvement almost guaranteed, 6/1 looks more than fair.
2:20 Virgin Bet Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle
The staying hurdle division can be a bit of an odd one, filled with horses who did not make the grade over fences and few true specialists, but trainers and owners know there are some big prizes to be had with any horse who truly gets it. Connections of all the improving horses in the Virgin Bet Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle are hopeful that their charges can either make some nice money in this division or prove their stamina and robustness before going chasing.
It wouldn’t be a major surprise were Miss Fairfax to stay over hurdles in the long term. Her jumping hasn’t always convinced but Hughie Morrison has been left in no doubt that she is a strong stayer since stepping her up in trip. A first start over 2m7f brought her first win in a maiden at Exeter before she doubled her tally over 3m1½f at Catterick last month. Miss Fairfax was the odds-on favourite last time out but this time around she can get the better of 4/5 shot Get A Tonic by completing her hat-trick at 9/2.
2:40 bet365 Premier Chase
Lucinda Russell continues to be very happy with the collective performance of a string of horses which could be the best she’s ever had at her Kinross yard. A quick look at the betting for the bet365 Premier Chase suggests that Big River has a tough ask to add another win to Russell’s tally of winners for the season but his course form suggests something different.
Big River has won five of his seven starts over fences at Kelso, all of which have come at or around 3m. The challenge for the 12-year-old is that he has never won at Listed level. However, he’s only running against this calibre of opposition because he’s won his last two starts in handicaps, performances which suggest he is as good as ever. There’s no sign of Big River slowing down and no reason he cannot go very well at Kelso once again so back him each way at 7/1.
2:55 Virgin Bet Handicap Chase
Class 2, 2m½f
This week’s ITV Racing begins with a veterans’ chase but it isn’t the only chance to see some battle-hardened competitors in with a real chance of victory. Bun Doran, revitalised after having wind surgery before the start of the season, goes into the Virgin Bet Handicap Chase with a real chance of outrunning his odds of 7/1.
Although the 11-year-old has generally run to a higher level this season than last, he is without a win since way back in December 2019. That has seen his official rating plummet from a high of 160. While there is no question that his best days are behind him, Bun Doran is better than his current mark of 131, something he can prove with victory at Doncaster. 6/1 is a big price and whilst there are few with decent claims, that looks like a nice slice of value to us.
3:15 bet365 Morebattle Hurdle
Class 2, 2m
Most of the stars of jumps racing are being kept at home until the Cheltenham Festival. But not all of them. Buveur d’Air, twice a Champion Hurdle winner, hasn’t been seen for the best part of a year but he makes his return in the Morebattle Hurdle. Now an 11-year-old, Nicky Henderson’s charge faces a big challenge to win for the first time since May of 2019 and at 4/1 he a full point more than the price of bookies’ favourite Metier.
That price about Metier could well get shorter come the off due to the rain forecast to fall at Kelso. The in-form Harry Fry was delighted with the way Metier took advantage of a workable mark to win on heavy ground at Lingfield in January. Heavy ground also made the difference for him when winning the Grade 1 Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown last year, so the more rain that falls, the better for Metier and all the better the 3/1 currently available about his chances will look.
3:30 Virgin Bet Grimthorpe Handicap Chase
Class 2, 3m2f
On this weekend 12 months ago Cloth Cap won the Premier Chase at Kelso off a mark of 148. That performance, coming off his victory in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury, put Cloth Cap right at the head of affairs for the Grand National. His tremendous rise up the ratings was a great story but it did not have a fairy tale finish over the famous jumps at Aintree, where Cloth Cap failed to complete the Grand National course.
It was always going to be difficult to follow up last season and the current campaign has been a difficult one for Cloth Cap. While he gave his all at Cheltenham and Newbury in his first two outings, his handicap mark (156 and 154 respectively) was just too punishing. He was better last time out at Ascot before a mistake robbed him of confidence and he refused to jump the final fence. Cloth Cap retains his swashbuckling style and back off a suitable mark he can return to winning ways in the Virgin Bet Grimthorpe Handicap Chase at 6/1.
3:43 bet365 Cyril Alexander Memorial Novices’ Limited Handicap
Class 3, 2m1f
Jamie Snowden knows how to place his horses, especially at Kelso. He has a very impressive 50% strike rate at the track and will be more than hopeful that Hardy Du Seuil can improve his record further still in the final live ITV race of the day. The five-year-old gave his all and really emptied the tank last time out at Haydock but it wasn’t enough. He truly had nothing left to give but was beaten a long way back into second behind Minella Drama. Dropping him back to 2m1f looks a wise decision based on the way he was unable to see out the 2m4f trip at Haydock and should see him to much better effect at Kelso.
The way that he rallied in the latter stages of his win at Hereford over 2m suggested that he does have plenty of stamina. Perhaps he just needs to mature a bit more before really excelling over the intermediate trips but for now a short race on the sort of soft ground expected at Kelso should be just right for Hardy Du Seuil, who is the right favourite at 9/4. He’s the one for us as we look to close out the day’s racing with a tidy win.