Racing the weekend before a major festival can feel a little bit flat at times. However, Christmas Eve is many people’s best day of the year and while this weekend’s racing isn’t quite as exciting as that, there is plenty to enjoy before Royal Ascot begins on Tuesday.
Sandown and York provide the bulk of the ITV Racing coverage on Saturday with a short trip to Chester to take in a valuable handicap included. The standard is decent and the racing looks to be quite competitive so there is much to look forward to and opportunities to be had in this week’s Saturday Racing Tips. With eight races being televised live there is no shortage of action either so let’s see if we can find a winner … or eight!
1:40 Coral “Beaten-By-A-Length” Free Bet Handicap
Class 3, 1m1f
This week’s ITV Racing begins with what is usually a good, informative handicap. This year’s edition certainly includes some promising types, some of whom could well be competitive in bigger handicaps and perhaps even pattern company.
Aldhaja, the narrow second favourite, is certainly one about whom connections have high hopes. The Charlie Hills colt wasn’t seen as a two-year-old but justified favouritism when winning on debut and won his first handicap when last seen in early May. That recent success was all the more impressive as it came on soft ground when a better surface is what Aldhaja really wants. With the fine weather of late and more suitable ground, not to mention a good draw at Sandown, Aldhaja can take another step forward and win at the very nice price of 5/1.
2:00 Queen Mother’s Cup Handicap
Class 3, 1m4f
Connections of every horse in the Queen Mother’s Cup Handicap will be well aware of the importance of getting a high draw in this sort of race at York. The market knows likewise which is why there has been sustained support for Topanticipation (drawn 12) who is the 4/1 favourite.
Considerable as Topanticipation’s chances of victory are, the 15/2 available about Arctic Fox is more tempting. It’s been a long time since the six-year-old won but she’s down at a mark of 75 now which should be workable. Arctic Fox is the beneficiary of a nice high draw and with a high likelihood of a well-run race she can utilise her stamina to stay in touch with the leaders early on before coming on strong in the latter stages to at least claim some of the place money. At almost double the odds of the favourite, an each way bet is in order.
2:15 Coral Play “Racing-Super-Series” For Free Handicap
Class 2, 1m
There are always some good prize pots to run for on summer Saturday afternoons. Trainers know that the competition in this sort of handicap means their horses can only hope to win one or two in a good season but horses who consistently perform even as their rating goes up and down can quite quickly pay for themselves.
Empirestateofmind is one such consistent performer and he will be getting plenty of support at what look like fair odds of 7/1 for the Coral Play “Racing-Super-Series” For Free Handicap. However, he tends to want softer ground than he’ll get at Sandown. In contrast, Via Serendipity will relish the good ground at Sandown and after blowing away the cobwebs with his first run of the season last month, Via Serendipity should be a serious contender. Consider backing the experienced eight-year-old each way at 8/1.
2:35 JCB Handicap
Class 2, 7f
Like the previous race at York, the JCB Handicap could provide an opportunity for a horse from the middle of the betting market. Challet doesn’t quite have the form or the pedigree of Boardman and Lion Tower who sit one and two respectively in the betting but he does have a real chance at a nice price of 9/2.
The main challenge for Challet will be making his front-running style work. Those who get out in front early in the straight at York often find they are pipped just before the line by those who get going later on. However, horses with enough stamina and who have travelled smoothly through the race can win from out in front on the Knavesmire and if the race goes to plan for Connor Beasley on board, then Challet can get the job done.
2:50 Coral Scurry Stakes
At the start of the season Clive Cox would probably have expected, rather than just hoped, that Caturra would head into Royal Ascot as a serious contender for the Commonwealth Cup. It hasn’t panned out that way but Caturra remains a potential star of the Cox stable despite failing to win on either his starts this year.
There was nothing for the Cox team to be overly concerned about with either run and the drop down to Listed company for the Scurry Stakes seems to be so that he can rediscover that winning feeling before a potential tilt at Glorious Goodwood. This big, powerful horse is the right favourite and we cannot oppose him, so expect Caturra to reward his backers at 11/10.
3:05 Sky Bet Race To The Ebor Grand Cup Stakes
Connections of Mandoob knew that he was up against it when making his first start of the season in the Listed Buckhounds Stakes in May. The presence of clear favourite Al Aasy meant it would take a serious improvement in his first run after wind surgery for Mandoob to win and in the end trainer Brain Meehan was happy with the performance.
This time around it’s Mandoob who heads into a Listed race as the bookies’ favourite. Typically, horses tend to improve from their first to second run after wind surgery and there is no reason Mandoob should break the mould in that regard. Angus Gold, the racing manager of Shadwell Estate, has spoken candidly about the need to be careful with Mandoob and only place him in the right races and this looks like a very good choice, so expect the favourite to secure the win at 9/4.
3:20 Extra Places Every Day At Betway Handicap
Class 2, 7½f
ITV Racing’s sole trip to Chester on Saturday is for the valuable Extra Places Every Day At Betway Handicap. A full complement of 14 runners have also turned up at Chester and with several of them having been targeted at the race there are a number of good options for each way punters.
As for a horse to back on the nose to win, Roman Dragon ticks the right boxes as far as we are concerned and is currently nicely priced at 15/2. After a good start to his juvenile campaign his form fell off a cliff in the autumn and connections decided that a gelding operation was the best way forward. Roman Dragon has also had a change in trainer from last season and he ran well on his first appearance for Hugo Palmer, although he probably should have won. A mark of 84 is unlikely to be the limit of how far he can climb and with more to come he can score here.
3:40 Pavers Foundation Catherine Memorial Sprint Handicap
Class 2, 6f
Mick Channon always wants his horses to win but he is particularly keen for Ingra Tor to justify market favouritism in this big sprint handicap for three-year-olds. Channon has been forced to put his yard up for sale lately and is in need of a boost to his morale as well as the welcome prize of £51,000 for the winner.
Unfortunately for the Channon team, the omens are not good as only one favourite has won the Pavers Foundation Catherine Memorial Sprint Handicap in the last 10 renewals. As strong as Ingra Tor’s claims may be, having been aimed at this race, there is better value than the general 4/1 available, with Showtime Mahomes tempting at 8/1. Grant Tuer’s charge will need to cope with a 5lb raise after winning last time out but he can improve beyond that to land another win and hopefully see us finish the day nicely in the black.