The latest instalment in this winter’s series of cold snaps has once again threatened to wreak havoc with our weekend racing entertainment. Ascot’s Clarence House Chase meeting has duly bitten the dust but, as things stand at the time of writing, all is not lost just yet. At present Haydock’s Peter Marsh Chase meeting remains on, as does one of the standout fixtures of the season from Taunton.
A total of four live ITV contests is a little down from most weeks but is nevertheless the magic number for Lucky 15 and Yankee fans. Here we pick out our best bets in each of the four races, in this week’s Saturday Racing Tips.
Please note that racing from Haydock and Taunton has since been abandoned with additional fixtures from Navan and Lingfield added to the ITV racing schedule.
1:30 Sky Bet Supreme Trial Rossington Main Novices’ Hurdle
Grade 2, 1m7½f
We have a cracking contest to kick off the day’s action, as seven go to post in this trial for the opening event of the Cheltenham Festival. Nicky Henderson’s Jonbon took victory in this 12 months ago on route to a second-place finish in the big one, and it would be no surprise should this year’s winner go on to make their presence felt at Prestbury Park in March.
In a field stacked with talent and promise, five of the runners arrive at the top of their game having won last time out. The winner seems most likely to emerge from that quintet, with the Paul Nicholls-trained Toothless and Dan Skelton’s Pembroke being the two to catch our eye. Nicholls doesn’t tend to aim a horse at this race – just one runner in the past decade – which makes the presence of Toothless interesting. However, the five-year-old was beaten three times on soft ground in France and therefore has a slight question to answer under the likely conditions. Pembroke in contrast already has a win on heavy to his name, won in an excellent time last time out, and goes for a red-hot yard operating at a 40% strike rate over the past fortnight.
2:05 The New One Unibet Hurdle
Grade 2, 1m7½f
Sticking to the Cheltenham Festival Trial action, it is the Champion Hurdle contenders who are under the spotlight in a contest officially registered as “The Champion Hurdle Trial Race”. The stat to immediately jump off the page here is the fact that Nigel Twiston-Davies (former trainer of The New One of the race’s title) has won this five times in the past eight years – a particularly solid record considering he didn’t have a runner in two of three editions he didn’t win over this period.
All of this makes I Like To Move It look pretty interesting. An impressive winner of the Greatwood Handicap Hurdle in November, he then disappointed when beaten out of sight in the Grade 2 Relkeel Hurdle last time out. The concern here would be the ground, as that Relkeel effort came on his first encounter with soft ground since his juvenile days. With the going likely to be close to bottomless here, he looks a little risky.
Strong as that Twiston-Davies trainer stat is, the best option may be to simply side with the proven class act in the race – the Nicky Henderson-trained Epatante. A winner in France in her only previous outing on heavy ground, she is a solid four from six on soft, so conditions shouldn’t be an issue. It should also be remembered that this JP McManus-owned mare boasts form figures of 132 in the past three editions of the Champion Hurdle itself. Second to Constitution Hill in her two starts so far this season, she won’t have that stablemate to contend with here and is taken to get back to winning ways.
2:40 Peter Marsh Handicap Chase
Grade 2, 3m1½f
Even on soft ground, three miles around Haydock takes some doing. With the going looking likely to be heavy, a proven ability to handle conditions ought to be the number one criterion when seeking the winner. Cooper’s Cross and Dr Kananga are ruled out, with the former having not yet run on heavy, and the latter disappointing in his only previous outing on a similar surface. Empire Steel is next to go having been pulled up in a soft-ground contest at this track.
That leaves a shortlist of the 14 year old Blaklion, 12 year old Bristol De Mai, and the Venetia Williams-trained Fontaine Collonges who, at only eight years of age, is the spring chicken of the trio. All three boast wins over the course and distance to their names, but with each of the past 10 editions falling to a runner aged 10 or younger, we are inclined to side with Fontaine Collonges. The form of the mare’s win at this track in November has been franked – with the runner-up The Big Breakaway going on to fill the same position in the Welsh Grand National – and Venetia Williams has won the past two renewals of this with Royal Pagauille.
3:17 Stables Business Part Ltd Portman Cup Chase
Grade 2, 2m5f
Another attritional slog to round off the day, although the ground for Taunton’s feature shouldn’t be quite so bad as that at Haydock. Venetia Williams has another solid chance here with the 10 year old, Quick Wave, whilst David Pipe’s Ramses De Teillee should handle conditions and is another for the shortlist.
Overall, this looks like an excellent opportunity for the ever-popular Paul Nicholls runner, Frodon, to get his nose back in front. Now 11 years of age, the mount of Bryony Frost isn’t the force of old, but his form from this season still reads very well in the context of this. Returning with a win in the competitive Badger Beers Chase at Wincanton, he has since finished third in a pair of Grade 1’s, including in the King George VI Chase last time out on Boxing Day. Officially between 3lb and 23lb well-in with his four rivals here, he should win if anywhere near his best.