Having been deprived of any televised UK jumps action last weekend, armchair racing fans are no doubt eagerly anticipating a quality afternoon’s entertainment this Saturday. Thankfully, the wonderful British climate looks like playing ball, with the weather set relatively fair. Hopefully, things remain this way, as we look to have a truly mouth-watering menu on offer as the ITV cameras head to Cheltenham and Doncaster.
Much of the quality comes from Prestbury Park, as Cheltenham lays on its official Festival Trials Day. However, if big-field handicaps are more your thing, it will likely be the Sky Bet Handicap Chase from Donny which is the highlight of the afternoon. We’re fully focussed on both meetings though and a total of eight contests means eight winners to find. Read on to see where our cash is going in this week’s Saturday Racing Tips.
1:20 Albert Bartlett Clarence House Chase
Grade 1, 2m½f
There is no hanging around on the TV card with the only Grade 1 contest of the day kicking off the action. It is the Queen Mother Champion Chase which comes under the microscope in this one, with the race having been landed by Sprinter Sacre, Un De Sceaux, Altior, and Shiskin in the space of the last 10 years alone.
That high standard looks to have been maintained this year, with the top two in the Champion Chase market set to lock horns for the first time. Defending Champion Chase winner Energumene heads the betting at 1/2, with last season‘s Arkle hero Edwardstone coming next at 2/1. Those prices look about right to our eyes, and whilst Edwardstone is respected, we see this going to the jolly.
Fully 8½l too good for the field in a soft ground Champion Chase, both the ground and the fact that the race has been switched to this track from Ascot look to be in his favour. 6lb clear of the field on ratings and looking as well as ever when routing the field in the Grade 2 Hilly Way Chase last time out, he is taken to show his class in the straight.
1:50 Paddy Power Cheltenham Countdown Podcast Handicap Chase
Premier Handicap, 2m4½f
We have some nice handicapping action up next, with a big field set to do battle over 2m4½f. There are 17 declared at present, with a decent case to be made for a whole host of them. Paul Nicholls’ Il Ridoto has been running well in this type of race so far this season and won’t need to find much improvement in the first-time cheekpieces, whilst the Venetia Williams-trained Brave Seasca may have the class to cope with the welter burden of 12st. At a bigger price, One True King needs to step up but is a good fit from a trends perspective and looks an interesting each-way option.
However, the one for us is the progressive Fugitif from the yard of Richard Hobson. A real giant of a horse, this one was always going to take a little time to grow into his frame, but the signs so far this season suggest he may now be the finished article.
Second over an inadequate 2m at this track on his seasonal return, that rated a solid performance, with the winner, Amarillo Sky, now being deemed worth a shot at Grade 1 company. Stepped up to 2m3½f last time out at Chepstow, Fugitif was looking round for dangers fully three fences from home, ultimately winning by an eased down five lengths with jockey Gavin Sheehan barely lifting a finger. He’s up in the handicap but we fancy he may still have a few pounds in hand and can get the job done here.
2:05 Sky Bet Yorkshire Rose Mares’ Hurdle
Grade 2, 2m½f
Nicky Henderson’s Epatante has been more affected than most by frost-bitten Britain, with each of her two most recent intended starts being cancelled at the eleventh hour. A warm favourite for the abandoned Haydock Champion Hurdle Trial, she is a similar price here, even though this looks a considerably easier assignment in against her own sex.
The 2020 Champion Hurdler (3rd in that race in 2021, and 2nd in 2022) has to concede 6lbs to the majority of her rivals, but that still leaves her with 12lb and more in hand according to the official handicapper. In two starts so far this season only stablemate Constitution Hill has finished ahead of her, and there is nothing approaching that class in here. If anywhere near her best, it would be a huge surprise to see her beaten.
2:25 Paddy Power Cotswold Chase
Grade 2, 3m1½f
The big staying chase on the Cheltenham card may have a significant impact on this year’s Gold Cup marker, with two of the current top six in the betting set to line up. Priced at 7/1 and 9/1 respectively for March glory, Emmet Mullins’ Noble Yeats, and Dan Skelton’s Protektorat duly dominate the betting here, but it is Protektorat who just edges favouritism at 13/8.
Overall, we would tend to agree with that assessment. Both runners are undoubtedly talented stayers, but Protektorat just ticks a few more boxes. Perhaps the most significant is the fact that we know the Skelton runner goes well at the track having finished third in last season’s Gold Cup, whilst Noble Yeats could manage only ninth in the Ultima Handicap Chase.
Trainer form is also on the side of the jolly. Whilst Skelton is operating at a 43% strike rate at present, Emmet Mullins is without a win since early December. Of the others, Ahoy Senior is not out of it on his best form but has been out of sorts of late and we see this going to the favourite.
2:40 Albert Bartlett River Don Novices’ Hurdle
Grade 2, 3m½f
Staying is the name of the game in this event, with many of the field likely to have their eye on a tilt at the similarly named race at the Cheltenham Festival. This looks a seriously competitive affair, with half of the 10-runner field arriving on the back of a win. Paul Nicholls’s Stay Away Fay is the one the market has latched onto, with the six-year-old getting going very late in the piece to score by 5 lengths over 2m4½f at Newbury last time out. That effort would suggest this step-up in trip ought to suit, but at around the 5/2 mark, he is just a little short for our liking.
The four-timer seeking Grand Soir is another obvious contender going for last year’s winning trainer, John McConnell, but overall, we just prefer an each-way punt. The one who may have been a little overlooked in the betting is the Dr Richard Newland-trained, Mahons Glory.
Failing to win in 13 starts for Denis Hogan, he was nevertheless pretty consistent in hitting the frame in seven of those outings. Making the switch to his current yard in October, he promptly broke his duck at the first time of asking over 2m4f at Aintree. Tanking into the race just before the last, he was always doing enough in the straight to grind clear for a 3/4l success over Heezer Geezer. That effort doesn’t leave him with much to find with the jolly and at 16/1 he looks a very nice price to at least hit the frame.
3:00 Dahlbury Stallions At Chapel Stud Cleeve Hurdle
Grade 2, 3m
History beckons in this stamina-sapping event for the hurdlers, as the Emma Lavelle-trained Paisley Park bids for a record-setting fourth success in the race. The Andrew Gemmell-owned runner may be 11 years old now, but he looked as well as ever when seeing off Champ and Goshen at Kempton last time out and this looks a slightly weaker contest.
Second favourite Dashel Drasher is yet to win over this far, and a bigger threat may emerge from the Paul Nicholls-trained, Gelino Bello. The seven-year-old is however 13lb behind the favourite according to the handicapper and receives only 3lb under these conditions – finding the requisite improvement looks a tall order. Proven on soft ground, at this track, and particularly potent at this time of year, Paisley Park rates the most likely winner, with odds of around the 5/4 mark looking perfectly fair.
3:15 Sky Bet Handicap Chase
Premier Handicap, 3m
We head back to Doncaster for the penultimate TV contest, and the second of the day’s handicap puzzles. Jamie Snowdon’s Ga Law is all the rage in the betting having toughed it out to land a 2m4f event at Cheltenham last time out. He is however up 8lbs for that success and stepping up half a mile in trip.
Saddled with 12st and with unproven stamina, he looks short enough at 11/4. The five-timer seeking Tea For Free likely won’t be found wanting in the staying department having won at up to 3m2f in the past and seems likely to go well for Lilly Pinchin. At around 11/2, he rates the most appealing option from towards the head of the market.
It is however an each-way punt for us in this one, with the one to catch the eye being the Ben Case-trained, Shanty Alley. Last sighted at this track back in January 2021, he showed a distinct liking for Town Moor that day when hacking up by 12 lengths. Things didn’t go to plan last season, with form figures of UPP suggesting all was not well. Given 265 days off and a wind operation on the back of those efforts, he has returned with vastly improved displays to fill second spot at Wetherby and Newbury – each time on ground far softer than ideal. Back at a track he likes and on a quicker surface, we like his chances of making his presence felt at the really nice price of 20/1.
3:35 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle
Grade 2, 2m4½f
A hot-looking novice event concludes the day’s action. Dan Skelton’s Pembroke arrives seeking a hattrick and is tough to dismiss, with his win two starts back at Ludlow, in particular, catching the eye. We are however always a little reluctant to take a short price about a runner taking a big step up in distance and will look elsewhere. Paul Nicholls’ Henri The Second makes the shortlist but has to concede weight to the entire field which may prove a tall order with so many potential improvers amongst the opposition.
Fergal O’Brien’s Bonttay appeals each way at 20/1, but is just passed over in favour of Rock My Way from the Syd Hosie operation. A proven ability to handle the track and trip can often count for plenty in this type of race, and this one ran a cracker to go down by just over a length to the promising Weveallbeencaught here at the beginning of the month. With that being his first start under rules, it would be no surprise to see a decent step forward and at 5/1, he’s the one for us.