The high-quality jumping action continues this Saturday as the season hurtles towards its Cheltenham Festival crescendo. The big one is now just weeks away but before then we have plenty more great racing to enjoy. We again look to have a cracking afternoon of entertainment in store this Saturday, as the ITV cameras head to Ascot, Haydock, and Wincanton to provide viewers with a seven-race feast.
Ascot provides the big Grade 1 event of the day with the latest edition of the Ascot Chase, but both Haydock and Wincanton also chip in with graded class action in the shape of the Rendlesham Hurdle and Kingwell Hurdle. Handicap fans are also well catered for, with the highlight being Haydock’s Grand National Trial which should provide a few pointers towards the big one at Aintree in April. Here we run the rule over each of the seven events in this week’s Saturday Racing Tips.
1:50 Bateaux London Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase
Grade 2, 3m
Just the four go to post for the opener, but this looks a decent-quality field nonetheless. Sam England’s Kinondo Kwetu arrives seeking a five-timer, Dan Skelton’s Jay Jay Reilly won nicely at Kempton last time out, whilst even rank outsider Oscar Elite was good enough to finish 2nd in the 2021 Albert Bartlett Hurdle and 3rd in last year’s Ultima Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.
However, there are no places to play for here, and the fact is that all three of the runners mentioned above have 8lbs and more to find with Nicky Henderson’s Bold Endeavour. A perfect two from two since switching to his current handler, this one takes a step up in trip but was powering right away over 2m4½f at Doncaster last time out, and looks well worth a shot at this level. Having won a 3m Point to Point there is nothing to suggest he won’t see this out well, and the fact that Henderson is rattling along at a 29% strike rate over the last fortnight adds further cause for optimism. At 8/13 this looks a very solid way to bolster the bank balance for the rest of the day’s punting.
2:05 Betfred Rendelsham Hurdle
Grade 2, 3m½f
The first event of the day from Haydock looks a very tricky affair from a betting point of view and we won’t be piling in too heavily here. Green Book makes the shortlist, having won well over just shy of this trip at Sandown last time out, as does Erne River, who won’t need to find much improvement for a recent wind operation. Wakool, meanwhile, has enough going for him to warrant each-way consideration at a very healthy double-figure price.
However, Olly Murphy’s Itchy Feet has the most compelling claims. Now nine years of age, this one boasts plenty of classy form on his CV, including a third-placed effort in the 2019 Supreme Novices Hurdle. A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then but, following a spell in the doldrums, he bounced right back to life when shouldering 12st to victory in a 3m1f contest at Huntingdon last time out. Rated as high as 155 and a Grade 1 winner in his pomp, he may retain enough ability to see off a field of runners rated 143 and below.
2:25 LK Bennett Swinley Handicap Chase
Premier Handicap, 3m
Next we head back to Ascot for the first competitive handicap of the day. The two we like best are Phoenix Way from the Harry Fry operation and the Christian Williams-trained Cap Du Nord. Phoenix Way is handicapped to go well, having won at this track off his current mark in January of 2022. The only concern is that the word “soft” has featured in the going description for all five of his career wins and, given the unseasonal dry period, that doesn’t look likely to be the case this weekend – although with the British weather who knows?
Assuming no late rain arrives though, it is Cap Du Nord who gets the vote. The Williams yard has been showing definite signs of life of late, and this horse ran a stormer to go down by just a length to Cooper’s Cross at Doncaster last time out. He likely would have finished even closer that day, but for having to switch twice before the final fence and being hampered by a faller on the run-in. A 2lb rise in the handicap isn’t ideal, but he did win off this mark of 127 at Kempton at around this time last year.
2:40 Betfred Grand National Trial Handicap Chase
Class 1, 3m4½f
The admirable 12-year-old Bristol De Mai will likely be the most popular winner of the day if able to defend his title in this marathon event, having been promoted to first in the race 12 months ago. A winner of six of his nine starts here, his course record is tough to ignore, but a combination of a 12st burden, advancing years, and ground likely to be quicker than ideal, may prove his undoing.
Welsh Grand National winner, The Two Amigos, and course winners Tim Phat and Fontaine Collonges make the shortlist, but the one who may have been a little underestimated in the market is the Venetia Williams-trained, Cloudy Glen.
This one’s most recent win came in one of the classiest handicap contests of the year when winning the 2021 Ladbrokes Trophy, and whilst he is 5lb higher than for that success, he remains 5lb below his career-high rating. A 385-day absence from the track would initially appear to be a negative, but a look through his record suggests this may be the best time to catch him. In his four previous runs on the back of a break of 241 days or more, he boasts form figures of 1411. At the big odds of 20/1 he looks worth a punt to at least hit the frame.
3:00 Ascot Racecourse Supports Box4Kids Handicap Hurdle
Class 2, 2m3½f
Irish Hill heads the betting for this competitive handicap hurdle and merits plenty of respect, having won his two most recent starts in good style. Zoffany Bay is another dangerous contender on his form in France, but does have a yawning 700-day absence from the track to overcome, and looks short enough at around the 7/1 mark.
It is an each-way punt for us here then, and the one to carry our cash is the only course winner in the field, Fifty Ball. Gary Moore’s charge was pulled up on his most recent outing in the Lanzarote Hurdle, but we are happy to forgive that effort considering only four of the 20 runners completed the course that day. A perfect two from two in handicap hurdles at this track, the most recent of those wins came when scooting up by 4½l in March 2022, and he gets in off only 1lb higher here.
3:12 Wincanton Jennings Bet Kingwell Hurdle
Grade 2, 1m7f
There is a disappointingly small field for the feature from Wincanton, but an intriguing contest nonetheless with seemingly little to split First Street, Knappers Hill, and I Like To Move It. This trio clashed last time out in the Relkeel Hurdle over 2m4f, finishing 3rd, 4th, and 6th respectively, and all three runners look set to be suited by this drop back down to the minimum trip.
Knappers Hill has the benefit of a course and distance win to his name and will be dangerous if left to his own devices in front, whilst I Like To Move also showed he handled conditions when landing his bumper here. However, it is First Street who just about gets the vote.
This one’s second-place finish to State Man in last season’s County Hurdle looks like strong form, with that runner now a clear second favourite for the Champion Hurdle. That looks the best single piece of form in the field to our eyes, and he is taken to confirm the Relkeel Hurdle placings.
3:35 Betfair Ascot Chase
Grade 1, 2m5f
The eyes of the racing world will focus on Ascot for the last of the Saturday TV races, as Nicky Henderson’s Shishkin bids to bounce back from a pair of disappointing efforts. As recently as January of last year, this Sholokhov gelding was viewed as one of the real superstars of the game, counting wins in the Supreme Novices Hurdle and Arkle Chase to his name.
However, it all began to unravel with a pulled-up effort in last season’s Champion Chase, and a 15l third to Edwardstone in the Tingle Creek Chase on his comeback effort this term. At 10lbs clear of the field on official ratings, he ought to win if fit, and if handling this step up to 2m5f. That’s a couple of big “ifs” for a 5/2 shot, and we will look elsewhere.
Pic D’Orhy arrives seeking a four-timer for Paul Nicholls, whilst Millers Bank looks the most interesting of the big-priced runners on his first start following a wind-op. However, we are confident that the most sensible option is to side with Joseph O’Brien’s defending champ, Fakir D’Oudairies. In addition to his win in this race, the eight-year-old boasts runners-up finishes in the Arkle Chase and Ryanair Chase on his CV and looks the class act in the field. That is, of course, unless Shiskin rediscovers his mojo!