It has been quite the week for jumps racing fans, with the magnificent Cheltenham Festival once again delivering excitement and drama by the bucket load. As ever, it will be a shame to wave goodbye to the Prestbury Park showpiece for another year, but thankfully punters don’t have to wait too long for the next quality TV card.
Hot on the heels of Gold Cup day, this coming Saturday sees the ITV cameras head to Kempton and Uttoxeter for a feast of competitive handicapping action. The big highlight of the day comes at Uttoxeter as the Staffordshire track plays host to its major event of the season, the jumping and staying marathon that is the Midland’s Grand National. Here we pick out our best bet in the big one, and the other six contests on offer, in this week’s Saturday racing tips.
1:30 Virgin Bet Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase
Class 3, 2m2f
A host of in-form runners line up in the opener, with five of the seven arriving on the back of a top-three finish. Laura Morgan’s Whistleinthedark and the Tom George-trained Stormin Crossgales are seeking a hat-trick and make the shortlist, whilst Neil Mulholland’s Any News won’t need to find much improvement for the first-time cheekpieces in order to be involved.
However, the one we like best is the Paul Nicholls-trained runner, Cap Du Mathan. Going in the famous colours of the Stewart Family, this one finished second to Stormin Crossgales over 1m7½f at Wincanton back in November but gave the strong impression that he may have come out on top granted an extra furlong or so. Up to 2m2f here, and a pound better off at the weights, he is fancied to reverse that form, which could be enough to see him come home in front under Harry Cobden.
1:50 Your Dream Holiday With Optimum Experience Handicap Hurdle
Class 3, 2m4f
Dan Skelton’s Hitching Jacking brings the best recent form to the race, having landed a pair of Class 4 novice events at this track and at Wetherby. He is the obvious one to go well but is priced accordingly, and may not have his ideal ground conditions in what looks a tougher race than he has been contesting. The classy but out-of-form Up For Parole and Rebecca Menzies Rafferty’s Return make more appeal of those available at a single figure price.
In an open-looking heat, an each-way punt seems to be the way to go, and the one to get the vote is Archie Watson’s Stag Horn. Watson has recorded a win and a place from just four runners in hurdles events at Uttoxeter, and may well improve those stats with this talented dual-purpose performer. His two starts so far this season haven’t been great, but excuses can be made with the horse not looking in love with fences last time out at Catterick, and being one of 16 runners who failed to complete in a gruelling Lanzarote Hurdle at Kempton the time before. A Grade 2 winner over this sort of distance on soft ground in January of last year, a mark of 128 looks fair and he is taken to bounce back for his in-form yard.
2:05 Virgin Bet Handicap Hurdle
Class 2, 2m5f
A cracking handicap up next, with a decent case to be made for a whole host of these. Paul Nicholls’ Outlaw Peter was another runner to be pulled up in that Lanzarote Hurdle at Kempton but has since bounced back with a second at Musselburgh and a win at Wincanton last time out. Boasting a course and distance win to his name, he makes obvious appeal at the head of the market.
Also on the shortlist is last year’s winner, Press Your Luck. He’s eight pounds higher this time around, but much of that is offset by seven-pound claimer Freddie Gordon who boasts an impressive 23% strike rate in hurdle events for his father. At a double-figure price, we wouldn’t put anyone off, but we just prefer another. Donald McCain’s A Different Kind gets in here off the same mark as when a fast finishing short head second over 2m4f at Aintree on his seasonal return, and whilst things haven’t gone so well since, a recent wind op suggests he may have been experiencing trouble with his breathing. Any improvement for that procedure should see him right in the mix.
2:25 Perfect Payroll Provider Optimum Pay Handicap Hurdle
Class 2, 2m7½f
With the ground currently riding on the soft side and more rain in the forecast, this near three-mile affair looks to have the potential to turn into a real slog. Collectors Item currently heads the betting on the back of an excellent second at Haydock last time out, but the current form of the Jonjo O’Neill yard would have to be a slight concern for supporters. Christian Williams’ Lord Snootie was a big eye-catcher last time out, but the trainer’s strike rate of just 4% in Uttoxeter hurdles tempers enthusiasm at a single-figure price.
Trelawne makes most appeal at the head of the market, whilst Dan Skelton’s Ballygrifincottage is surely better than he showed last time out at Wetherby. Both have their chance, but we just suspect top-weight Sam Brown may have a class edge on this field. Having butted heads with the likes of Protektorat, Bravemansgame and Noble Yeats over the past 12 months, he has risen to a chase mark of 159, making him a little difficult to place over the larger obstacles. A hurdles mark of 147 looks far more workable, and with both the trip and ground in his favour, he is fancied to make a bold bid.
2:40 Virgin Bet Fives Handicap Chase
Class 2, 2m4½f
Another tricky-looking heat sees the market headed by the promising Complete Unknown from the yard of Paul Nicholls. He can go well with the excellent Harry Cobden in the saddle, as can Galahad Quest, who was sparked into life by the first-time cheekpieces last time out.
Having visited the first start since a wind op angle earlier in the day, we will roll the dice again here, and take a chance that the classy Mister Fisher can bounce back to something like his best for Nicky Henderson. Five times a winner in Grade 2 company, he counted Gold Cup contender Eldorado Allen amongst his victims on his most recent start over this track and trip, and looks very fairly handicapped off 146.
3:00 Boulton Group Midlands Grand National Handicap Chase
Class 1, 4m2f
One month ahead of the Aintree spectacular, Uttoxeter serves up a stamina-sapping staying chase of its own in the feature race of the day. No horse has ever won this event more than once, but we have two runners attempting to change that this year in the shape of 2021 champ, Time To Get Up, and 2020 winner, Truckers Lodge. Eight pounds and six pounds lower than their winning marks respectively, both are handicapped to go well and appeal at double-figure prices.
It is, however, to the yard of Irish champion trainer Willie Mullins to which we will turn for our selection here, in the hope that his red hot streak extends beyond the Cheltenham Festival with Captain Kangaroo. Despite his name, jumping can be an issue for this one, but that risk is more than factored into the price of this out-and-out stayer. The form of his win in the Cork Grand National looks solid, with the runner-up that day, Defi Bleu, finishing a fine fifth in the Kim Muir Challenge Cup at Cheltenham. He may just have a couple of pounds in hand off 135, having been as high as 139 in the past.
3:35 Extra Furlong With Trinity Create Novices’ Handicap Chase
Class 2, 3m
Stamina is likely to be the name of the game in the finale, and as such, it may pay to concentrate on those horses already proven over this three-mile trip. Six of the 11 runners have already won over the distance, but for us, the three to concentrate on are course winners Gustaivan, Mackleduff, and Super Survivor.
There’s not much between the trio, but it is the Jamie Snowden-trained runner, Super Survivor who just gets the vote. A confirmed lover of soft ground, the weather looks to have come in his favour, and he was in top form on his most recent visit to the racecourse when dispatching the talented Mister Coffey at Chepstow. The fact that Snowden boasts a 20% strike rate in Uttoxeter chases also suggests that the odds of 5/1 are perfectly fair.