Hot on the heels of last weekend’s Aintree spectacular, Saturday sees Scotland take its turn to stage a jumping and staying marathon, as Ayr plays host to the 2023 edition of the Scottish Grand National. Needless to say, the ITV cameras will be there to see how it all unfolds, with the biggest race of the year from north of the border serving as the finale to a bumper nine-race TV card.
In addition to the five National Hunt events from Ayr, the ITV crew also head down to Newbury to take in the pick of the events on a cracking flat card, including a trio of Group class contests. Here we pick out our best bets in each of the nine races on offer, in this week’s Saturday Racing Tips.
1:15 Scotty Brand Handicap Chase
Class 1, 2m½f
Dan Skelton has his string in decent heart at present and looks set to send out the favourite in the opener in the shape of Frere D’Armes. With two wins from three over fences, he tasted defeat for the first time when beaten by five lengths in a Class 2 race at Ascot last time. Running off an unchanged mark of 136, he will likely need to find improvement for the first-time tongue tie and looks short enough at odds of around 2/1.
Ann Hamilton’s Pay The Piper could be the most well-handicapped horse in the race and is a tempting each-way option at 8/1. However, we are just put off by the fact that he ran only eight days ago, making this the quickest turnaround of his career to date – and he did also make a juddering error on his only previous outing here. The one to side with is last year’s winner Return Ticket. Following a couple of sub-par efforts, a wind-op seemed to work the oracle for this one last time out, as he bounced right back to form with a success by eight and a half lengths at Carlisle. A pound lower than when winning 12 months ago, he looks solid value to hit the frame.
1:30 Dubai Duty Free Finest Surprise Stakes
Group 3, 1m4f
The opening Group class contest of the day looks a tricky affair, with all bar Surrey Mist making their seasonal return, and the two class horses in the race, Hurricane Lane and Mojo Star, not having been seen at the track for around 300 days. Max Vega meanwhile arrives as the defending champion, but this year’s edition looks to be a significantly tougher race.
The aforementioned Surrey Mist and Grand Alliance make each way appeal at big prices, but if either Hurricane Lane or Mojo Star are anywhere close to their best, they really ought to be up to winning this. With Hurricane Lane trading at odds of 5/6 and having disappointed in his two outings last term, preference is for 2021 Derby runner-up, Mojo Star, who ran a cracker to finish second in the Ascot Gold Cup on his only start in 2022, and is taken to continue the red hot form of Amo Racing.
1:50 CPMS Novices’ Champion Handicap Chase
Class 2, 3m
Nicky Henderson won this with Dusart 12 months ago and sends the unexposed stayer City Chief in pursuit of the prize this time around. The six-year-old duly heads the betting, but this doesn’t look like a straightforward task under 12 stone of weight. He did win in Grade 2 company last time out at Wetherby, but that appeared a weak event for the grade, and he could be worth taking on at the prices.
Sail Away and Forward Plan are viable alternatives, but preference is for the Joe Tizzard-trained Oscar Elite. Also a winner in Grade 2 company two starts back, he then ran a rock-solid race to finish fifth to Grand National hero Corrach Rambler in the Ultima at the Cheltenham Festival. This looks like a slightly easier assignment and he shouldn’t be far away under Harry Cobden.
2:05 Dubai Duty Free Stakes
Group 3, 7f
We have a potentially informative Group class contest for the fillies up next, with a host of these holding a 1,000 Guineas entry. Bridestones, Soul Sister, Stenton Glider and Remarquee all bring a perfect one from one record to the table and are open to plenty of improvement. Remarquee, in particular, caught the eye with an impressive turn of foot at Salisbury.
As much as the above quartet are feared, the best overall form in the race belongs to another of the Amo Racing representatives, Magical Sunset. This Richard Hannon runner steadily improved last season, rounding out her campaign with an easy Listed class success over this course and distance. A winner on ground ranging from heavy to good to firm, she should handle whatever conditions are in place on the day and is taken to get on top late.
2:25 Coral Scottish Champion Hurdle
Grade 2, 2m
Back up to Ayr for one of the most competitive handicaps of the day. Highway One O Two looks a decent each-way option from towards the head of the weights, but remains on a career-high mark and may just be vulnerable to a less exposed rival. Similar comments apply to last year’s winner Anna Bunina who attempts to defend her title from a 12-pound higher mark.
Dan Skelton’s L’eau Du Sud falls into the unexposed category and makes the shortlist, but we just prefer the claims of Salsada from the yard of Brian Ellison. This one will be making only her fifth star over obstacles here and was last sighted chasing Epatante home in a Grade 2 race at Doncaster. No match for the high-class winner that day, she nevertheless had some talented rivals in behind, including former Mares’ Hurdle champ Martello Sky, and may be up to landing this off a mark of 130.
2:40 Watership Down Stud Too Darn Hot Greenham Stakes
Group 3, 7f
The big Group 3 for the fillies earlier on the card looks a wide-open affair, but that wouldn’t seem to be the case in this contest for the colts, with the Ralph Beckett-trained, Frankie Dettori-ridden Chaldean boasting much the best juvenile form in the race. Four from five at two, he posted a tenacious front-running display to take the Group 1 Dewhurst Stakes on his final start. Prior to that, he had twice dispatched Indestructible, who won the Craven Stakes earlier in the week. This son of Frankel looks rock solid on the form book and is difficult to oppose despite that short price. Those seeking an each-way option may wish to consider course and distance winner Theoryofeverything, and Grey’s Monument, who improved steadily last year.
3:00 Jordan Electrics Ltd Future Champion Novices’ Chase
Grade 2, 2m4½f
Balco Coastal probably boasts the single best piece of form in this Grade 2 affair, having finished within two lengths of Geri Colombe in the Grade 1 Scilly Isles Novices Chase, but he arrives on the comeback trail having finished last of seven in the Turners Novices Chase – nine lengths adrift of the reopposing Unexpected Party, who is more than double the price of the Henderson runner here. Datsalrightgino was sent off as the favourite for the Magners Plate at Cheltenham but is another who needs to bounce back having been pulled up that day.
The one to catch our eye is Telmesomethinggirl, who goes in the Honeysuckle colours of Scottish owner Kenny Alexander. Never out of the first two in three starts over fences, she gave six pounds and a six-length beating to a mare by the name of Instit two starts back. With that horse since going on to score impressively from Mares Chase runner-up Allegorie De Vassy, that form has been franked, and she will be aided by the seven-pound mares’ allowance here.
3:15 BetGoodwin Spring Cup Handicap
Class 2, 1m
The final event of the day from Newbury sees 14 runners locking horns over the straight mile. Atrium and Jimi Hendrix seem set to be popular each way options, having been well-fancied for the Lincoln, and can go well if returning to the form they showed last season.
However, whilst that duo disappointed last time out, William Haggas’s Lattam posted a remarkable effort when coming from the clouds, and overcoming trouble in running, to get up on the line in the Irish Lincolnshire Handicap at the Curragh. He’s only five pounds up in the handicap here, which is about all the assessor could get away with, given the narrow margin of his success. We suspect he may still have a few pounds up his sleeve and fancy him to follow up, with the consistent Revich the best of the each-way options.
3:35 Coral Scottish Grand National Handicap Chase
Class 1, 4m
The big race brings the curtain down on the day’s action, in what looks like a cracking renewal of this marathon affair. Irish raider Monbeg Genius has been the plunge horse in the race on the back of his excellent third to Corach Rambler in the Ultima, with that form having been franked in spectacular style last weekend. He looks potentially well handicapped off 145, but is short enough now, stepping up nearly a mile in trip. Last year’s runner-up, Kitty’s Light is also proving popular in the market from a three-pound lower mark than 12 months ago, whilst stablemate Cap Du Nord and the Nigel Twiston-Davies runner Undersupervision appeal at double-figure prices.
However, the one for us in an open event is the Sandy Thomson-trained nine-year-old, Empire Steel. This one boasts a number of impressive efforts on his CV, including a 41-length slamming of Protekorat, and a strong staying effort when getting up close home to deny Le Milos over just short of three miles at Kelso last time out. With all four of his wins over fences coming on good to soft or softer, ground conditions look set to be ideal on the day, and he looks just the type to find a little extra for the additional distance.