We have an overload of racing action this coming Saturday, with the ITV crew putting in a couple of extra shifts to cover the 2023 Breeders’ Cup meeting, as the best of the global flat racing stars take to the track over in America. Sandwiched in the middle of those Friday and Saturday evening fixtures, we have a feast of National Hunt action to light up Saturday afternoon.
It is the jumping fare from Ascot and West Yorkshire venue Wetherby which is the focus of our attention in this week’s Saturday Racing Tips though. As usual, we will pick out our best bets in each of the nine races on offer, including the main attractions of the Charlie Hall Chase and the Sodexo Live! Gold Cup.
1:15 Bet Boost At bet365 Handicap Chase
Class 3, 2m3½f
The chasers kick off the action in the opening event from Yorkshire, in what looks like a wide-open affair. Course winner Cruz Control (5/1) heads the betting for Tom Lacey on the back of a solid return effort when runner-up at Ffos Las. That should put him spot on for this, but the fact he was well beaten on his only previous run at around this trip is enough to make us look elsewhere. Last year’s winner Ladronne (6/1) makes more appeal and rarely runs a bad race around here, but is a year older and 6lb higher this time around.
Take a chance instead on Eaton Collina (7/1) from the yard of Kerry Lee. This Milan gelding progressed nicely last season, winning two of his final three starts over this trip and 2m5f. A previous winner on soft, that ability to stay further could prove crucial given the likely conditions. Lee is already amongst the winners this season and can strike again here.
1:30 Ascot Underwriting Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase
Class 3, 2m3f
The aforementioned Cruz Control (11/2) is again prominent in the betting for this event, but those doubts surrounding the trip still apply. Are U Wise To That (4/1) appeals on the back of a solid comeback win at Warwick. However, the second that day was beaten by further next time out, suggesting it may not have been the strongest of contests. We are happy to take him on off this 7lb higher mark.
The one we like best is the Gary Moore-trained Hermino AA (5/1), who really began to find his stride in the second half of last season. Never out of the first three in five career starts, he rounded off his campaign with a fluent success at Warwick, impressing with both his jumping and the powerful manner in which he hit the line. Pulling right away from the field in the closing stages that day, he’s 6lb higher here, but the best may be yet to come.
1:50 bet365 Mares’ Hurdle
Back to Wetherby for race three in what looks like a cracking Listed event for the Mares. Luccia has long been held in high regard by Nicky Henderson and landed two her first two starts before slightly disappointing when only fourth as favourite in the Mares’ Novice Hurdle at Cheltenham. That defeat came on soft ground, which would be a slight concern, particularly as the mare who beat her that day is also in the lineup.
Dan Skelton’s Kateira (9/4) enjoyed a fine campaign last term, culminating in a good second in a Grade 1 at the Grand National Meeting. Still unexposed, she rates a danger to all, but we will stick with the Cheltenham form here. Hailing from the Jamie Snowden operation, You Wear It Well (5/2) marked herself out as just about the best in this division last season, and, significantly, the pick of her efforts came over this trip on soft ground. Too good for Luccia at Cheltenham, she scored in grand style first time out last season and can repeat the trick here at much healthier odds than the jolly.
2:05 Byrne Group Handicap Chase
Premier Handicap, 2m1f
We have several classy sorts in this top-notch handicap from Ascot. Having finished second in the 2022 Champion Chase, Funambule Sivola (8/1) would look a big price if in anything like that sort of form, whilst similar comments apply to 2021 Clarence House Chase winner, First Flow (10/1). However, that duo are older than your typical winner of this and may struggle to concede the weight to one of the less exposed runners in the field.
The highly regarded Red Rookie (4/1) is tempting off a mark of 140 but can be a little hit and miss, and preference is for the Jane Williams-trained five-year-old Saint Segal (6/1). Barring a subpar effort on his final outing, this one looked a natural at this trip last term, winning at Chepstow and Hereford, before looking an unfortunate loser at Doncaster. Only 1lb higher than for that narrow defeat at Town Moore, he won’t need to find much improvement on his first start since a wind-op.
2:25 bet365 Hurdle
Grade 2, 3m
A small but select field goes to post for the opening Graded event of the day. The admirable Dashel Drasher (5/2) ran some mighty races last season, including when second in the Stayers Hurdle, and will likely make his usual bold bid from the front under Rex Dingle. Botox Has (5/1) is a winner in this grade and has a decent record first time out, whilst Ga Law (13/2) is a classy operator on his day, having landed the Paddy Power Gold Cup at around this time last year.
All of the above have plenty to recommend them, but we fancy they may all have to play second fiddle to the nine-year-old Thyme Hill. Three times a winner in Grade 1 company, including twice over this trip, his record on his seasonal return reads 11151, suggesting he is usually more than ready to go first time out. The fact that Philip Hobbs & Johnson White are operating at a 33% strike rate in the early stages of this season provides further cause for optimism and 15/8 looks a solid price.
3:00 bet365 Charlie Hall Chase
Grade 2, 3m
Rather disappointingly, just the four go to post in the Wetherby feature, but this still rates to be an enthralling edition. Dan Skelton’s Midnight River (12/1) was an impressive winner of a hot handicap at Aintree on his first crack at this trip but is the rank outsider here, which is indicative of the quality of his rivals. Irish raider Gentlemansgame (5/1) is a possible fly in the ointment, but on all known form, this should come down to a head-to-head clash between Ahoy Senor (10/3) and Bravemansgame (8/11).
Ahoy Senor is undoubtedly a classy performer on his day and was tanking along at the head of affairs before coming to grief in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. However, he does usually take a run or two to find his best stride and was beaten fully 40 lengths in this 12 months ago. Bravemansgame was the winner that day before going on to turn the King George into a procession and finish second in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Expected to be lined up for a shot at all the biggest staying chases this season, the eight-year-old can defend this title to start the campaign as he means to go on.
3:15 Seat Unique Handicap Hurdle
Class 2, 1m7½f
Our Champ (4/1) was an impressive winner at Cheltenham’s big meeting at the end of last month, and looks set to be turned out just eight days later. He’s clearly in tip-top form but is faced with an 11lb higher mark and is zero from three on soft or worse going, which must be a concern with Storm Ciaran doing the rounds. Rare Middleton (11/2) is sure to prove popular for Paul Nicholls and Bryony Frost but will need to improve markedly for a recent wind-op. That’s by no means impossible, but we prefer to look elsewhere.
Impressive last-time-out winner Chance A Tune (10/1) is interesting at a double-figure price, but it is the Harry Fry runner, Altobelli (15/2), who gets the vote. Three from four in his career to date, the Grade 1 Top Novices’ Hurdle proved too hot on his final start of last season, but he steps back into far calmer waters here. The fact that he was pitched into that Aintree contests suggests he is held in high regard by connections, and if judged on his 25-length romp in novice company at Carlisle, a mark of 131 looks perfectly fair.
3:30 Never Ordinary At bet365 Handicap Hurdle
Class 3, 2m3½f
Anything that Willie Mullins sends across the Irish Sea is to be greatly feared, and it’s no surprise to see his five-year-old Alvaniy (7/2) atop the market for the closing event from Wetherby. He may prove well in off a mark of 126, but it’s hard to be sure after only three starts over obstacles, particularly as he jumped terribly last time out at Newton Abbot.
Windothelightning (11/2) makes the shortlist for Oliver Greenall & Josh Guerriero, having landed three of his last four starts, but the one to be on is Decorated (11/2) from the yard of Oliver Signy. A step up to this sort of trip on soft ground worked the oracle last term as he rounded off his campaign with back-to-back successes at Sedgefield and Taunton. A 5lb rise for those most recent of those wins doesn’t look harsh, and a summer wind op may spark further improvement.
3:45 Sodexo Live! Gold Cup Handicap Chase
Premier Handicap, 3m
We have a number of familiar names in the closing handicap of the day, with the Joe Tizzard runner Eldorado Allen (7/1) heading the weights. Second in the Betfair Chase last November, he looks interesting back in handicap company and should make a bold bid. 2021 winner Larry (11/1) goes for Gary Moore, who has won this three times in the past seven years. He’s 3lb higher than for that win but boasts obvious each-way claims, whilst stablemate Zhiguli (16/1) is an intriguing contender from towards the foot of the weights.
However, if there is one horse in this race who may be considerably ahead of his mark, it is surely the Jonjo O’Neill runner, Monbeg Genius. A winner of three of his final four starts last season, he finished off with a gallant third off a mark of 140 in the Ultima Handicap Chase, when only just over two lengths behind Corach Rambler and Fastorslow.
With that duo now rated 159 and 168 following wins in the Grand National and Punchestown Gold Cup, respectively, a mark of 147 for Monbeg Genius may prove lenient. If fit and ready first time up, he should prove tough to beat and at 10/3 will let us close the day with a tidy win.