I find it incredible that despite the rain and snow that has lashed Britain over the last 48 hours that we are set to have both Ascot and Haydock race on Saturday – or at least we do at the time of writing.
With the prospect of frost in the North West on Saturday morning, a rather nautical sounding Haydock will look again on Saturday morning, but we are where we are with eight live races on ITV4 – and some class acts on show too.
They come no more classy than Buveur D’Air – back on the racecourse for the first time in 420 days at Haydock and up against just two rivals. The double Champion Hurdle winner could not have scripted a stranger comeback in truth – two rivals in soggy ground at a track he hasn’t visited since winning a novices’ chase in 2016.
Ascot holds the true ace contest of the day however, with the Grade One Clarence House Chase which features the reigning Champion Chaser taking on the redemption seeking Defi Du Seuil, King George second Waiting Patiently and the rejuvenated 2019 Arkle winner Duc Des Genievres. What a bout!
Here’s the tips!
A small field, but a fascinating contest and it’s worth saying that Roksana probably remains the most underrated mare in training. Saying that I won’t be backing the 2019 Mares’ Hurdle winner at odds on here. She picked up the Grade 2 bet365 Hurdle at Wetherby before coming third in the Long Walk here behind Paisley Park and Thyme Hill – which is easily the outstanding form, but it says a lot that Jessica Harrington sends MAGIC OF LIGHT for a go at this. Second in the 2019 Grand National, she has been no stranger to these shores and is seeking a third win in this race. This is undoubtedly a hot renewal but rates as the value pick.
Only five runners go to post in the mud at Haydock, but all of them could have a say in this. Llandinabo Lad is a course and distance listed winner and rates as the most likely winner, especially as he went on to finish second in a Grade 2 last time out. Minella Drama has won his last two in ruthless fashion and has to be feared, but there was also plenty to like about NADA TO PRADA when she kept on really well to win here in a listed race last time. She’s in receipt of half a stone to the favourite and could give him a fright at a decent price.
This is as tough as it comes really when it comes to handicap hurdles, with most of those at the head of the market having a tick in the negative column for one reason or another. Danny Kirwan is tempting as he remains a majorly promising individual over this trip, with the extra half mile finding him out at Cheltenham last time. Paddys Motorbike is one I have been keeping a close eye on for the in-form Sam Thomas yard and he comes here seeking a three timer off a very competitive looking mark, However, an each way stab is taken at BOTOX HAS. He was well beaten here on heavy over 1m7f last time in the Betfair Exchange Troph. This is a new trip for him and it may be he reserves his best for Cheltenham, but I think he’s got huge ability under the bonnet and can run a big race here.
Yala Enki at odds on? Not for me. The old gent is clearly the best in this, but he’s 11 and only two weeks off a gruelling third in the Welsh National. If The Cap Fits has been slightly underwhelming in hot company the last twice and also looks one to avoid. Instead, a punt is taken on the formerly smart SIZING CODELCO each way. He won good races at Aintree and Punchestown in 2017 and is nowhere near that level now for a yeard that is in the doldrums, but if he is ever going to spark back into life it could be in this.
This will be gruesome. A 3m2f handicap chase in heavy ground screams X rated and SAM’S ADVENTURE can repeat the feat of his win over course and distance in similar ground last month. He looked like there was more to come that day and a 6lb rise isn’t necessarily going to be enough to stop him here, for all that Royal Pagaille also looks ready made for a race of this nature is bouncing off the back of two impressive wins. At a bigger price, Smooth Stepper isn’t one to totally rule out of the places, having won the National trial on heavy here last year.
BENNYS KING looked like he was back in smashing form here in December, winning a decent handicap chase by six lengths and he can back that up by taking this over a longer trip. Lightly raced for his age, he won’t have any problem staying the trip and the ground will also pose no issues. He ranks as solid bet material. Dashel Drasher won a graduation chase here last month in which he was unfancied, but did it in decent enough fashion to suggest he has a shout here. Espoir De Guye can’t be left off the shortlist.
The long-awaited return of dual Champion Hurdle winner Buveur D’Air – and as an odds on poke in heavy ground with two rivals he needs avoiding like the plague. He should win and win well – and if he is within a stone of his best he will do just that. But a tiny case can be made for the young buck NAVAJO PASS who was a good juvenile and has recaptured some form. He is not in the class of even Ballyandy, but is a token choice in a possibly messy race.
The day’s most hotly anticipated clash can go the way of the rejuvenated POLITOLOGUE who has looked a reformed horse over the last 12 months and this battling grey will be hard to see off. Waiting Patiently finished a gallant second in the King George but has been winless since winning the Ascot Chase in February 2018 and can’t be confidently backed. The same goes for Defi Du Seuil, arguably the best horse in the line up, but one who has massively flopped on his last two starts. That leaves the door open for First Flow to come second, having won his last five – one of them here – and running in his first Grade 1.