Inside today main piece my look back at Saturday’s big race action.
Picture the scene….
You’ve bought your ticket for Ascot and paid between £25 & £40 for the privilege. You’re not too concerned, you’re seeing three Cheltenham winners Constitution Hill, L’Homme Presse and Edwardstone make their seasonal returns.
What do you get? The three big names withdrawn on account of the going. The first race has three runners and the seven race card you were looking forward to has become six after the second race becomes a walkover after four non-runners. Imagine you’re a first time racegoer. I suspect that it would be you’re first and last visit to a racecourse.
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The already small field sizes on the Ascot card meant the card wasn’t particularly exciting and it was made worse by the non-appearance of the three stars. The second race walkover was the final nail in the cards coffin. If you had paid to attend Ascot on Saturday. You would have been well within your rights to ask for a partial refund.
Not that the trainers will care a jot what racing fans think or want. They have made that clear in the past. However, maybe he should start too. The ground at Ascot was safe, there was no good to firm and was as Gary Moore said after Goshen’s win in the Coral Hurdle, “winter good ground”. The times on the day suggest the same.
No wonder people are losing interest in the sport. If more trainers take this stance there won’t be a sport to pay them the good living, they enjoy.
All that matters is those four days in March and its not a good look for the sport and those trying to promote it.
Thankfully a competitive Haydock card saved what otherwise would have been a fiasco of a day.
Although the ground at Haydock had eased to soft, we didn’t get Haydock heavy ground which I thought me might a few days ago. That was a bit disappointing for me, as I plenty of my Haydock fancies would have preferred the ground even more testing. It’s one of the perils of putting up selections the day before and it’s something you just must live with.
A Plus Tard a class stayer with turn of foot, as he showed when winning this race last year and the Gold Cup was sent off a warm favourite.
The boggy Haydock ground didn’t materialise which should have suited him on his return to action. He was still in contention coming into the straight, albeit not travelling as well as he did the previous year, but he slowed down coming to four out and was a pulled up before the third last. I’m not convinced he wasn’t fit enough for his seasonal return. It might be me, but I thought was jumping a bit to his right. Does he have a physical problem? I’m sure we’ll find out in the coming weeks.
No horse was going better than Protektorat in the back straight. His jumping had been excellent, and he travelled like a dream for Harry Skelton. He had travelled so well just behind long time leader Bristol De Mai you wondered if he had travelled too well. He clearly hadn’t, as he jumped clear two out and stayed onto strongly for runner-up Eldorado Allen.
As I said in Wednesday preview. “We probably haven’t seen the best of the 7-year-old over fences just yet and he could win this if the favourite does need the run”.
Well, the favourite didn’t perform and fully fit and primed Protektorat did.
Protektorat jumps into Gold Cup picture
Protektorat success certainly opened-up the Gold Cup market. He’s now 12/1 for jumps racing blue riband race. He jumps, he stays, he’s consistent and he might still be improving so those odds look fair enough. Although I still have a suspicion that he might be a better horse on a flatter track.
A Plus Tard was pushed out by the bookmakers with bet365 going a generous 12/1 about his Gold Cup chance. That looks an overreaction to me. Granted he has some serious questions to answer after this performance. You should never write off a horse like A Plus Tard after one poor run. If he's sound and there is nothing wrong physically then 12/1 for the Gold Cup has to be tempting.
Botox Has goes one better
Botax Has runner-up at Cheltenham on is seasonal return went one better in the Betfair Exchange Stayers' Handicap Hurdle. The 6-year-old found plenty for pressure to hold off Get A Tonic on the run in. The stronger stayer won out on the day with the winner benefitting from the 7lb that conditional Caoilin Quinn was able to claim. I had gone with the David Pipe trained Brinkley but the ground wasn’t testing enough for him in this company.
Might I the 100/30 favourite had been expected to improve for the step up to 3m. Sadly it didn’t prove to be the case for favourite backers. It didn’t look like the 6-year-old stayed the 3m and may prove better over shorter.
It was a well-deserved success for Botox Has who had just come up short against a Charles Byrnes ‘plot job’ last time. I was impressed by the cool ride the winner got from his jockey and he looks like he’s well worth his claim.
Botox Has turned out be qualifier using the trends I published in Thursday’s race preview. Mind you there were another five qualifiers. Did I back him? No, I thought heavy ground might tax his stamina. Well, it wasn’t heavy ground and Haydock is a speed favouring track so it was all good for the winner.
Venetia gets off the mark
Fontaine Collonges was a welcome winner for Venetia Williams in the 3m ½ f Betfair Exchange Handicap Chase. The mare got a lovely ride from jockey Tom Scudamore to prevail by head from The Big Breakaway. The step up to 3m had been expected to suit the 7-year-old, who is closely related to Grand National winner Neptune Collonges. And so, it proved. She’ll go up in the weights after this success, but she’s only had five starts over the larger obstacles and she’s an improving stayer.
It was first win of the season for Venetia and its probably worth noting when she books Tom Scudamore, as the pair are 4-10, 6 places when teaming up in the last five years.
The defection of Edwardstone meant the Jim Barry Wines Hurst Park Handicap Chase was robbed of much of its gloss. Mind you I wasn’t too bothered as I tipped up the winner Boothill at 5/1 for Victor Value subscribers on Friday.
Trainer Harry Fry’s has always said that Boothill would be a better chaser than a hurdler and his patience with the 7-year-old paid off, as he landed the £65,037.50 winners prize. Always travelling well behind the leaders. Taking it up at the last. A good jump there sealed the race for him and he always holding So Scottish close home.
A mistake two out didn’t help the runner-up’s cause but he ran well and was just beaten by a better horse on the day. Both the winner and runner-up are progressive chasers suited to a sound surface and can win more races.
Back in third was last year’s winner Before Midnight and he’s a solid enough guide to the form. Frero Banbou got an uncontested lead out in front, but he was a beaten once headed and had to settle for fourth. He needs softer ground and to be stepped up in trip if he’s to win in this sort of company.
Three meetings today at Kempton, Musselburgh, and Ludlow. The first named is the feature meeting and that’s where I’m looking for Monday’s selection.
Racing TV Mares' Hurdle (2:55)
Just three have been declared for this Listed contest. Mind you just 4lb separates the three mares’ on official ratings. Molly Ollys Wishes and Martello Sky fought out a driving finish in a similar race at Wetherby last month with Molly Ollys Wishes getting the better of the argument by 1 ¼ lengths. Martello Sky might just have needed the run more than the winner and I wouldn’t be surprised if she revered places with the winner today. Miranda gets 6lb from Molly Ollys Wishes and races in the first time cheekpieces. She’s the best treated at the weights of the three runners but does have to prove her stamina for 3m.
Rest of the card
1:50 – Come On Gruff made it 2-5 over hurdles when winning a Ludlow handicap hurdle in March. He was down the field on his seasonal return at Worcester but was likely in need of the run and should be sharper here.
racingtv.com Handicap Chase (2:25)
2:20 – A very intriguing and competitive 2m 4 ½ f handicap chase. Scene Not Herd made a good start to his chase career, winning his first three starts last autumn and jumping well for a novice. Disappointed on soft ground when 4th of 6 to Killer Kane at Sandown in March. Remains capable of better than he showed last time.
Le Cameleon twice a winner over fences last season the 7-year-old returned action looking better than ever when winning at Warwick last month. Up 5lb but the runner-up has gone in since and the first two pulled nicely clear of the third. Trainer’s horses have hit form in the past week and are 4-14 29% +7.50 with their runners at Kempton.
Not sure what to make of the Venetia Williams trained Haut Folin. The 5-year-old is having his first start for the trainer but won two of his six starts when trained in France. With both those wins coming on very soft ground. He could be well treated for his British debut or may not. It will be interesting to see if the market speaks in his favour.
Striking A Pose didn’t really build on the promise of his seasonal return win on chase debut at Exeter last November. However, we at least know he goes well fresh. The 6-year-old should be capable of winning again this season.
Dorking Lad won two handicap chases last season and finished one place and 1 length in front of Scene Not Herd behind Killer Kane at Sandown on his hat track bid. Looked rusty when a 10 ½ length 3rd of 10 here (2m2f) on his seasonal return 14-days ago. Return to 2m 4f is a plus and the 7-year-old is another who should be in the mix.
1:50 – Come On Gruff – 5/1 @ Bet365.
Good luck with your Monday bets.
I couldn’t agree more with your comments about the Ascot fiasco. Thank God Paul Nicholls and Gary Moore (amongst others) take the view that “good” ground is suitable for their horses to run and jump on, but the resultant tiny field sizes at a top course like Ascot is very poor
Quite right about Field sizes same every week .
Wouldnt catch me going Racing these days unless Ticket paid for me .
Number of Pulled ups , Non runners , rule fours grows I think with each year .
Bookies all thinking special offer races tempting fools in .
Not any more.
Far too much Racing these days of low grade and its now a bore .
As for Only wanting to be ready for 4 Days of Cheltenham
U.K trainers should look to their laurels
I could see Irish Contingent one day making a Clean Sweep .
Not really a meeting I Enjoy now
Although Used to Attend through late 70s into the 80s
Ridiculous prices now and many only there for the Piss up.
Used to be Secondary .
Some good comments there.