Inside today’s main piece you can read my thoughts on the best of Saturday’s action.
It could be Willie Mullins Day on day one of the Dublin Racing Festival. He’s got fancied horses in all four of the Grade 1’s at Leopardstown.
Mullins has six of the 8 runners in the Grade 1 Donohue Marquees Spring Juvenile Hurdle (1:55). And he has five of the 8 runners in the Goffs Irish Arkle Novice Chase (2:30). I don’t think the Mullins domination of the Grade 1’s is good for the sport there but that’s where we are.
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I’m going to look at the racing at the Dublin Racing Festival in more detail in Sunday’s column. Today I’m concentrating on the best of the action on ITV.
The race of the day at Sandown is the Grade 1 Virgin Bet Scilly Isles Novices' Chase (2:20). Irish Challenger unbeaten on both starts over fences and indeed on all his starts under rules is aa hot favourite. Even over 2m 4f he will probably have too much class for his four rivals. However, although Sandown has watered this week to maintain good to soft. I wonder if the ground over this trip could be too lively for him and if he’ll even run. If doesn’t line-up Balco Coastal looks the one who can take advantage.
Dolos bids to win his own race
Earlier on ITV. Dolos is the bookies favourite to win the Virgin Bet Dolos Handicap Chase (1:45). He bids to win the race named after him for a fourth time and given this is Gold Cup, he’ll be hard to beat. His biggest rival could be Fast Buck who bounced back to winning ways at Lingfield last time and despite an 8lb rise in the weights remains on competitive mark. .
Virgin Bet Heroes Handicap Hurdle (Premier Handicap) (2:55)
Fifteen are set to go to post for what looks a competitive handicap. I previewed the race in Thursday’s column. I liked both last year’s winner Green Book and Steller Magic then and given they both line-up I don’t see any reason to go against them.
The final race from Sandown on ITV is the Virgin Bet Masters Handicap Chase (3:30). Fourteen are set to meet the starter for another competitive looking handicap.
The improving Bangers And Cash bids for the hat trick after wins at Exeter and last time in the Lincolnshire National at Market Rasen. Would have won the Lincolnshire National by further than 1 ¼ lengths but for being awkward at the last.
Empire Steel is a rare runner here for Sandy Thomson (1-2 in the past five years). The top weight a winner at Kelso 12 months ago ran better on his seasonal return than his 4 ½ lengths 7th of 13 to Brave Seasca at Aintree (2m 4f) suggests last time. The return to 3m is a positive. However, he’s very effective on bottomless ground which would be a slight concern here.
Castle Robin ended last season with small field wins at Doncaster and Wetherby in the spring. He made a decent enough return at Kelso but was pulled up a Cheltenham when last seen in November. Fine on good to soft and likely he’ll be better positioned than most in what’s forecast to be a steadily run race.
Laskalin returned from a ten month absence with a taking success at Ludlow (good to soft). And then finished a 6 ¼ length 3rd of 13 at Newbury (soft) last time. The drop back to 3m is a plus as is a return to going right handed and he's another to consider.
Whatever Empire Steel’s fate at Sandown. His trainer has a strong hand in the bet365 Edinburgh National Handicap Chase (2:03). The trainer saddles three in Doyen Breed, Flower of Scotland & The Ferry Master. Of his trio Doyen Breed is of interest with jockey Johnny Burke coming up to Scotland for just the one ride. Improving staying chaser Slipway heads the betting and shouldn’t be far away. Truckers Lodge has dropped down to a handy mark and a big run could be forthcoming from the 1-year-old.
The other big race on day one of Scottish Cheltenham Trials Meeting is the bet365 Scottish County Handicap Hurdle (3:16).
Nayati has been in good form this season since returning from a very long absence winning three times. The latest of them coming over C&D on New Year’s Day. Only got a 3lb rise in the weights for that success and is entitled to go close again.
Paul Nicholls won this race in 2021 and he’s 9-20 (45%) +11.92 with his hurdlers at Musselburgh in the past 5 years. He saddles the mare Grivetana who was a disappointing beaten favourite at Newbury last time. However, that was on soft ground and she’s better on a sounder surface.
Lebowski a promising novice hurdler last season made a winning seasonal return at Wetherby in December. He’s got 7lb rise in the weight to contend with here. However. he’s going the right way and could be up to defying it.
After yesterday’s winning selection it won’t be easy to follow up today. There are just two many races from which I could choose and in most I will be having a couple of picks.
3:16 – Lebowski – 5/1 @ Bet365.
Good luck with your Saturday bets.