Down Royal was another jumps meeting lost to the weather yesterday and today’s cards at Catterick and Wincanton have already bitten the dust. Thursday’s Wetherby fixture is subject to Wednesday morning inspection and it seems unlikely we’ll see racing at the West Yorkshire track.
Warmer weather is on the way though although it may turn a bit colder on Saturday. The improved temperatures are coming just in time for Saturday’s Cheltenham Trial’s Day and Doncaster’s Sky Bet Handicap Chase meeting.
It’s a seven-race card for Trial’s Day and four of the races are being covered live by ITV. The broadcaster will also be covering three races from Doncaster, as part of a seven race programme, including the Sky Bet Chase.
Inside today’s main piece I’m looking at some of Saturday’s big races. Plus, I have a selection from Thurles.
Cheltenham Trial’s Day
Were just 48-days from the start of this season's Cheltenham Festival and it’s Cheltenham’s last meeting until the big one on Saturday. It’s likely we’ll see a Cheltenham Festival winner or two.
Since 2016 fourteen horses from the meeting went onto win at that season's Festival. Last season’s winners were Simply The Betts, Imperial Aura and Lisnagar Oscar. Eight of the fourteen also won on Trial’s Day. That’s 8 winners from 26 bets 31% +7.46 13 placed 50%.
I have had a quick look at the first four races on Trial’s Day.
12:40 – JCB Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle (Grade 2) – 2m 1f
Nicky Henderson is 4 winners from 9 runners 44% +23.08 6 placed 67% with his runners in the race since 2013. He relies on Heross Du Seuil who ran out an easy winner on his hurdle debut at Kempton over Christmas. Mind you he was perhaps a fortunate winner as Honneur D'Ajonc who also has race entry, was in the lead and going well when falling at the last. The extra furlong and stiffer track should suit the Henderson horse though. The most intriguing runner would be French raider Baladin Du Mesc should he travel over for the race.
1:15 – Timeform Novices' Handicap Chase (GBB Race) (Class 2) – 2m 4 ½ f
A normally informative novices handicap chase and two of the last three winners of the race went on to success in March, as did last year’s runner-up Imperial Aura. Mind you two of them won the 2m 4f novices chase that has been replaced by the mares chase at this year’s Festival.
The bookies haven’t priced up the race yet but the Kim Bailey trained Espoir De Romay who was runner-up to Royale Pagaille at Haydock last month, trying to give that one 5lb, looks likely to be one of the market leaders.
1:50 – Paddy Power Millionaire Trophy Handicap Chase (Grade 3) – 2m 4 ½ f
Last year’s winner Cepage bids for back-to-back wins. He’s now 4lb higher but does come into the race in winning form after success at Chepstow three weeks ago. Stablemate Aso who was runner-up to Frodon in the 2019 Ryanair Chase also holds an entry.
Course & distance winner Midnight Shadow bounced back from a poor run in the Old Roan Chase on his seasonal return when runner-up to Chatham Street Lad in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup last time. The Sue Smith trained 8-year-old heads the ante post betting at a best priced 5/1.
Kauto Riko hasn’t been seen since an eyecatching 4th of 16 in the Paddy Power Handicap Chase here in November.
Add in previous course winners Happy Diva, Mister Whitaker and Oldgrangewood and we have the making of a competitive race.
2:25 – Paddy Power “45 Sleeps To Cheltenham” Cotswold Chase (Grade 2) – 3m 1 ½ f
Santini (11/4) last year’s winner could run although trainer Nicky Henderson isn’t keen on running the Gold Cup runner-up if the ground is too testing.
Betfair Chase winner and last season’s runner-up Bristol De Mai (2/1) looks set to head the market.
Native River (100/30) is next in the betting. The 2018 Gold Cup winner will relish the testing ground but the yard is on a long losing run.
Saint Calvados (9/2) loves Cheltenham but didn’t seem to get home when fourth in the King George at Kempton.
Lake View Lad (10/1) caused a bit of a shock when seeing off Santini and Native River in the Many Clouds at Aintree last month.
Trainer David Bridgewater won this in 2014 with the Giant Bolster. He looks likely to saddle The Conditional (10/1). The 9-year-old won the valuable Ultima Handicap at the Festival last season. He's since finished a good third in the Ladbroke Trophy and runner-up at Ascot last month. He’s got plenty to find on Official Ratings with the likes of Bristol De Mai and Santini but could easily run into the places.
In tomorrow’s column I will look at Doncaster’s Sky Bet Chase.
Thurles is the only jumps card today with it’s rearranged Horse & Jockey Hotel Chase card. The feature race is the Grade 2 Horse & Jockey Hotel Chase (12:45). Willie Mullins saddles four of the seven runners: Allaho, Easy Game, Annamix and Elimay. Gordon Elliott saddles Battleoverdoyen and Henry De Bromhead Balko De Flos.
12:45 – Horse & Jockey Hotel Chase (Grade 2) – 2m 4f
Allaho didn’t seem to get home over 3m when 4th of 14 in the Grade 1 Savills Chase at Leopardstown. The drop back in trip will be in his favour and he’s the one to beat.
Balko De Flos hasn’t won since successful in the 2018 Ryanair Chase and looks regressive. However, the veteran does get the first time cheekpiece’s here and there is no doubt if the headgear works the oracle, he would be a massive price at around 20/1.
There are couple of interesting handicaps on the Thurles card.
1:20 – Enjoy D'allen won a Fairyhouse novice chase 8-days ago. Up 8lb for that win but capable of more improvement and the cheekpieces left off last time return. Big chance of back-to-back wins.
Key Commander won at the fourth attempt over fences when winning here over 3m 1f last month. Seemed to find the step up in trip to his liking and has been hiked up 12lb for that win. There should be more to come from the 6-year-old. My idea of the race winner if the drop back in distance doesn't inconvenience.
You must go back to 2015 for Kitten Rock’s last win. He hasn’t been running too badly of late and I don’t think a win is too far away. His best performance last season came at this venue over an extended 2m last February but I'm not sure he wants this far though.
3:05 – Whatstoknow won a maiden hurdle here last February before finishing eighth in the Supreme at Cheltenham. Returns to hurdling after two starts over fences and must be respected on his handicap debut.
Strange Notions won a C&D maiden hurdle in March and was in contention when coming down at the last on her seasonal reappearance over C&D 35-days ago and the mare looks to have each way claims.
Blanketonthground has done well since joining her present yard and can’t have the ground soft enough. Back in handicap company today she shouldn’t be far away.
1:20 – Key Commander – 7/1 @ Coral & Ladbrokes (both paying 4 places 1/5 odds).
Good luck with your Wednesday bets.
John Burke is the tipster behind the long standing Victor Value service you can join him here – https://victorvalue.uk