Make sure that you get the last of the Christmas shopping done on Saturday morning, so you can enjoy some terrific action in the afternoon! The Tommy Whittle features one of Venetia Williams’ horses and Seymour Biz is backing him to make a successful reappearance. Here are his Lucky 15 selections. Find all previous UK racing previews in his weekly column: Saturday Horse Racing Tips.
My two favourite jump courses in the country take centre stage on Saturday with meetings at Ascot and Haydock. Television cameras are covering four races at the Berkshire course and two at Merseyside, so now I am doing all I can to get out of the last minute Christmas shopping so I can nip to the Merseyside course and catch the action. Some hope, the nearest I’ll get is Cheshire Oaks Retail Park not Haydock Park. Neither meeting has the classiest of horses entered this weekend (except perhaps Paisley Park at Ascot) but the handicappers on offer will certainly give us a high standard of racing. There looks to be some great value on offer at both meetings for those willing to take early prices and with that in mind here are my thoughts for this last Saturday before Christmas. Hopefully we can get something back after all the expenditure at this time of year, and so I am wishing a Merry Christmas to everyone and a Prosperous 2020.
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Starting at Ascot with the Plymouth Gin Handicap Chase over 2m 3f at 1.50, Alan King’s old timer Valdez heads the handicap. He finds himself with top weight after a victory at Hereford last month and probably has too much to carry here. The bookies choice is First Flow who was another Hereford winner a week ago after being runner-up in his first two outings of the season. One of those was here at Ascot but he was a poor second and is stepping up in class in this contest. Nicky Henderson has Kobrouk declared here, this French import has not won since April 2017 and his runs at Huntingdon and Aintree have not set the world on fire. A winner last time out was Andrew Martin’s Militarian, that was over 3m here at Ascot, I don’t think the drop back in trip will suit. Another who won his last contest is Golden Whisky for trainer Evan Williams, who is on a good run of form at the moment, but he is asking the gelding to step up massively in class. A horse who finished in front of Golden Whisky at Chepstow and then went on to win at Exeter is Espoir De Guye trained by Venetia Williams. That victory was over this distance, he handles soft ground and he is a young improver who is well handicapped. He looks my idea of the winner for this popular trainer.
At 3.00 we have the Dave Dawes Silver Cup Handicap Chase, a Class1 Listed race over 3 miles. Looking at the field it does not seem to have attracted the top class three milers with Paul Nicholls’s Black Corton due to carry top weight. He was a prolific winner in 2017 but has only managed to win once in his last eleven attempts and not at all this season. His weight may hold him back again here l’m afraid. Crievehill comes here looking for his hat-trick for trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies and he may well complete it even though he is stepping up in class. His latest victory at Haydock was by 10 lengths against a very good field, I don’t think the slight drop back in trip will be a problem. The bookmakers favourite is Belami Des Pictons from Venetia Williams’s yard. He has had one run this season finishing fourth at Cheltenham and was never threatening and has yet to win at this level. Ok Corral ran poorly on his seasonal reappearance for trainer Nicky Henderson finishing down the field at Newbury. Mister Malarky was a few places in front of him that day but was another who didn’t trouble the judge. I will side with Crievehill to continue his rise in class.
The final race on the Ascot card is at 3.35, the Betfair Exchange Trophy, this is a handicap hurdle over just under 2 miles and is a very open contest. Top weight here is Monsieur Lecoq from Jane Williams’s yard who is a winner already this season at Ffos Las in October but has been beaten on the last two occasions after stepping up in class. French Crusader is the bookies pick and Nicky Henderson’s gelding ran well on his only outing this season at Newbury finishing second. He is very lightly raced and although he has good form his wins have come in small fields. Paul Nicholls’s best chance here seems to be Scaramanga who won at Wincanton at the beginning of December but this young gelding is stepping up in class here. Not So Sleepy is a course and distance winner from last month after being gifted a 10 lengths lead, he won’t get away with that again. I have a liking here for Evan Williams’s Quoi De Neuf, he ran well behind Harambe (who is a doubt here) in the Greatwood at Cheltenham last month finishing fourth. He had Monsieur Lecoq a length in front of him that day but he is an improver and can reverse those placings to take this.
Moving north to Haydock, the 2.40 is the Betway Tommy Whittle Handicap Chase over a shade under 3m 2f. Favourite here is Venetia Williams’s Yalltari who is having his first run of the season. He is a strong traveller who goes in bottomless ground, he may need the run but can take this prestigious contest. Lord Du Mesnil loves to ball along in front and can be difficult to catch, Richard Hobson’s charge won at Newcastle using those tactics last month. He was headed two out but rallied to take the contest but this is a higher class. Crosspark had a great season last year with three victories but Caroline Bailey’s gelding was pulled up on his reappearance at Cheltenham in October and I think he is best watched. The Hollow Ginge has started this campaign well but as he has moved up the rankings his performances have slipped back so l can’t fancy him. Orchardstown Cross had been progressing well for trainer Jeremy Scott until his latest run at Ascot in November when he never got going at all. Militarian won that race that day but has moved up the weights since that victory and Andrew Martin May have difficulty placing him. Yalltari is my idea of the winner here.
Saturday Lucky 15
1.50 Ascot. Espoir de Guye
3.00 Ascot. Crievehill
3.35 Ascot. Quoi de Neuf
2.40 Haydock. Yalltari