Nicky Henderson will be rolling out the biggest gun in National Hunt racing, on Saturday at Ascot. Seymour Biz isn’t tempted to back the double Champion Chase winner just yet though and looks for value elsewhere with his Lucky 15 picks. Find all previous UK racing previews in his weekly column: Saturday Horse Racing Tips.
Two of the best racecourses in the country take centre stage this week with the television cameras at Ascot and Haydock Park. There are three races being covered at Ascot with the highlight being the return of the great Altior to action in the Christy 1965 Chase. This is the first time Nicky Henderson’s superstar has raced beyond 2 miles and this is his prep run over a further 5 furlongs en route to the King George on Boxing Day. He will only face four opponents including the classy Cyrname, this is a contest best watched. ITV cover four races at Haydock including the Betfair Chase where there are currently six declarations including Altior but Henderson has stated he was only left in this race in case there was an earthquake at Ascot! Bristol De Mai goes for a hat-trick for Nigel Twiston-Davies in this race but faces Colin Tizzard’s Lostintranslation this time around and he was a Grade1 winner at Aintree last season. Twiston-Davies also sends Ballyoptic here who has won twice already this year and he can certainly ensure this is a truly run race. These are two contests I shall watch with great interest, meanwhile looking for value in Saturday’s meetings I have selected two races from each meeting to concentrate on for this week’s Lucky 15 and here are my thoughts on them.
Ascot stages the Coral Hurdle at 2.40 and If The Cap Fits returns to the course to repeat his victory from last year. Harry Fry’s 7-year-old took this race last year when staying on strongly on the flat and went on from that to run well at Kempton on Boxing Day before winning a Grade 1 at Aintree in April. He has a penalty for that win and carries 6lb more than last year but he has grown stronger over the summer and even without the help of a prep run he should be able to reprise last year’s win. Call Me Lord is the bookies choice but Nicky Henderson’s charge was unable to win in his two starts last year, he would need to have improved considerably. Roksana has had the benefit of a prep run and Dan Skelton’s mare clearly has plenty of class as she showed when winning at the Cheltenham Festival in March but the selection gave her 7lbs and a beating in this last year and can do so again. Dr Richard Newland sends Le Patriote here after two fine wins at Cheltenham and Haydock, he is a course and distance winner and must have every chance. But this is a step up in class for him against proven Grade 1 horses, I think he will have to settle for a place.
At 3.20 it’s the Gerard Bertrand Hurst Park Handicap Chase over just over 2 miles. The favourite here is The Last Day from Evan Williams yard on the back of his victory at Aintree earlier this month. He is stepping in class somewhat and I think he can be opposed here. Diego Du Charmil from Paul Nicholl’s stable is another with a win under his belt already this season at this course and distance just three weeks ago. He rallied well after crashing through the last hurdle and taking out stablemate Capeland who reopposes here. Capeland was very unlucky that day and could well beat Diego Du Charmil this time around. Nicholls has another runner here with top weight Dolos who ran second at Exeter at the beginning of this month but he may have too much weight. One of my fancies from last week who did not run turns out here, that is Knocknanuss and all I said about Gary Moore’s gelding still applies. He was a dual winner last autumn and ran well when third at Cheltenham last time out, he may well take a place again here. But my vote goes to the very unlucky Capeland to gain recompense for that disqualification.
Moving north to Haydock we have the Betfair Best Odds On ITV Races Stayers Handicap at 2.25. Current favourite is Umbrigado from David Pipe’s yard, he is having his first run of this campaign but after three wins from four outings last season he is well regarded. But I feel this is a big step up in trip for this young gelding. Another youngster is Jonjo O’Neill’s Tedham who has proved himself over longer distances winning over 2m 5f at Wincanton in January. In his latest run at Cheltenham last month he had lumps of weight to carry in a Class 3 and finished sixth, as he is moving up in class here he is down at the bottom of the handicap giving him a chance. Stoney Mountain won at Aintreee in October for trainer Henry Daly and is quietly fancied here. However he could only run third behind proven three miler Lisnagar Oscar last February here at Haydock and he looks my idea of the winner. He romped home by 10 lengths that day and also had Ask Ben and Highland Hunter behind him that day, I expect him to confirm those placings. Phillip Hobbs’s stable is going great guns at the moment and I will give a mention to his Dolphin Square. A dual winner already this season he is stepping up massively in class but may well run into a place at a nice price here.
The final race on the Haydock card is the Better Value On The Betfair Exchange Stayers Handicap Chase at 3.40. This will be a gruelling contest of over 3m 4f and looking at the betting does not seem to offer very good value. The prices of come of the contestants should be just for getting round never mind winning! David Pipe’s Know The Score won a small contest over five and a half furlongs less than this at Worcester last time and is a ridiculously short price here. Late Romantic won at Wetherby at the beginning of this month and trainer Oliver Greenall will be hoping he can step up in class and distance here but he is another that does not justify his short price. Moving In Style has recently changed stables and had his first run for Robert Walford at Exeter earlier this month, he lacked pace that day but will have come on for that and may claim a place. Kerry Lee and her staff will be on top of the world after her big win last week and she has high hopes for The Welsh Paddies. He has had a slow start to the season but his second at Hereford last month shows some promise. I am sure Lee would be pleased with The Welsh Paddies running into a place. The one that catches my eye is Back To The Thatch trained by Henry Daly. After flopping in the Midlands National last March he is reported to have summered well and had an outing at Cheltenham last month, finishing seventh, beaten 20 lengths. He comes here to run at his optimum trip and can take this prestigious contest.
Saturday Lucky 15
2.40 Ascot. If The Cap Fits
3.20 Ascot. Capeland
2.25 Haydock. Lisnagar Oscar
3.40 Haydock. Back To The Thatch