Neil Morrice walks you through the front runners for Saturday’s racing at Haydock Park, Ascot, Newcastle and Wincanton. This will include the feature race analysis for the Betfair Ascot Chase and Haydock Park Unibet Grand National Trial.
Betfair Ascot Chase (Grade 1)
CYRNAME is out to re-cement his reputation as one of the true heavyweights of steeplechasing at the scene of his most famous victory and is the name on everyone’s lips going into the third weekend before Cheltenham. Heavy rain is reportedly on the way, but hopefully not enough to claim a cracking fixture.
It was on the same Ascot terrain that he posted the highest rating for any jumper 12 months ago, remorselessly galloping 19 lengths clear of his closest rival. And he now finds himself certain to start a very short order to stage an action replay, with budding novice RIDERS ONTHE STORM the obvious barrier to his path for success.
Cyrname will forever be remembered as the horse who over the same course and distance ended the majestic winning sequence of Altior. That Titan of the turf had no answer to the relentless gallop set by Paul Nicholls’ charge, who came home unchallenged when Altior had clearly cried enough early in the short home straight. But be that as it may, the winner’s stamina limitations were then ruthlessly exposed when he finished out of the money in the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.
It means that all of a sudden Cyrname is on a recovery mission, with Riders On The Storm the most likely obstacle to success on Saturday. The 7yo was a work in progress when trained in Ireland last season, starting as one of the favourites for the novices’ handicap chase at the Festival only to fall in the early stages. His subsequent move to Nigel Twiston-Davies has seen some of his undoubted potential turn to winning form, with a very smooth triumph at Aintree followed by a decisive follow up success over this course and distance when the extremely testing ground held no perils for the gelding. He’s enjoyed a nice subsequent gap to this race and is ready to exploit any deficiency in the favourite.
JANIKA tried to serve it up from the front in the race won by Defi Du Seuil here last month only to capitulate approaching the last. The Haldon Gold Cup winner tired quickly on the run in and should this race take place is likely to encounter similarly testing conditions.
Completing the field is TRAFFIC FLUIDE who has good form at this course over a longer trip. He’s not been the easiest to train and it would take a monumental feat from his handler Gary Moore to have the 10-year-old primed to win this after 15 months off.
1st RIDERS ONTHE STORM
4th Traffic Fluide
Haydock Park Unibet Grand National Trial (Grade 3)
Champion trainer Paul Nicholls fields a potent attack on the £100,000-added contest via new recruit YALA ENKI, winner of this for Venetia Williams in 2018. The latter landed some hefty wagering at Taunton last month when romping home over today’s three and a half mile marathon to indicate he’s very much at home within the Ditcheat academy. Bryony Frost’s mount is most effective in bottomless conditions, which are set to prevail should racing get the green light.
Haydock specialist LORD DU MESNIL looks like starting favourite for the Grade 3 marathon. He’s a 9-2 shot with Hollywoodbets, having stated his case with successes in the Betway Tommy Whittle Chase before Christmas and The Last Fling Handicap Chase at the end of December. Paul O’Brien’s mount had scored at Newcastle on his previous outing and so goes in search of what would be a magnificent four-timer for trainer Richard Hobson. However, his handicap mark has escalated from 122 to 147.
Lucinda Russell has scooped this prize on three occasions and she relies on former Grand National winner ONE FOR ARTHUR. Since his 2017 Aintree triumph the veteran’s racecourse appearances have been few and far between but he was a creditable sixth in last year’s National and most recently stayed on into fifth in the Randox Health Becher Chase over the famous fences in early December. He’s been allotted the same weight at Aintree of 10st 2lb from which he landed a famous Grand National win for Scotland and connections can rightly look forward to a big run in this trial.
Amongst the favourites is THE TWO AMIGOS, who strictly on the book has the beating of Elegant Escape although he lost several places on the run in of the Welsh National and doesn’t have the touch of class of his rival. GERONIMO boasts good form in attritional conditions round here and Sandy Thomson’s charge is fresher than most, while the Sue Smith-trained VINTAGE CLOUDS wasn’t stopping at the end of three and a quarter miles here last month, coming home unchallenged and in the process giving himself a watertight case for another prominent display.
1st ELEGANT ESCAPE
2nd Yala Enki
3rd Vintage Clouds
4th One For Arthur
5th Lord Du Mesnil
Haydock Undercard Best Bets
Race 1: THE BIG BITE (3)
Trainer: Tom George – Jockey: Jonathan Burke
Although he’s not looked a natural for fences, THE BIG BITE has the ability to overcome the odd mistake, as shown when he decisively beat Senior Citizen at Doncaster last month. He’s been working well and can add this novices’ handicap to his CV on the way to one of the novice chases or handicaps at the Cheltenham Festival.
Race 2: THE WORLDS END (1)
Trainer: Tom George – Jockey: Adrian Heskin
This is a gilt-edged opportunity for THE WORLDS END to bolster his Festival claims and move forward towards a crack at the Stayers’ Hurdle. A fast and accurate jumper, he clawed victory from the hooves of defeat to get back up on the run in to deny L’Ami Serge at Ascot before Christmas and has been freshened up for what seems an equally good opening here.
Race 5: KILBRICKEN STORM (3) (Each Way)
Trainer: Colin Tizzard – Jockey: Robbie Power
While the novice Young Bull is entitled to healthy respect, KILBRICKEN STORM is the preferred choice in another race that should have a bearing on the Festival. Although unconsidered in the market he wasn’t beaten that far by Paisley Park at the Cheltenham trials meeting and as that was just a third run since coming back from injury the 9yo should only now be fully tuned up as he steps into handicap company.
Race 7: THE DELLERCHECKOUT (1)
Trainer: Mrs Caroline Robinson – Jockey: Miss Immy Robinson
None of the four in this hunter-chase can be safely left out but if THE DELLERCHECKOUT travels and jumps as when readily beating Manbeg Gold at Ludlow he will surely extend his winning sequence and earn a trip to the Cheltenham Foxhunters. What was pleasing about Ludlow was that it was his first start in this category and came after a couple of smooth point successes. He will have learned much from the experience with his pilot giving him the most confident of rides.
Ascot Undercard Best Bets
Race 2: SAM BROWN (2)
Trainer: Anthony Honeyball – Jockey: Aidan Coleman
Few novices have impressed as much as SAM BROWN and just how good he is should be revealed in this intriguing Reynoldstown Chase in which no quarter will be given or taken. The 8yo was in cruise control throughout when comfortably beating Knight In Dubai at Haydock, looking like a horse that would welcome the move up to three miles. This is another step up the class ladder but he can take it in his stride.
Race 4: CON MAN (6)
Trainer: Donald McCain – Jockey: Brian Hughes
THE CON MAN has smoothly made the transition from novice to handicap hurdler and has more scope for further progress than most in this field. He drew well clear on the extended run in at Kelso last month and didn’t take much out of himself, according to his trainer,who means business bringing him on the long haul from Cheshire.
Race 7: PURE BLISS (1)
Trainer: Harry Fry – Jockey: Sean Bowen
The penalized PURE BLISS hasn’t been tested to deliver so far, looking ultra smart in the way he effortlessly pulled clear at Ffos Las. Even though that was back in November the 5yo won’t be rusty for this more exacting assignment and can remain unbeaten.
Newcastle Park Best Bets
Race 4: SPIRIT POWER (3)
Trainer: Eric Alston – Jockey: Jason Hart
SPIRIT POWER is in the right hands to make a sizeable mark in the all-weather sprint division and can cope with this slight step up the class ladder. His forcing tactics quickly put him in control on the way to a second win from as many starts at Kempton and it’s reasonable to deduce that the handicapper hasn’t caught up with him as he tries to complete a fine hat-trick.
Race 5: RIDESON (8)
Trainer: Roger Varian – Jockey: Jack Mitchell
Although she is proving expensive to follow, RIDESON looks the answer to this first division of the fillies’ novice stakes. Her trainer is bringing her back to a mile in a race where her form puts her head and shoulders above the others with public form.
Race 7: REDESDALE REBEL (8)
Trainer: S Corbett – Jockey: Paul Mulrennan
The assessor must have been set a poser in weighing up REDESDALE REBEL after a most impressive sprinting display to open his account over this course and distance last month. A repeat of his forcing tactics in a race in which he has good prospects of leading could make him hard to catch.
Wincanton Park Best Bets
Race 1: LIEUTENANT ROCCO (2)
Trainer: Colin Tizzard – Jockey: Mr Fergus Gillard
From a stable that plunders these races LIEUTENANT ROCCO can cope with a drop to the minimum trip, having made all to open his account at Chepstow last month. That represented a step up on his previous form, and with his ability to handle easy conditions rubber stamped he will be hard to beat.
Race 3: ELGIN (4)
Trainer: Alan King – Jockey: Tom Cannon
This requires a colossal training feat as ELGIN, the 2018 winner of this Kingwell Hurdle, has been sidelined for a small matter of almost 600 days. That said, he did win twice on the Flat this summer and is reported near back to his best by his trainer as he will need to be to beat the high class Quel Destin and Ch’tibello.