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Last week’s racing was decimated a bit by the weather, and although Ffos Las passed a morning inspection, things took a turn for the worse and the meeting was abandoned. It’s that fraught time of the year when trainers want to get one last run into their horses for the Cheltenham Festival, but with the usual downpours and freezing temperatures, meetings get abandoned left, right and centre. Still, we had decent racing from Sandown and Wetherby. Blacklion asserted himself as one of the top novice chasers of the year with a comfortable win at Wetherby, and Bristol De Mai won the Scilly Isles Novice Chase at Sandown, making the 10/11 look incredibly generous in the process.
Last week, we got off to a great start again, with Arthur’s Oak winning in a bit of a tighter on than we would have wanted at 6/4, then with Ffos Las abandoned, it was back to Sandown for Bristol De Mai’s win at 10/11. Blacklion got us a very generous 4/1, and with Baywing a non-runner in the 3:00, we ended up having only one losing tip, so we made a nice profit of +5.41 units and that puts our overall total back into double figures at +11.94 units. With just over 4 weeks to go until the Cheltenham Festival, the pieces are all starting to fall into place, and the Game Spirit Chase might provide some more clues for the Queen Mother Champion Chase, so keep an eye out for that small but high-class field.
As ever, before we get down to the business of looking at the televised races from Newbury and Warwick, which are both live on Channel Four Racing, I have to promote our favourite bookie at the Sports Betting Tips offices. The team at Bet365 will give you the best price on every horse race shown live on Channel Four if you back it from 10am on the day of the race. That means you should wait until 10am Saturday and get the best price, as they will match their competitors. What could be better than best prices? Well, if you back a winner at 4/1 or more at Bet365 on any of the Channel Four races, you get a free bet that matches your stake on the winner for the next Channel Four race.
We start the live coverage on Channel 4 Racing with a 3 mile handicap hurdle. It should be noted that the second-top weight, Zeroeshadesofgrey is currently double booked with the 3:10 at Exeter on Sunday.
This is a bit of a weird race, as a lot of the runners are not coming into this in any kind of form. In fact, Zeroeshadesofgrey is one of two to come into this with a win last time out. The interesting thing here is that David Pipe saddles the top weight, Gevrey Chambertin, with David Noonan on board taking 5lbs off, but he also has Batavir near the bottom of the handicap, with first choice jockey Tom Scudamore taking the ride. So all signs point to Batavir? Well, I don’t think he gets the trip, and with the soft ground, it’s going to be a test. Argocat could appeal, but then it looks to be a prep run, having not run since the summer of 2015.
We’ll throw the dice here and do with the progressive-looking Millanisi Boy who had a good second at Newbury behind the high-class Uknowhatimeanharry in November over a shorter trip. He should like this step up in trip, and won’t mind the ground, having win last time out at Chepstow in what was essentially a bog.
A Listed Mares’ Hurdle next over 2m 5f and the ground at Warwick is classified as heavy, so this will be more like a 3 mile-plus race for the mares. It’s an interesting field of 6 declared runners that we’ll take a look at, although none are exactly looking red hot on paper.
I think bigger and better things were expected of Petite Parisienne after her fifth place in the 2015 Triumph Hurdle and subsequent second behind Bitofapuzzle at Fairyhouse in the Mares’ Novice Hurdle there. However, here two runs this season have been well below par, losing by 35 lengths last time out at Sandown. Her second at Naas the time prior reads a bit better, but it wasn’t the most amazing race in the world. The question marks remain, but it’s not the hardest race for her to win, even with a penalty.
One place ahead of Petite Parisienne at Sandown was Flute Bowl, getting 8lbs that day, and getting 5lbs today, after benig clear by just over 4 lengths. I just think that race at Sandown was a bit of a weird one, the ground was bottomless and the 2m 4f might as well have been 4 miles. Flute Bowl hasn’t shown too much in the way of form in good quality races, so I would avoid.
Jessber’s Dream has found enough form to suggest she’s capable at this level. I wouldn’t suggest she’ll be challenging for the Mares’ Hurdle honours at Cheltenham, but she looks honest enough, has a recent second place at this level, and should give a good account of herself. Sure, Petite Parisienne is the danger, but if she’s still out of form, even though she is trained by the great Willie Mullins, we have to give her a swerve.
Next up is the Denman Chase, a Grade 2 over 3 miles, with 7 runners currently declared. Needless to say, this is an out-and-out test of stamina here on the soft ground, and no doubt we’re going to see some tired horses crossing the finishing line. That’s why we need to find one that is a true stayer, won’t mind the trip and can be clean over the fences.
Rocky Creek is the obvious one to single out here, but I was a bit disappointed with him last time out. His second behind Don Cossack looks great, but then when you look at his poor jumping last time out and the fact he didn’t seem to like the trip or the ground, I wouldn’t want to be backing him at such short odds. Houblon Des Obeaux will be another fancied one in the market, but again, he isn’t in any kind of form to speak of, and has just been plodding through his races this season without threatening. Bob Ford seems like he would struggle to beat trees half the time, assuming he actually gets home.
Really, it leaves me with Ballynagour and although he’s disappointed so far this season, he has come up against Cue Card the last few times, and a relentless gallop. This will suit his style, he’ll be fine with his jumping, and a clean round should see him get over the line in front.
It’s such a shame we only have three runners in this Grade 2 Kingmaker Novice Chase over 2 miles, as it looks like it could be a decent race given the quality of the runners.
Fox Norton, however, looks like the one that might not be troubling the other two. He’s had some good runs, but it’s a step up in class, and the ground is a bit of an unknown.
Violet Dancer is three out of four over fences and looks to have some real scope to improve. However, he has to show he can put in a clear round of jumping and cope with the best novice chasers. It’s not going to be the hardest race he’ll ever have to win, but it might not be his day.
That leaves us with the obvious selection of L’Ami Serge, who is two out of two in novice chases, and is stepping up in class in name only. Fourth behind Douvan in the Supreme Novice Hurdle last year, L’Ami Serge is going about things the right way, will relish the ground and should extend his undefeated run over the bigger obstacles on his way to lining up near the head of the market for the Arkle.
The Game Spirit Chase, one of my favourite races outside of the Cheltenham Festival, with some great winners over the years. It’s a 2 mile chase and we have 5 runners declared, although L’Ami Serge might be given the easier option of the 2:50 at Warwick.
Nevertheless, we’re going to have an odds-on favourite in the shape of Dodging Bullets, the 2015 Champion Chase winner, and also the second place finisher in this race two years ago. Now, I think I’ve made my feelings known about how weak the 2015 Champion Chase was, but Dodging Bullets beat what was in front of him. Did he beat them well? No, but he beat them.
If L’Ami Serge doesn’t take his engagement at Warwick, he should run a big race, but as he should win at Warwick easily enough, connections will probably avoid Newbury. If he does line up, though, get on!
The lucky last as usual, and as always it’s a cavalry charge in the shape of an 22-runner handicap hurdle over 2 miles.
Look, this really is all about Blazer, who could be well in with a 5lb penalty and a feather weight of 10st 4lbs to carry round. JP McManus has a strong hand with five runners in this race, but Blazer could well be the handicap blot here. Dicosimo looks handy on paper, but then his form gets smashed by Blazer’s last race. Sure, there could be improvers, but this has the smell of a bit of a coup going on by McManus, and Mullins is just the man to land it for him, especially with retinaed jockey Barry Geraghty on board.