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So this is the last Channel Four Racing of February, and the clock really is ticking down to the Cheltenham Festival. Of course, with each passing day seems to come more news, especially regarding the 2016 Champion Hurdle. Yes, after Faugheen being pulled due to injury, and now Willie Mullins has had to pull Arctic Fire from the race after an injury. Where does that leave the 2016 Champion Hurdle? Well, it’s a bit up in the air at the minute. Will they supplement Annie Power? Probably, but it’s not confirmed. The form from the 2015 Triumph Hurdle isn’t exactly sparkling, but can any of that class come through and take the crown? Or can The New One finally prove he’s not a flat track bully and a bottler by taking the crown? Well, if he does, he’ll repay some of my good friends who were balls deep on him a couple of years back and they’re hoping he can finally get the job done. Of course, it’s the beauty of the Cheltenham Festival, isn’t it, waiting to get the answers to all the questions that crop up during the National Hunt season.
Last week was more or less a push with the bookies. We got off to a great start with a win for Vyta Du Roc, but then we had some places and some that tailed off at the back, which ended up giving us a small loss of -1.5 units. It’s a bit infuriating, purely because if one had got across the line in front instead of second place, we’d have made a nice profit. Still, we’re now at a profit for the season of +4.44 units. But we’ll keep plugging away, getting the winners and hopefully have a nice kitty to do real damage during the Cheltenham Festival
Liver on Channel Four Racing, we have racing from Lingfield, Kempton and Newcastle. It’s Eider Chase Day at Newcastle and Winter Derby Day on the all-weather at Lingfield. And before I get to the free tips for the live Channel Four Racing races, you know I have to promote our favourite bookie at the Sports Betting Tips offices. Over at Bet365, they 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 day off at Lingfield, with a 5 furlong dash in the All-Weather Championship. We have a high-class field of ten going to post for this, and some of the biggest names in flat racing are represented here.
Muthmir sets a very, very high standard here, but he is carrying a penalty over the entire field, shouldering 9st 7lbs. On his day, he would be head and shoulders above the field, but the thing is, he’s never raced on the all-weather before, which is a real concern, especially with some of all-weather racing’s top sprinters in the field. With that uncertainty over whether he’ll cope with the track, as much as I want to get behind him, I can’t.
Move In Time has had one race on the all-weather, which was at Kempton, and he trailed home 10th in a field of 15. Not that impressive, even if he’s had, like Muthmir, some great form on the turf. Like Muthmir, too, we can’t be backing him with any great confidence.
Take Cover has good form on the all-weather, is closely matched with Muthmir on the turf, so we’ll look to David Griffith’s charge to do the business for us in the first race of the day.
We’ve got a Grade 2 Juvenile Hurdle over 2 miles as our first offering from Kempton, and it’s a very hot race, with two unbeaten runners in this field of four-year-olds.
Gibralfaro’s form has been franked, with Connetable winning last time out over Ravyn Black, who subsequently won last week, so the form lines are seriously hot for this horse.
The form lines also match up through St Saviour, and basically it looks like Gibralfaro has about 5 lengths in hand through Berland. St Saviour gets 3lbs from Gibralfaro, and that’s just not enough to get in front.
Wolfcatch’s form isn’t that hot, and although he’s had one win and a second, the other two have bettter form in the book. As for the unraced horses, there’s not much to say.
The long and short of it it, the form of Gibralfaro has been working out well over the past few weeks, and even with a penalty, he’s going to be hard to beat.
Our first race from Newcastle is a 2 mile handicap hurdle, with eight runners declared for the race. It’s a bit of a trappy race, and hopefully the ground doesn’t get any softer, as Newcastle has a tendency to become like a bottomless marsh when the rain comes.
Vendor, the top weight, has been copeting in some big races over the past couple of years, last time out finishing second in a Listed race at Musselburgh. However, lumping the top weight around against this field might not be the easiest for this jack of all trades. However, on the weights, he seems to still have the edge over Zaidiyn after that race at Musselburgh.
Draytonian is the selection here. He was going well last time out, looking to make it two wins on the bounce, but he made a bad mistake three out from home, which cost him badly, and he tailed off. This time out, with a good round of jumping, he’s going to take some beating, as he’s exceptionally well handicapped.
The second race from Kempton on Channel Four Racing is a Grade 2 Novice Chase over 2 miles 4 furlongs. It’s a small but select field, with five runners going to post. On ratings, they field is very evenly matched, so it’s a tough one to puzzle out.
The Saint James has some decent form in the book, and with no penalties to carry, it’s a good chance to open his account over fences. He blundered badly last time out, which cost him, and his second place on his first time over fences over Vyta Du Roc has been franked by last week’s racing. With Barry Geragthy on-board, he’ll be extremely tough to beat.
Mon Successeur has the top rating, but has shown to be tricky to get in the front and stay there. With the penalty, it’s a tough ask with The Saint James with no extra weight on his back.
Cloonacool’s form hasn’t been too bad, but to be carrying such a big penalty over three-fifth of the field makes this a tricky ask. Plus, the form hasn’t been franked quite in the way that The Saint James’ has.
Newcastle’s feature race of the day, the Eider Chase is up next, and it’s going to be a real test of stamina over the tough 4 miles of Newcastle in soft ground. This is for out-and-out stayers only, and any questions over runners with question marks over their stamina will more than likely get found out here.
For me, this is all about Rocking Blues, whose 6lb penalty will be off-set by the 10lb allowance of Lorcan Murtagh. One of the elder statesmen of the field, Rocking Blues should see out this trip, has won on the course, and is very lightly raced for an 11 year-old, which is what we like to see going into a 4 mile race.
Presented also likes it here, and with Callum Bewley’s 5lb allowance, will have a south from right at the bottom of the weights. Given it’s all about seeing out this trip, the more you can get off the back, the better. However, Presented is well held by Rocking Blues.
Next up from Kempton, a 2m Grade 2 Novice Hurdle, and again it’s quite a tricky race, even with just a field of five runners.
Oceane just doesn’t seem to have enough at this level, but should pick up some nice races at a slightly lower level.
Cold March has good form over fences, but has never won over hurdles. This isn’t the time or the place for that.
Marracudja and Welsh Shadow have been lumped with major penalties in the field, and it isn’t going to make things easy for either of them. They should be there come the finish, but preference instead goes to the undefeated Winter Escape with Barry Geraghty on-board.
Our second and final race from Lingfield is their feature race, the Winter Derby, and we have 10 runners declared for this 1m 2f Group 3 race. It’s the highlight for many winter flat racing fans, and we’ve got a cracking field lining up to try and win the £56,710 prize for first place.
Out of Godolphin’s two runners, preference would be for Maverick Wave over Festive Fare, with Maverick Wave having run in some top races over the past couple of years. He’s also won here at Lingfield, although in slightly lesser races. However, this might not be Godolphin’s race, and we’ll look elsewhere to try and find the Winter Derby winner.
Grendisay holds Festive Fare on form last time out, and should give a good account here, with some solid finishes at Lingfield over the last few races.
However, the really interesting runner is Furia Cruzada who is coming here for her first run under the charge of John Gosden. Last time out, she won a Group 1 in Argentina on the all-weather, and a Group 1 on the tuft prior to that. It’s some seriously good form and coming from one of racing’s big stables is only going to be a big positive for her first race in the UK.
Last race of the day, and, as tends to be the case, we’ve got another big field handicap. This time it’s a Grade 2 handicap chase over 3 miles, and we have a field of 16 runners declared, so finding the winner isn’t going to be easy.
Ziga Boy has some very good form in the book, but he was out of the handicap last time out, and is now a hefty 8lbs up in the weights. Tom Bellamy’s 3lb allowance will help, but the run might just be over.
Instead, we’ll be looking to Thomas Brown on his handicap chase debut, His win over Vintage Vinnie last time out, by a comfortable 10 lengths, is good form, and if the handicapper hasn’t got this one right, he could hack up here by a considerable margin at a decent enough price, too.