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Right, it’s official, the jumps season has now officially started. Forget the summer racing, all roads now point to Cheltenham in March, and I hope you are as excited as I am. Seriously, it’s Charlie Hall Chase Day, which signals the start of the real jumps season, and we’re going to be getting a lot of clues to the big races at Cheltenham over the coming months, starting with some competitive races today. But before we get on to that, I want to recap last week. It was a huge week last week, with three winning tips, which got the free horse racing tips back on track. I started off with an odds-on winner in Dhamaan at 4/7, but then the real fun started, as Easy Road won at 14/1 and then What’s Happening won the feature chase at Cheltenham at 10/1. So last week’s profits were a staggering 17.57 units, and that now puts us into a profit of +23.05 units, after six weeks of free horse racing tips. So for those of you following the blog, I hope you’ve done something worthwhile with the profits.
So, as always, I’ll be looking at the live horse racing on Channel Four on Saturday, and as I said before, it’s all National Hunt, no flat racing for us. Sometime you have to live relaxing in front of National Hunt racing, and Channel Four’s coverage is second to none. So come Saturday, sit back, put on Channel Four and enjoy the racing along with my free horse racing tips for every race covered.
Now, I also want to point out that out friends 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. So, wait until 10am Saturday and get the best price, as they will match their competitors. But what’s even better is that 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. So, back a winner of the 1:45 at Ascot for up to £50 and get free bet of up to £50 on the 2:00 from Wetherby!
We have a novice handicap chase to start the day’s jumps racing, and we’ve got some interesting horses lining up in this field of 11.
Voix D’Eau sets the standard over fences, winning last time out at Ffos Las, beating the Evens favourite by 13 lengths. It’s good enough form to win this, for sure, but this is a stiffer test. Vikekhal has a winning record over fences, but he seems a bit of a jack of all trades and might actually need further than this 2 mile 2 furlong trip. There look to be classier types in the race then him, too. Astigos looks hard to win with, having been touched off several times over fences. The time might have passed for this one to get a decent win.
But look at the classier hurdlers seems the way to go here. Sure, they won’t all make smart chasers, but if they’re rating 130+ over hurdles, they should be better than most of this field. Gun Shy is Gary Moore’s second runner, so you would have to think he fancies Vikekhall. Nathans Pride was a decent enough hurdler, but there are a few that have a better profile. Padge won’t mind it round Ascot, but connections will be hoping for some rain to ease the ground slightly. Exitas’ sixth in the Greatwood Hurdle last year sets the standard on hurdle form, and if he can replicate that, he’s got the beating of nearly all of the field.
However, I’m drawn to what is perhaps the unoriginal selection of the race, Paul Nicholls’ Anatol. Nicholls will be looking for the next big French thing, and although Anatol has been off the track for around 18 months, his French hurdling form reads well, with the horse that finished third in his last race going on to Group 3 success. Don’t worry about the lay-off, as Nicholls is the master at having his horses prepared.
Oh, the Yorkshire Hurdle looks incredible, and we’ve got some big, big names in this nine-runner field.
Closing Ceremony won the Rendlesham Hurdle at Haydock in February, beating Seeyouatmidnight, the seventh-place finisher in the World Hurdle by just under 3 lengths. He won’t mind the distance, but will probably just prefer the ground a big softer than this, as he is a proper stayer and will plod on all day.
Kilcooley has won at this level, winning the National Spirit Hurdle at Fontwell at the start of the year, but he’s untested at this trip. The better ground might help, but it’s a big step up in trip against some quality sorts here.
What is left to know about Rock On Ruby? Champion Hurdle winner, but then disappointed on the Arkle in 2014 and was put back over hurdles. He was last seen at Aintree in the Aintree Hurdle, finishing a distant second to Jezki. It looks like a crack at the World Hurdle is on the cards for this champion, and at his age it might be the sensible move. He won’t mind the ground, but I have my concerns over his age and the fact this is the longest trip he’s tried his hand at – 3 miles is a long slog for nearly every horse.
Aqualim, fifth in the Pertemps Final at Cheltenham this year, then backed it up by winning at Cheltenham a month later. This is a step up in class, but he handles the trip and the ground. He has a bit to find on the ratings with the rest of the field, though, and it might be best left just watching if he can improve. He has youth on his side, though, so he’ll be one to follow if he has trained on.
Goldan Jess has a lot to find here. Comes in on the back of a win, but at 11 years old, Jess’ time might just have passed.
Grumeti, winner of the Cesarewitch, is nicely prepped for his return to hurdles, and his best rating of 151 would be enough to win this, but it looks like his best hurdling days are behind him now, and he was trying to forge a career over fences.
It’s a step up too for No Planning. He’s got a lot to find with The Druid’s Nephew on chase form, but he did win his last run over hurdles back in May. But yet again, it’s a step up and there are several classier sorts in the field.
Splash of Ginge was entered into several big novice chases at the start of 15 and didn’t have much success, being smashhed by Vautour at Cheltenham, then being pulled up last time out in April.
The Druid’s Nephew fell in the Grand Annual after winning the 3m handicap at the Cheltenham Festival. I think we’re going to be seeing The Druid’s Nephew take the same route this year, and this is most definitely a warm-up for a campaign culminating at the Grand National next year.
It really is a trappy race, and on ratings Rock On Ruby gets the nod. However, the switch to long-distance hurdles this late in his career seems like a desperate attempt to keep him going now that the 2m hurdle races are out of the question. Kilcooley doesn’t have much to find with Rock On Ruby on ratings, with we’ll take a chance on Aqualim as he’s young and is still rated 152 at such a young age. If he can find a few pounds, he’ll have this in the bag. It’s also worth noting that Cole Harden won this last year on his way to the World Hurdle this year.
A 12-runner Listed handicap over 2m here, and a few question marks over the field at this early stage of the season.
Ulck du Lin won this race last year off a 15lb lower mark, so it’s going to be tough to replicate that. Bellenos is 7lbs lower than last year but he faded away badly last time out and also seems tricky to win with, with only two wins over fences to his name. Pearls Legend looks weighted to turn the tables on Surf And Turf, but this might be just too much of an ask against a strong field. But being so far down the handicap, Pearls Legend does look a good pick on paper. However, another one that catches the eye is Sgt Reckless. He was 24 lengths back in the Arkle, sure, but he goes well fresh, winning on his first outing at this time last year. He’s been freshened up with a run on the flat at Yarmouth, and will be race-ready.
It’s a tricky race to call, but preference just falls to Pearls Legend. While Sgt Reckless does appeal, he doesn’t seem weighted like he can win this. It’s a tough race to work out, you can make a case for a lot of the field, but we’ll stick with Pearls Legend.
A 2m mares hurdle at Wetherby, with nine-runners going to post. It’s not a bad field for this Listed race, and it might take some working out.
Ma Milleule has some excellent form under her belt, willing the Topham Chase last year, but this is surely a warm-up race for another campaign over fences.
On paper, Stephanie Frances is the one to beat, getting within 2 lengths of a returning The New One last time out. If The New One was running even close to his best rating, it would have Stephanie Frances winning this by a distance. But since we don’t know what level The New One was running at, we can’t read too much into it just yet. Still, great form on paper.
Intense Tango doesn’t have much to find, and although this is her first appearance under rules this season, she’s warmed up on the flat and should be ready for this.
Blue Buttons also doesn’t have much to find on ratings, but she looks like she needs a stiffer test than 2 miles at a track like Ascot.
However, the one that appeals is actually Midnight Jazz who doesn’t have too much to find with Stephanie Frances. She now has 8lbs on her conqueror from last time out at Cheltenham. If she can improve by a couple of pounds, she will be right there in the mix, thanks purely to having no penalty to carry round.
2:40 Down Royal
Don Cossack, need I say more?
A nice field here for the Listed handicap hurdle over 2 miles.
Nabucco was a smart performer on the flat, and there was a lot to like about his win last time out. He’s had the three runs to get him a handicap rating, and it could be a very, very generous rating come the end of this race. He’s won two out of his three starts, winning last time out comfortably at Huntingdon by an eased 11 length. The strength of that form needs to be assessed, but he landed the odds comfortably.
Cloonacool won last time out at Market Rasen in a race featured on Channel Four. However, the form of that race doesn’t look the hottest and others have to be respected more.
Sign of A Victory, right at the top of the handicap, is giving at 15lbs here, which might just be too much. Yes, great form in the book, but is he good enough to win a race like this giving so much weight away? Probably not, as he won it last year carrying 14lbs less.
Jollys Cracked It ran in some big races at the end of last season, but never really troubled the winners, finishing a good way back. Doesn’t look too well handicapped and I can’t see him troubling at the finish.
Nabucco (NB) could be a real bolter here. It’s a tasty handicap rating, and Sign Of A Victory has skewed the handicap no end, so we have to get stuck into this smart flat performer, and if he wins, look for him to take on bigger and better races later on in the year.
The Charlie Hall, the last race of the day, and it’s one I’ve been waiting 6 for months to come round. It’s a small field of 7, but it’s also a pretty class field for this 3m chase.
Grand National winner Many Clouds makes his season reappearance and many will look to him as being the one to beat. He’s gone well over course and distance before and also goes well fresh, winning his last two seasonal reappearances, albeit at Carlisle around the same time of year. He sets a benchmark that will be hard to beat.
Last year’s winner, Menorah, will no doubt go well again, and goes well fresh. He’s on the same rating as Many Clouds, at 167, and also sets a fair standard. He’s still going well after several years in top class racing, so should hopefully give a good account of himself here.
A lot was made of Sam Winner, and he looked a smart novice, but he seems to have lost his way a bit, before being pulled up in the Gold Cup back in March. He has a lot to find here, and might be fighting for minor money.
Holywell, fourth in the Gold Cup, has the form that could get him over the line, but he’s carrying a penalty against other that should turn the form round on him.
One of those that is weighted to turn the form around is Ballynagour. He lost out in the Betfair Bowl by a head, and beat Holywell by almost 3 lengths off level weights. He had a couple of races in France in the summer, picking up a Group 2 and finishing fifth in a Group 1. If he’s fit, he should also go well getting 10lbs from Many Clouds, Menorah and Sam Winner, and 6lbs from Holywell.
Once upon a time, Cue Card was touted for big things, but it never really materialised on the biggest stage of all. He seems to have lost his way a bit, and although he’s getting weight from most of the field, he looks hard to win with. The last two years, he’s also not gone well fresh, so this might just come a bit too early for him.
Dynatse looks the big threat given the allowances and penalties on the field. Going by the Betbright Cup at Cheltenham in January, Dynaste was 3lbs back from Many Clouds off level weights. Now getting 10lbs, surely things she should be reversed. He was 9 lengths ahead of Cue Card in the King George off level weights, so is definitely weighted to win this.
Dynaste (NAP) is the pick here purely because of the weights. If it was off level weights, Many Clouds would definitely appeal. Dynaste has also had a prep run over hurdles, so should be prepped perfect for to be this year’s Charlie Hall winner.
Last race of the day is another handicap chase at Ascot over a distance just shy of 3 miles and looks an open, competitive race.
Houlblon Des Obeaux sets the standard with a respectable run in the Gold Cup in March. Yes, he was right down the field, but he did give Coneygree more of a race the time prior to that. However, that’s why he’s top weight and he’ll find it hard to beat this field giving away so much weight. On the subject of Coneygree, second weight Virak was 2nd but by 40+ lengths to the Gold Cup winner at Kepmpton in the novice chase on the King George card. On that line, Virak will find it tough to win here.
However, preference falls a bit further down the handicap with Pendra looking to be well weighted, and should confirm placing with Ned Stark from the Ultimate Handicap Chase at this year’s Cheltenham Festival, in which he finished a decent fifth behind The Druid’s Nephew. It’s an open race, sure, but this lightly raced horse looks the part to claim the win here.