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The big story during the week, at least for me, is that Apple’s Jade put the disappointment of Newcastle’s Fighting Fifth Hurdle behind her and ended Vroum Vroum Mag’s unbeaten run, claiming victory in the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle. Now, that’s shaken up the ante-post betting for Cheltenham, of course, but it yet again points to how weird last season’s Triumph Hurdle is. I mean, Apple’s Jade has disappointed for the most part this season, but then has come out and done that to a star in Vroum Vroum Mag. We’ve seen Sceau Royal, who finished 12th, scoot up, but Leoncavallo, the 5th-placed finished, was awful last week. Zubayr, 13th and near the head of the market for the race, has been poor this season. Footpad, the 3rd-placed horse, has been back in France, finishing second in a Group 1. But most importantly, the winner of the Triumph Hurdle, Ivanovich Gorbatov, finished 4th behind Apple’s Jade and Vroum Vroum Mag, by around 8 lengths. Sure, it’s still early in the season, but I dno’t think too much can be read into last season’s Triumph Hurdle.
Saturday’s racing on Channel 4 comes from Cheltenham and Doncaster. We have the second day of Cheltenham’s traditional pre-Christmas meeting, with the International Hurdle being the highlight of the day’s racing. Of course, the card from Cheltenham is stacked from top to bottom anyway, and Doncaster’s racing looks pretty tasty, too. Also, over in Ireland, we’ve got Douvan racing at Cork on Sunday, while Djakadam will also be out on Sunday, but at Punchestown. Ruby Walsh has decided to take the ride on Djakadam, so make of that what you will!
Now, I can’t let you forget that at our friends over at Bet365, you will get best price on all Channel Four races, if you back a winner at 4/1 or better, you get a risk free bet for the same stake. But what’s even better is that Bet365 do Best Odds Guaranteed Plus, so not only do you get the best odds, but they will boost that even further. Take a price of 3/1 and the horse wins at 4/1? Bet365 will pay you 9/2!
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The first race of the day on Channel 4 Racing is a 16-runner handicap chase over 2m 4f and it’s a bit of a stinker to try and work out, that’s for sure. Aso was going well over these obstacles last month, and was in with a chance. However, Aso’s jumping wasn’t the best, and it’s a bit of an ask for Aso to correct everything in a race that’s going to be run at a fair clip on ground that might be firmer than ideal. Village Vic, 9th in last season’s RyanAir Chase is the top weight and last year’s winner. However, he’s gone up 28lbs since then and I think it’s a bit of an ask, even though he does go exceptionally well around here. I liked Kylemore Lough last time out, but couldn’t find enough towards the end of the race to get in front at Ascot. He should go well here, but he’s gone up 6lbs since that last race, and I think the weight just stopped him last time, so going up further in the handicap won’t help.
The selection here is King’s Odyssey, who has had the benefit of a prep run at Haydock last month. King’s Odyssey has a perfect record at Cheltenham, winning a handicap chase over course and distance in January of this year. He looks a progressive sort and is lightly raced, and in Evan Williams, King’s Odyssey has a trained I like a lot, although Paul Moloney taking the ride on Buywise is a slight problem, it’s not one I’m too worried about, as Daryl Jacob will do just fine.
A nice little novice hurdle is next from Cheltenham, with a field of 6 declared, all of which look, at least on paper, to be in with a chance of picking up a nice Group 2 prize over 3m. Wholestone and West Approach seem well matched, with Wholestone beating West Approach by around half a length last time they met over course and distance in October. Now they’re off the same weight, you would think West Approach has the upper-hand now.
However, I’m going to take a chance on Anchor Man, who won well enough on his first run in the country for Paul Nicholls. There’s not much to read into the form, but I like the connections and he might be the sleeper in this race.
The first race of the day from Doncaster is another Group 2 novice chase over 3m. This time we have a field of 4 declared, and again every one of them has claims to be a winner. However, O O Seven is the real pick of the bunch, and after running big races at the Cheltenham Festival and then the Punchestown Festival, has taken to chasing remarkably well, winning a hot novice chase at Cheltenham last time out, a race in which the classy Barters Hill was pulled up.
The feature race of the day, the International Hurdle, and we see a couple of old faces, as well as one or two new ones taking to the top level of hurdling. The New One won this race two years ago, but although only eight years old, his form seems to be waining and at the top level he’s been caught out the past couple of times. My Tent Or Yours had a decent prep run last time out, but won’t have liked he testing ground, and should have come on for the run. If he can recreate his run in the 2016 Champion Hurdle, he’s going to be hard to be.
This Grade 2 juvenile hurdle is almost like desert to the main course of the International Hurdle. We might just be seeing some of the stars of the future here. However, this is all about Cliffs of Dover and just how far he can win, if I’m being honest. He’s already smashed Tasty Ginger out of the park and should do the same here. He has 6lbs on the ratings over Lord Justice, who had the better of Zig Zag when they met, and I can’t see an upset here for Paul Nicholls and Harry Cobden.
The last race of the day is a mares’ handicap hurdle over 2m 4f and we have 15-runners declared, although that will come down before the off. Debdebdeb looks like the selections for me for the Skelton team. She was poor last time out in her seasonal reappearance, but that was a classy race won by the very smart Ballyoptic. She had a big run at Cheltenham in April over course and distance, losing to Briery Belle, who has gone on to be a nice recruit to the novice chaser ranks, recently winning a Listed chase at Warwick. Midnight Tour looks the obvious threat from the Alan King yard, with the booking of Champion Jockey Richard Johnson a huge positive.