Top notch racing isn’t exactly in short supply this weekend, with Santa Anita playing host to the Breeders’ Cup, as closer to home Down Royal stages Northern Ireland’s most significant race day, while on this side of the Irish Sea Ascot and Wetherby jostle for position with high class National Hunt fixtures of their own…
We’ve got eight of the best live on Channel 4, and it’s to Wetherby where we’ll head first of all for a tilt at solving the £100,000 Grade 2 bet365 Charlie Hall Chase (3.15pm).
It’s a race that traditionally heralds the ‘real’ start of the jumping campaign, one that brings out the big names, and earlier in the week bookmakers were keen to try and find a way to get 2012’s impressive winner of this prize Silviniaco Conti turned over, with some pushing him in the betting out as a smattering of money arrived for his likely rivals.
Those rivals haven’t all come to the party though, and you can imagine Paul Nicholls (who also won this prize in 1999 and 2000 with See More Business) was a happy man when he learned Mouse Morris was keeping First Lieutenant at home to run at Down Royal this weekend rather than take on one of his heavyweight stars.
The other reason we’d seen opposition to the 174-rated market leader was the first time out displays from some of the early season Nicholls runners – some had been in need of a outing – but to allay those fears Silviniaco Conti joined some of his stablemates for a pampering and exfoliation session, oulet mall shopping trip and racecourse gallop at Chepstow last Saturday, so a lack of sharpness shouldn’t be a valid reason for defeat.
He’s got a minimum of nine pounds in hand on his six rivals according to official figures, and also boasts a strong record first time out, winning at the first time of asking in 2010 and 2012.
Successful on his only previous visit to this track, this fella has also landed a Betfair Chase, a Denman Chase, last season’s King George and the Betfred Bowl.
He might also have had a huge say in the 2013 Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup had he not crashed out when tanking three from home, but either way he sets a very high standard here.
Of his rivals the betting suggests second season chaser Taquin Du Seuil – winner of the JLT Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in March – could be the one to give him most to think about as he tries this step up to 3m 1f for the first time, but he’ll have to be much more on the ball than when beaten at Newton Abbot on his reappearance.
Perhaps the sporting play will be 10-year-old Wayward Prince, who has belied big prices to be second in this two years on the spin, although perhaps the most likely one for the forecast might be David Bridgwater’s likeable The Giant Bolster.
Around 20 minutes later Ascot’s feature race is a fiercely competitive renewal of the United House Gold Cup, a 15-runner handicap chase worth in excess of £56,000 to the winner.
Who’s going to trouser that not insubstantial sum?
Last year’s runner-up in the corresponding race Merry King looks a danger off a just a one pound higher mark, while Roalco De Farges will have his fans after scoring convincingly at Cheltenham a fortnight ago.
The one for me though is a major potential improver in the shape of the Grand National winning trainer Dr Richard Newland’s Ardkilly Witness.
A dour stayer who loves a bit of rough and tumble, he embarks on his second season over the larger obstacles with wins from 2013/14 over Wincanton’s massive fences and also at Market Raspberry already in the bag.
Rated 135 and getting weight from almost everything in this field, it shouldn’t be forgotten that this horse went off 8/1 co-favourite for the bet365 Gold Cup back in April, quite an accolade for a horse still at the end of his novice season.
As per usual the good Doctor is banging in the winners, operating at an almost gravity defying 43% (6/14) with his chasers for the current campaign.
Furthermore, three of this last six winners have brought home the bacon!
This could well be another major strike for the Newland team – the early prices about Ardkilly Witness are already evaporating – but at the time of writing 8/1 each way with either of bet365 or Betfred still looks fair.
Last of all, if any of you Flat racing diehards are feeling neglected then have a peep at top weight Bancnuanaheireann in the mile handicap at Newmarket (2.00pm).
Rated 93 before you factor in Ryan Tate’s three pound claim, this horse has been running consistently well in defeat, and won the Silver Cambridgeshire off a mark of 90 (which he is effectively back on for the first time since) just over a year ago.
The evidence is more robust when you also factor his fourth in the Cambridgeshire proper in 2012, off a mark of 91.
He appears to love Newmarket and is at long last handicapped to return to winning ways.
Saturday’s best bets: