It’s destination Haydock Park on Saturday, with a new/old 9am Morning Line followed by one of the best afternoon’s of the winter calendar, featuring quality sport from both Ascot and the Merseyside track.
On the day Sivliniaco Conti attempts to win his third Betfair Chase and Vautour reappears in Ascot’s Stella Artois 1965 Chase (one of the few race tie-ups in which you’d gladly consume copious amounts of the sponsor’s product), there’s also a bevvy of competitive handicaps to get fired into…
Haydock were reporting 33 mm of rain prior to racing on Friday, after which it lashed down during the afternoon – not a day to be sporting a brand new Barry Venison-style hairdo, leaving the ground a stamina-sapping mixture of Soft and Heavy.
It’s marginally better at Ascot, with the bulletin Soft (Good to Soft in places) at the time of writing, but it goes without saying the ability to handle the conditions will be key.
Hopefully it’ll open the door for a few inviting looking opportunities, kicking off at Ascot with the extended 2m 5f Trisoft Mares’ Handicap Hurdle, run at 1.30pm.
Smart Talk could be the one here, boasting form figures of 2, 2, 1, 1 since joining Brian Ellison, who has booked the ever-positive Sam Twiston-Davies.
She won an Irish Point-to-Point on ground classed as Soft to Heavy, and has also won her last two under rules, going in at Worcester and Sedgefield, proving her fitness at the latter just 11 days ago.
A mark of 127 looks perfectly fair for her handicap debut.
Switching north to Haydock, surely the betting race of the day is the two and three quarter mile Betfair “Fixed Brush” Handicap Hurdle (2.25pm), an £80,000 contest which has attracted an each way friendly field of 16.
This could be a thriller, featuring top weight Closing Ceremony (who is yet to be beaten in three visits to Haydock), Albert Bartlett sixth Shantou Bob, Whitbread second Vics Canvas, plus Baradari as he makes his first start for Dan Skelton.
The one to give them all a bloody nose however could be Yala Enki, a lightly weighted Soft ground lover from the red-hot Venetia Williams team.
He’s fit from an emphatic win at Exeter earlier this month, and has seen the form of his March head second to Doctor Phoenix boosted, with that rival set to be rated well into the 140’s after going in at Haydock on Friday.
Yala Enki could be really well handicapped, and Williams had a ‘cross the card’ double on Friday.
We’ll zip back to Ascot for the 2m 1f Shawbrook Handicap Chase at 3.15pm, in which Venetia has the favourite in recent course and distance scorer Cold March.
This’ll be tough for him trying to concede weight to some good horses, not least Henry Oliver’s Dresden.
He proved his well-being with a 19 length romp at Aintree 14 days ago, relishing the return to Soft ground.
What’s more, going into Friday’s racing jockey turned trainer Oliver had struck with three of his previous four runners.
Finally, it’s back to Haydock for their lucky last, the three mile 0-145 Betfair Handicap Chase, scheduled to kick-off at 3.35pm..
A prime contender under a light weight is Venetia’s mud-lover Royal Palladium, who comes here in sparkling form after a 20/1 second in Wincanton’s Badger Ales Chase two weeks previously.
He won three in three weeks this time last year, and can take advantage with conditions right up his street.
Saturday’s best bets:
1.30 Ascot – Trisoft Mares’ Handicap Hurdle – 4 Smart Talk (win)
2.25 Haydock – Betfair “Fixed Brush” Handicap Hurdle – 14 Yala Enki (each way)
3.15 Ascot – Shawbrook Handicap Chase – 4 Dresden (each way)
3.35 Haydock – Betfair Handicap Chase – 9 Royal Palladium (win)