As long as Cheltenham passes it’s inspection we have some excellent National Hunt racing this afternoon with the ITV cameras showing 5 races from there with a further 3 coming from Doncaster. The ground at the latter will ride on the good side whilst it will race softer at Cheltenham with the official going description calling it soft. Here are my thoughts on the eight races covered by ITV Racing today.
Re-routed from the abandoned fixture at Ascot last Saturday, the Albert Bartlett Clarence House Chase now has six runners as opposed to the three that stood their ground then. It does really looks a match between Willie Mullins’ Energumene and Alan King’s Edwardstone. The latter comes here following a fall at Kempton over Christmas and preference has to be for Energumene who won last years Champion Chase and can take this and put himself spot on for the defence of his title in March. He’s too skinny to back and this really is just a race to watch. Edwardstone can chase him home.
A maximum turnout of seventeen for this 2m 4F 127 yards handicap chase which on paper looks wide open. Richard Hobson’s Fugitif comes here on the back of an impressive victory at Chepstow over Christmas and a 10lb rise in the weights may not be enough to stop him following up here under Gavin Sheehan. Paul Nicholls’ Il Ridoto has finished 4th in two similar handicap here this season and with another one pound drop in the weights should also be thereabouts. Several others can be given chances but I’ll stick with Fugitif each way with the extra places the bookmakers will be offering.
FUGITIF 2 points each way @ 9/2 Betfred 1/5 12345
This 2m 128 yards grade 2 mare’s hurdle looks there for the taking for Nicky Henderson’s consistent nine year old mare Epatante. She’ll be a very short price and the 2020 Champion Hurdle winner will have no Constitution Hill to worry about having chased him home on both her starts this season at Newcastle and Kempton. She’s officially got 12lb and upwards in hand of her rivals and with good ground suiting this slick jumper should be winning all be it at prohibitive odds.
Six runners go to post for the Paddy Power Cotswolds Chase run over 3m 1 1/2F. The form horse is The Skelton’s Protektorat who was very impressive in the Betfair Chase back in October. Given a ten week break he can take this en route to a bold bid to improve on his third place in last year’s Gold Cup. His main danger has to be the Irish trained runner Noble Yeats who has taken his form to a new level this season winning at Aintree in good fashion last time. There’s only officially 3lb between them but my preference is for Protektorat.
PROTEKTORAT 3 points win @ 13/8 bet365
Ten go to post for the grade 2 3M 84 yards River Don Novices’ Hurdle which has been used in the past as a stepping stone to the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. Irish raider Grand Soir is the highest rated and chasing a four timer so John C McConnell’s seven year old should be thereabouts. I like the Paul Nicholls trained Stay Away Fay who looked another good prospect from the Ditcheat stables of Paul Nicholls when winning on his hurdling debut at Newbury in November. His trainer spoke in good terms afterwards about this six year old and the step up to three miles looks certain to suit him. Lorcan Williams comes in for the ride with Harry Cobden riding at Cheltenham.
STAY AWAY FAY 2 points win @ 11/4 bet365
A small but select field of seven go to post for the Cleeve Hurdle run over just short of three miles. Emma Lavelle’s Paisley Park has won the last three renewals and will be very hard to beat under his usual jockey Aidan Coleman. He’s now eleven years of age but is not showing any deterioration in his form having won at Kempton over Christmas. Dashel Drasher mixes hurdling with chasing and maybe his biggest danger with Paul Nicholls’ Gelino Bello reverting to hurdles now following a heavy fall at Kempton over fences at Christmas. This is all about the favourite Paisley Park though and I fully expect him to get the four timer in this race up.
PAISLEY PARK 3 points win @ 11/8 BetVictor
The feature race of the day at the Yorkshire track is the Skybet Chase formerly known as the Great Yorkshire Chase. Twelve have declared for the handicap run over three miles. Top weight and current favourite is Jamie Snowden’s Ga Law who hasn’t been seen since November when winning the Paddy Power Gold Cup. He’s up 8lb and is trying three miles for the first time. With a slight doubt over the trip he’s opposable at his current odds. Last year’s winner Windsor Castle is back to defend his title but comes back here in no form whatsoever having pulled up on four of his five starts since. Third last year was Christian Williams’ Cap Du Nord who went on to win a valuable handicap chase at Kempton the following month and after some modest runs finds himself 2lb lower than that win here. I like the progressive Tea For Free who’s won all four of his chases in handicap company under Lily Pinchin who is in the saddle today and looks sure to give his trainer Charlie Longsdon a big run. He’s gone up 33lb for those four victories but may still have more to offer and with conditions to suit can give Pinchin her biggest win to date.
TEA FOR FREE 2 points each way @ 11/2 Paddy Power 1/5 1234
A dozen staying novice hurdles face the starter for this grade 2 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle run over 2m 4 1/2F. There’s many who can be fancied including Dan Skelton’s Pembroke and Paul Nicholls’ Henri The Second who both come here in fine form but I’ll take a chance with the Henry Daly trained Blenkinsop who comes here chasing a five timer having won four handicaps at around this distance. This will be a step up in grade but on official ratings he’s only now rated 5lb behind the top rated here with more likely improvement to come. Hugh Nugent knows the horse well having won twice on him and takes the ride today.
BLENKINSOP 1 point each way @ 13/2 bet365 1/5th 1234
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All odds correct at time of writing