The Channel 4 racing coverage this Saturday comes from Ascot and Haydock. It promises to be full of interesting and informative races and acts as the perfect appetiser to the main course on Boxing Day at Kempton. Here are my tips for each race.
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The Long Walk hurdle at Ascot is the next steppingstone for candidates aiming for the World hurdle at the Cheltenham in March. The field is headed by AT FISHERS CROSS (4/7 Coral) who was mightily impressive as a novice last year but came unstuck with his jumping at Newbury a few weeks ago. He is out to prove his doubters wrong and if jumping better in this race is likely to do exactly that. He travelled well at Newbury despite the jumping errors and looked a danger to eventual winner, Celestial Halo when blundering badly two flights from home. Likely to prove better for that run he is taken to win this on his way to better things. With Big Bucks impressing in a racecourse gallop at Exeter during the week he will need a solid performance here to prove that he is a World Hurdle contender. The third in that Newbury race, Reve de Sivola (7/2 Ladbrokes) re-opposes here and trainer Nick Williams will have welcomed the rain and will undoubtedly be wishing for more. The heavier the ground the better for this horse and he looks the biggest threat to the favourite. An interesting contender is the Paul Nicholls trained Salubrious (9/1 BetVictor) who has looked a much improved young handicapper so far this season. This is another step up in class which may be a shade beyond him at this point, but in time he could well make his presence felt this level.
The coverage kicks off with a handicap chase at 1.50 where GREY GOLD (6/1 Stan James) is taken to continue his improvement from last year. His festival win at Punchestown was impressive despite the small field, looking to be giving Aupcharlie a real battle off level weights when that rival departed at the last. The Mullins horse is rated 10lbs higher than the mark Grey Gold runs off here and having failed to get home over an extra half mile on his seasonal reappearance he can stamp his authority on this field from a lenient looking mark. The biggest danger may be the Charlie Longsden trained Pendra (9/4 BetVictor) who is unbeaten over fences, winning a pair of weak novice events with minimum fuss. The lightly raced 5 year old was sent off favourite for the Coral Cup last season having run a corker behind Melodic Rendezvous in the Tolworth hurdle at Sandown, an effort which would suggest a mark of 139 should be well within his reach. Elenika (10/1 Coral) was well fancied at Newbury on his latest start and although a little disappointing in the race itself, from 2lbs lower here he may have an each way shout. Lancetto (10/1 Stan James) rarely runs a bad race but doesn't win all that often while The Cockney Mackem (16/1 BetVictor) has been mixing with some top novices of late and is well worth monitoring in the betting now back in handicap company.
The 3 mile chase at 3.00 looks an intriguing renewal of what was always a top class contest and is headed by Triolo D'Alene (3/1 BetVictor). He was impressive in winning the Hennessy having, like so many from the yard, looked in need of his seasonal reappearance behind HOUBLON DES OBEAUX (10/3 Betfred) over course and distance. The latter is 13lbs better off for his Hennessy beating and may find the slower ground much more in his favour than his Newbury conqueror. Storm Survivor (13/2 BetVictor) had looked progressive before becoming a first fence casualty at Aintree last time. He has been victorious on soft ground and if his confidence remains intact he can take a hand in the finish. Cedre Bleu (5/1 Coral) is inconsistent but more than capable on a going day. Versatile as regards ground and trip his win off 2lbs lower at Haydock at the end of March would give him a chance here if he is in the mood.
The final Ascot offering is the ultra competitive Ladbroke Hurdle where Nicky Henderson has a very strong hand with Rolling Star (8/1 bet365) and Chatterbox (9/1 BetVictor). The former had looked smart before being disappointing at both the Cheltenham and Aintree festivals. Despite winning nicely on his reappearance this is going to be a very different test and he is going to have to be very smart to defy a mark of 150. This time last year Chatterbox beat My Tent Or Yours which would suggest a mark of 143 is lenient and a first handicap effort last time certainly gives him something to build on. Ifandbutwhynot nicked the race from the front in that Newbury contest and Henderson's charge is likely to come on for the run but Barry Geraghty has opted for Rolling Star. There are any number in here with chances and a good form guide may well be the Greatwood Hurdle run at Cheltenham where Dell Arca (9/1 Ladbrokes) beat Flaxen Flare (16/1 Coral) and PINE CREEK (20/1 bet365) who re-oppose each other here. The David Pipe trained winner of that race was massively impressive with the way he travelled throughout the contest and when hitting the front, was idling and just doing enough. An 8lb rise in the weights may not be enough to stop him but combine that with another competitive field, he does need to improve further. Pine Creek had earlier won over course and distance and travelled really nicely at Cheltenham before flattening out up the hill. The return to a more conventional track is in his favour while the quicker ground at Cheltenham is a possible excuse and the race may have come a bit quick. After a five week break and on a softer surface he is taken to do this column another favour at a big price and turn the form round with the pair that beat him at Cheltenham. Top weight Ptit Zig (20/1 bet365) won a Grade 1 in France last time the form of which has been franked since. This looks a much tougher proposition giving weight away all round. Chris Pea Green (12/1 Ladbrokes) has form with a couple of these already this season and looks likely to run his race again without quite being good enough to win. The final one to mention is the Irish raider City Slicker (10/1 Coral) representing Willie Mullins. He would not be here just for a day out and although his improved form has been on quicker ground he has won on heavy before and shouldn't be too inconvenienced.
At Haydock the major race of the day is the Tommy Whittle Chase which looks weak for the money with the top weight running off 133 in a 0-145 contest. The Venetia Williams trained Emperor's Choice (11/2 Ladbrokes) is a dour stayer who appreciates lots of cut in the ground. He looked burly on his seasonal reappearance at Fontwell and should strip fitter for the run. He is on a winnable mark and with his liking to force the pace the race should turn into a solid test. Loch Ba (9/1 Stan James) was well fancied in the Hennessy but was below his best, this is easier and is considered along with Solix (18/1 BetVictor) who showed his best form for a long time at Newbury last time, another 2lbs lower here, if in a similar frame of mind he can run into a place. Saffron De Cotte (7/1 Betfred) has already shown a liking for Haydock as well as soft ground and should go well but on a line through Tutchec he has a bit to find with WICKOW LAD (10/1 BetVictor). Runners from the Alexander yard are rarely cherry ripe first time up and Wicklow Lad was no exception but he showed much improved form last time out over an inadequate trip. He looks well enough handicapped here and could be a spot of value at a decent price.
A 2m 4f hurdle is the final Channel 4 race to preview and looks a relatively uncompetitive affair. The Keith Reveley trained SPECIAL CATCH (6/4 BetVictor) should be hard to beat having finished a very credible third to More Of That over course and distance last time. Given that horses’ exploits at Cheltenham last weekend that piece of form looks solid and he is sure to be well fancied to take this contest. She Ranks Me (3/1 Coral) is at her best with plenty of cut in the ground, probably finding the surface too lively on her seasonal reappearance at Taunton. She ran as well as could have been expected at the Cheltenham Festival when behind Quevega, this is certainly far easier and is the biggest danger to the selection. Morning Royalty (11/2 Stan James) ran well despite finishing last of five behind Rolling Star on his most recent start. Respected on that effort, the big concern is when he has stepped up from the minimum trip in the past he has been disappointing.
Channel 4 tips
1.50 Ascot – GREY GOLD (6/1 Stan James)
2.05 Haydock – WICKOW LAD (10/1 BetVictor)
2.25 Ascot – AT FISHERS CROSS (4/7 Coral)
2.40 Haydock – SPECIAL CATCH (6/4 BetVictor)
3.00 Ascot – HOUBLON DES OBEAUX (10/3 Betfred)
3.35 Ascot – PINE CREEK (20/1 bet365)
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