Plenty of top class racing on offer today with the Channel 4 coverage coming from both Ascot and Haydock. There is a good mix of top quality Graded races, competative handicaps, and Cheltenham Festival trials. Here is a tip for every race shown live!
The highlight of the action comes from Berkshire with the Grade 1 Clarence House Chase which sees Champion Chase second favourite, SIRE DE GRUGY (11/8 Betfred), put his credentials in the line once again. Gary Moore's progressive eight year old has won five of his last six over fences and the Tingle Creek victor is the justifiable favourite in this field. Despite a preference for slightly better ground, he has form on heavy ground and that looks to be the only slight concern about his chances today. Somersby (7/2 BetVictor) chased him home at Sandown and as a former winner of this race he should be capable of getting in the shake up once again. He is another who probably would prefer a slightly sounder surface but should confirm placings with Oiseau De Nuit (25/1 bet365) and Kauto Stone (20/1 BetVictor) who were comfortably seen off last time out. Hidden Cyclone (4/1 Coral) is a very interesting Irish raider. Having run well over slightly further he arguably produced a career best performance last time out at Leopardstown. The drop back down to 2m1f may be the key to this horse as he has won four of six career starts over the minimum trip. The only three horses to lower his colours over 2m are First Lieutenant, Zaidpour and Benefficient, no disgrace in being beaten by any of them. He acts well on very soft ground and may well prove to be the biggest threat to the favourite. Days Hotel (12/1 Stan James) is another interesting Irish raider who would have been the each way choice in the race if we had been granted another runner. He was below par last time but on his first outing this season he bustled up Flemenstar at Navan and if he reproduces that form he is more than capable of outrunning his price.
Coverage begins with a mares hurdle over three miles at 1.50, given the stiff track and heavy ground this is likely to turn into a war of attrition which will suit the favourite, MICKIE (13/8 Stan James), perfectly. She showed a great attitude winning at Kempton last time, pulling out more and more when she was challenged. She looks the type that will keep galloping and has improved every time her stamina has been tested. Prima Porta (7/1 BetVictor) looks closely matched with the selection on Ludlow form from last February. Evan Williams' mare came out on top on that occasion and has run a pair of good races this season but she had a hard race last weekend and has her stamina to prove. Highland Retreat (5/1 Coral) has looked progressive this season in her two wins but she was further back in that Ludlow race and may struggle to give away the 5lb penalty she carries here for a Listed win at Kempton in November. Carole's Spirit (7/2 BetVictor) is another with a penalty for a listed win. She is a perfect 3/3 over hurdles with a win on heavy at Plumpton to her credit and may prove a spot of value for her second season trainer. She has stamina as a slight question mark on her first attempt at the trip but she wasn't stopping in her wins over two and a half and should stay. Nicky Henderson has an interesting contender in Utopie Des Bordes (13/2 Ladbrokes). She lacks consistency but, on a going day, she is more than capable of taking this. She was well behind Mickie last time out but on previous form in competitive handicaps at Haydock and Sandown she should go close.
The Grade 2 handicap hurdle next up looks to be wide open. Minella Forfitness (8/1 Coral) has a bit to prove on this ground but he improved with every race last season. He looks more than capable of defying this mark at some point this season. The Skyfarmer (9/2 Betfred) has form on soft ground in NHF races and is unbeaten over hurdles. He was massively impressive on his most recent start at Cheltenham when coming miles clear of the third with runner up Lyvius. He stayed on strongly to the line on that occasion to suggest this slightly longer trip won't be any problem but is faced with a massive 17lb hike in the weights. Positively though, the form has been franked with the runner-up winning off a 5lb revised higher mark at Kempton. THOMAS CRAPPER (9/1 bet365) failed to get home over further at Cheltenham last time and should be suited back over this trip. This demands more but he has won on heavy ground in the past and the form of his Cheltenham win in November is working out particularly well with the 3rd, 4th and 5th all having won since and he looks overpriced.
The final Ascot offering at 3.00 is another competitive handicap, this time over fences. This trip on heavy ground brought out something nearing a career best from Renard (5/1 Stan James) last time at Chepstow. He has another 9lbs to contend with and that might just be enough to stop him. What A Warrior (8/1 Betfred) looks tough to win with, but on the form he showed at Chepstow in October when behind Al Co and at Ascot when behind Houblon Des Obeaux, he would certainly have an each way chance. Theatrical Star (11/2 BetVictor) came right back to form in a modest race at Taunton last time. He also ran a very solid race behind Sire De Grugy in October and with plenty of cut in the ground and confidence buoyed has a shout. GRANDIOSO (7/1 Ladbrokes) gets the nod at a solid each way price to prove his latest start all wrong. He was pulled up very sharply on that occasion but just five weeks down the line it can't have been anything serious or he wouldn't be running. He ran really well at Newbury on his return in a hot race behind Cantlow with the return to softer ground likely to be in his favour. Harry Derham is great value for his five pound claim and his young mount still has plenty of time to improve.
The Haydock coverage begins with the Rossington Main Novices’ Hurdle at 2.05, a trial for the Supreme Novices. Stand To Reason (9/2 bet365) was a solid sort on the flat but has taken things to a new level now sent hurdling. He won comfortably at Wincanton first time up before taking advantage of the fall of his nearest rival at Newbury last time. This is another step up in class for him but he showed he can handle heavy ground at Newbury which will stand him in good stead here. UN TEMPS POUR TOUT (11/10 Coral) is the one to beat on the form shown so far. This is his first outing in the UK having recently arrived to boost David Pipe's battalions at Pond House. He goes on deep ground and a repeat of his most recent effort in a Grade 1 behind Ptit Zig would be more than enough to win this. I had an each way fancy for Zamdy Man (9/2 Betfred) at the five day stage for the Tolworth at Kempton but Venetia Williams has opted to come here instead. A winner over course and distance recently in a Listed contest he is showing improved form this season and he may make his second season hurdling experience count. Alistair Whillans pitches the unbeaten Meadowcroft Boy (5/1 BetVictor) in the deep end here having scooted up on his hurdling debut at Carlisle. The bare form of that victory is weak but he dismissed his rivals with such ease it would be wrong to assume he can't mix it at this higher level.
The aforementioned Ptit Zig (1/1 BetVictor) heads the market for the Champion Hurdle trial. His win in a French Grade 1 was topped last time with a monster weight carrying performance behind Willow's Saviour at Ascot. He looks to be capable of finding more improvement given his tender years and despite giving weight away all round is still very much the one to beat. MELODIC RENDEZVOUS (9/4 Stan James) was well below par in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle. A subsequent break should have freshened him up nicely and at the prices is worth taking the favourite on with. Many people believed fancied him to beat My Tent Or Yours at Newcastle and with this return to heavy ground much more in his favour he is taken to get his season back on track. Jumps Road (25/1 Coral) surprised a lot of people at Cheltenham last time when still on the bridle turning for home against The New One and Zarkandar. The ground looks to have gone against him here and he would have a little to find to trouble the principals at any rate. The fight for third is best left between Act Of Kalanisi (9/1 Coral) and Ifandbutwhynot (14/1 Stan James). The former has been a revelation given really testing ground in handicaps of late, and the latter has shown similar progression in slightly better contested races. There ought not to be much between these two runners but third spot looks to be the best either can hope for baring mishaps.
The Peter Marsh chase was always one of my favourite contests as a kid. In recent years it has lacked a star performer but the competitive nature of race remains. Night Alliance (7/1 Coral) and Sydney Paget (7/1 Stan James) are both impressive course winners this season and merit consideration as such. Dr Newland has a habit of improving horses out of all recognition with Night Alliance looking this season’s project. He beat Loch Ba here last time, form that was franked when that one was 4th in the big Warwick chase last weekend. He has more to do here with a big rise in the weights but it's certainly possible. Sydney Paget was hugely impressive in his Haydock win before being massively disappointing at Wetherby. If back to his best then he can have a say in the finish. Merry King (5/1 Betfred) and Vintage Star (7/1 BetVictor) finished close up in the Welsh National last time having run well in the Hennessy and Rehearsal Chases respectively. Hard races will begin to catch up with them eventually and I'm unsure that the headgear is in Merry King's favour considering the way he ran in cheekpieces at Cheltenham in March. The National fences sparked Chance Du Roy (10/1 Stan James) back to life last time but he has more to do back in a conventional race now. The Minack (11/1 Coral) needs a market check, absent for 700 days he is just 2lbs above his latest winning mark. He is ten now but I can't imagine that top connections would be persevering with him if they didn't believe he was still capable. It may have been a weak race that Wychwoods Brook (16/1 bet365) won at Lingfield but he did it with such authority he deserves a place in this lineup. He travelled beautifully that day and the rise in the weights is partially offset by the claim of the very capable Conor King. The vote however, goes to KATENKO (4/1 Betfred) who can continue the great form of his stable now returned to more suitable ground. The race was yet to start in earnest when he fell in the Hennessy and he ran better than the bare result suggests at Aintree last time. He is well worth another chance to resume the rapid progression he showed last season.
Channel 4 tips –
1.50 Ascot – MICKIE (WIN) (13/8 Stan James)
2.05 Haydock – UN TEMPS POUR TOUT (WIN) (11/10 Coral)
2.25 Ascot – THOMAS CRAPPER (WIN) (9/1 bet365)
2.40 Haydock – MELODIC RENDEZVOUS (WIN) (9/4 Stan James)
3.00 Ascot – GRANDIOSO (WIN) (7/1 Ladbrokes)
3.15 Haydock – KATENKO (WIN) (4/1 Betfred)
3.35 Ascot – SIRE DE GRUGY (WIN) (11/8 Betfred)
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