Saturday, 29 December 2018

Saturday 29th December: Sharjah To Demonstrate Gulf In Class

Some interesting handicaps and a fine mares-only Listed Race (featured below) mean another excellent Saturday of racing action this week though they are served up only as an amuse-bouche before two fantastic Grade 1 races on either side of the Irish Sea.

Despite being important races in their own right, the Ryanair Hurdle and the Challow Novices’ Hurdle are eagerly awaited in order for them to provide Cheltenham Festival clues and there should be plenty of them having taken a look at the final field for both races.

At Leopardstown in particular we may well have found a way to get the short-priced favourite beaten and thus provide ourselves with some decent profit, but for now we get started at Newbury and a small but decent handicap chase:

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1.15 Newbury (Betway Chase – Class 3 Handicap) – SWIFT CRUSADOR

Plenty of money will be going the way of Cruiseaweigh before this contest after his performances at Aintree and Southwell last season appear at a glance to have made him pretty well-handicapped.

Those runs were a while ago now though and for me he could be vulnerable to this Swift Crusador following a nice win at Sandown last time out.  That reappearance win was comfortably 7lbs or more better than anything he’d achieved over fences before and the signs are that he is improving all the time, certainly at a rate higher than so far demonstrated by the likely favourite.

2.05 Doncaster (Silver Vase Mares’ Chase – Listed Race) – LADY BUTTONS

Although it’s a shame the price has been collapsing rather in the run-up to this weekend, this Lady Buttons does look a sound bet to continue her winning form and make it three from three this season.

Although her first two wins of the season were over the minimum trip, she has shown real versatility in terms of ground and is a winner over two-and-a-half miles over hurdles in the past.  She can take another step forward in this race and that should put her just about ahead of Atlanta Ablaze who’s been busy this season already but is a solid enough prospect.

As well as Atlanta Ablaze there could be challenges from Rene’s Girl and Drinks Interval who look like being next best on the list, though neither is a particularly tempting each-way price at the time of writing and so we should stick with a win bet on our mare.

2.30 Leopardstown (Ryanair Hurdle – Grade 1) – SHARJAH

A fantastic Grade 1 race and one that has appeared to revolve this week around Melon and Fighting Fifth runner-up Samcro.

The first mentioned appears to be the Willie Mullins yard’s first string and as a Cheltenham Festival runner-up not once, but twice we can accept Ruby Walsh picking him over the selection.  He ran Buveur D’Air close in the Champion Hurdle back in March but perhaps really needs that sort of test making this potentially a little sharp for him on the day.

Samcro is another who it was thought would step up in trip having been thrashed by the champion hurdler at Newcastle and while it may pay to keep him at this trip for the rest of the season, whether he is truly one of the best around at the distance is far from certain.

It may prove fruitful then to take a chance then on the good value Sharjah.  Willie Mullins’ other horse has been busy over the summer running in Flat races and so will not be many people’s idea of a potential Champion Hurdle winner, though we couldn’t fault his fitness.

That may yet prove true but what is not in doubt is how good he looked in slamming Faugheen by a very easy 7½ lengths last time out.  There’s definitely more to come from this chap over hurdles and any sort of improvement from the Morgiana Hurdle to this race may see him home in front.

3.00 Newbury (Challow Novices’ Hurdle – Grade 1) – CHAMP

While the selection of this horse isn’t one of the most original we can hand to you, he still rates as one of the most solid bets of the day on any card and in Grade 1 company as well.

There are plenty of up-and-comers in this race including Brewin’Upastorm and Getaway Trump for example but there is little substitute for basic ability and Champ’s is not in dispute at novice level right now.

In taking a course-and-distance handicap hurdle last time out in early December Champ reached a level of 150 according to the handicapper, and whether we agree with that mark or not (though for the record we do), he also has more improvement to be coaxed out of him yet and so at that sort of level he should be beating this field with something to spare.

Having had only 6 rules races in his life we have no real idea just how good this horse is as yet and from a betting point of view that’s definitely a good thing, while there appear to be no excuses or worries on the book in terms of trip or ground so the pressure is certainly on.

Barry Geraghty can get Nicky Henderson’s runner into a good position in the race before striking a couple from home and a move like that should be decisive enough to take care of the potential live chance Alsa Mix.  Alan King’s mare has done nothing but improve in her short career though she would need to take another big step forward to win this and be able to do so on ground perhaps a little quicker than her ideal surface.

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