If one good thing has come from the equine flu outbreak, and we’re not aiming to belittle its effects on the industry, it is that we now have an absolute bumper Saturday as the UK racing industry plays catch-up.
There is a nine-race card as Ascot alongside some fine racing at Haydock and Wincanton, backed up on the flat by Lingfield and Kempton where we have found a couple of good value evening punts.
Saturday sees a belated Betfair Hurdle and a quality Grand National Trial at Haydock too, but we have no less than six gambles to sink our teeth into, starting with a fine novice prospect down at Ascot:
1.35 Ascot (Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase – Grade 2) – TOP VILLE BEN
Mister Malarky has been the one for money in this field during the week by all accounts, but while his Newbury handicap win was no doubt impressive he doesn’t quite match up to Top Ville Ben at level weights for me.
Philip Kirby’s representative has only had the two chase starts so far, roaring away at Wetherby last time to score by 46 lengths and there is undoubtedly a lot more to come from him against better opposition.
In winning at the Yorkshire venue and more so at Hexham, his form may have been slightly undervalued by most watchers and in fact he should probably be going off as a very solid favourite rather than going into the weekend as a joint-favourite at best. Yalltari of Venetia Williams may even prove to be the main danger ahead of the aforementioned Mister Malarky.
2.10 Ascot (Swinley Chase – Listed Handicap) – REIKERS ISLAND
While the likes of Black Corton and especially 2015 Gold Cup winner Coneygree on their day could of course annihilate this field, they both have limitations for varying reasons and so may be best swerved this time, though I can’t deny it would be great to see the latter return to proper form.
Despite Coneygree’s excellent third on his reappearance though, his overall profile is still that of a horse going backwards which could pave the way clear for the ‘here and now’ horses, namely Art Mauresque who is overpriced for this rice and much more prevalently this Reikers Island who is the fairly confident selection.
Philip Hobbs’ 6yo will be having just his fourth chase start and should be way further ahead now than he is, something which can prove to have benefitted his handicap mark I hope.
I say that as, having won easily at Wincanton, he didn’t really go forward when favourite at Newbury having jumped right and almost unseated his rider at one point but with a clearer round this time we should find that he’s moved on and up now making his mark of 140 look a little lenient. Champ Richard Johnson takes the ride and will no doubt give him a confident steer.
2.20 Wincanton (Betway Mares’ Chase – Listed Race) – ATLANTA ABLAZE
Several of these have been on the go for some time, so while Atlanta Ablaze unseated last time and will be having her 10th run in under 10 months, she for me sets a standard in this that I believe the others can’t reach as long as she puts her best foot forward.
Henry Daly’s mare has done little but improve so assuming no ill-effects from her blunder at Doncaster she can take this ahead of the likes of Molly Childers and Marienstar and hopefully at a nice price.
4.10 Haydock (Prestige Novices’ Hurdle – Grade 2) – GEORDIE B
At the time of writing there is no firm position from the bookmakers on what sort of price this Geordie B should be, though forecasts look pretty generous so here’s hoping for something very juicy to get stuck into.
True, in a race of this nature we are left comparing horses based on potential more than proven ability, but at these weights I see no greater potential among this bunch than with the Venetia Williams and Aidan Coleman runner after his comfortable Lingfield success 43 days ago.
The point about this horse is just how much he’s improved race by race so with another large step forward expected this weekend, he could prove to be a good few pounds better than a clutch of other horses including Ask Ben, Kateson and Stoney Mountain.
7.15 Kempton (Class 2 Conditions Stakes) – GREY BRITAIN
Let’s hope Grey Britain is less a post-Brexit forecast and more a symbol of a very successful betting day for us, and John Ryan’s runner certainly has the credentials to add to the coffers for us during the evening meeting.
On the numbers he didn’t really go forward last time out having previously been very progressive, but in coming from behind in a slowish 4-runner race he did well to score on a surface quick enough for him at Lingfield and so returned to this sort of track we’ll see an even better run now.
Redicean, a previous favourite of ours who remains of interest, and the tough Mark Johnston runner Watersmeet are likely to be the main dangers but the latter’s inclusion may just mean a very strong pace setting things up for our boy.
7.45 Kempton (Class 2 Handicap) – CASPAR THE CUB
Alan King’s 4yo’s form at Kempton from the autumn reads 31111 and while that alone is not a reason to back him, he carried on doing well when switched to Lingfield in running second and third in December and January and it’s possible that track didn’t fully suit him.
With that in mind, many may wrongly feel as though the handicapper has simply caught up with him now, but he’s ready to return and, while of course he has gone up the weights, we should see his progress resumed now switched back to this track and as such he should have too much for the likes of Lexington Law and Count Calabash.