Most of the country is more than happy to see the end of 2020, although 2021 begins with more lockdowns and more empty racecourses.
That said, what has never changed is the ability we have to look for value betting opportunities and we have five of them over Friday and Saturday with which to kick off the new year.
Friday 1st January 2021
1.40 Exeter (Mares’ Handicap Hurdle) – LILY THE PINK
The one for money here may well be Harry Fry’s dual winner Pure Bliss after her comfortable recent course and distance success.
The level of opposition she beat last time can be questioned to some degree though, and whether an opening handicap mark of 125 is fair, so she remains eminently beatable.
The one to take advantage may well be Anthony Honeyball’s Lily The Pink. Experienced having had seven spins over the timber, Lily The Pink was improving nicely before being a well beaten favourite last time. That day the distance was too much for her and the ground too firm, so now should her improvement continue then her mark of 110 looks like underestimating her significantly.
1.55 Musselburgh (Hogmaneigh Handicap Hurdle) – PROSCHEMA
Proschema is not the only one to be sent on a long trip to get to Musselburgh for this race, but for me he is the most likely to reward his connections.
Also coming from the south is Paul Nicholls with his Miranda, and while she won nicely last time she may find it harder to get home here and she has been raised 7lbs for winning a mares-only race narrowly.
Dan Skelton’s Proschema however, once even thought of as an outside hope for the Derby when with Tom Dascombe on the flat, has shown glimpses of real talent over hurdles and should get the chance to prove it now.
An easy winner at Wetherby a year ago, the gelding would be well handicapped if getting back to that form let alone improving on it which is now expected of him, while his latest run can be forgotten after he encountered problems.
2.50 Exeter (Handicap Chase) – MUCKAMORE
We’re taking a slight chance here with Nigel Twiston-Davies’ runner in this three-mile event, but the first betting show makes him look terrific value and so he’s worth a small punt.
Improving very nicely and appearing to like a trip over hurdles, Muckamore ended last season with a very easy win on soft ground and was to be sent chasing this season.
Going over the bigger obstacles in November, he was sent off favourite for his debut over fences but was well beaten at Market Rasen in the end. Looking closer at that run, it becomes apparent that neither the trip or ground were in his favour and the yard was not doing so well at the time either.
With seven months or so having gone by and this horse having strengthened up more, the soft ground, the trip and the return to hurdles it all makes Muckamore’s rating of 123 seem lenient enough and at a nice price he can be backed to small stakes.
Saturday 2nd January 2021
12.35 Lingfield (Maiden Stakes) – ABRAG
This is a run of the mill one-mile maiden for £3,000 on Lingfield’s all-weather track, but at closer look there appears to be a standout candidate at the likely prices.
Having made a good debut at Kempton when second, Simon Dow’s Wake Up Harry should keep the market honest and has a chance, while William Haggas’ debutant Pop Favourite is also bound to prove popular.
The one to note however is Andrew Balding’s Abrag and it would be extremely interesting to see significant money coming for the three-year-old Acclamation overnight.
Sent off at 16/1 for his debut at Kempton, little was expected of Abrag. Just as many suspected, he showed inexperience and made a very slow start to that seven-furlong event before recovering nicely and running on very well for a never-nearer fourth.
He will be a completely different proposition this weekend, he gets an extra furlong to race over and really could reach a whole new level. How good Abrag will prove to be in the long-term remains a mystery, however this race won’t take that much winning and there is every hope that David Probert will be able to coax him into position before the final turn and use his finishing kick to good effect.
3.35 Sandown (Handicap Hurdle) – HIGHWAY ONE O TWO
Highway One O Two is another horse I think will benefit greatly from a return to smaller obstacles this weekend and he is another we can take a chance on.
Chris Gordon’s charge was three from three over hurdles between December and February last season, finishing off with a Grade 2 win in the Dovecote Novices’ Hurdle which earned him a rating of 145.
In truth there is no reason to think he wouldn’t have gone on to be significantly better than that and had he been running over hurdles this season, he may well by now have been a 150-155 horse.
That means he is potentially well handicapped for this race so if we can forget his two chase runs this term, neither of which he completed, he looks the type to simply carry on where he left off in this sphere and at prices of around 6/1 he looks particularly good value in the market too.