Our racing expert gives his verdict on Saturday's ITV4-televised races.
Ascot 1:50 3m (2m7f180y) Sodexo Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase (Grade 2) (Class 1) (5yo+)
Black Corton has not looked back since winning on his chase debut at Fontwell in June, adding a further six victories, including a Grade 1 at Kempton over Christmas under today’s rider Bryony Frost, who is 6-7 on him. He’s a deserving favourite and is odds-on in places, although he faces a formidable rival in MS PARFOIS, who is on a roll herself and was particularly impressive when landing the hat-trick at Warwick last month (3m, soft). Jumping well on her first race against male opposition, she took control two out to win with something to spare and the form was given a timely boost when the third Big River, landed a nice race at Kelso in midweek. She looks a thorough stayer with connections considering the Cheltenham four-miler and, in receipt of the mares’ allowance, she might just prove too strong at the finish for the favourite, with Paddy Power’s 5/2 on that happening looking fair.
Haydock 2:05 2m7f (2m6f177y) Betfred Rendlesham Hurdle (Grade 2) (Class 1) (4yo+)
Agrapart is the one to beat here on the back of his Grade 2 Cleeve Hurdle success at Cheltenham (3m, heavy), where he showed a gutsy attitude once hitting the front and confirmed his liking for a proper stamina test in testing conditions. This race might be a more slowly-run tactical affair, however, and given he could only finish third when favourite for last year’s renewal, won by the re-opposing Zarkandar, he is opposable at odds-on. Last year’s winner has not been seen out since pulling up here in November and while Paul Nicholls can be relied upon to produce him fit enough for his defence, he is 11 now and might not be the force of old.
BOITE, on the other hand, is a horse on the up and was showing the benefit of wind surgery when winning as he liked at Taunton last time. Warren Greatrex’s charge has another four furlongs to travel this afternoon and is up in class, but he was a stayer on the Flat – third in the Queen’s Vase at Royal Ascot – and might be capable of further improvement now he can breathe properly. At 9/2 with Betfair, he’s worth a small interest.
Ascot 2:25 3m (2m7f180y) Keltbray Swinley Chase (A Limited Handicap) (Listed Race) (Class 1) (5yo+)
Gold Present is on a hat-trick and the form of his course and distance victory last time was given a serious boost when the runner-up Frodon bolted up by 17 lengths in a competitive handicap at Cheltenham on Trials Day. So even an 8lb rise (and top weight) might not be enough to stop Nicky Henderson’s charge in his tracks, although he’s never won on ground as soft as this and I just wonder whether he will be fully fired up here given he is amongst the leading fancies for the Grand National. That’s enough to dissuade me from putting him up at just 9/4. UPDATE – Gold Present has been declared a non-runner.
Besides, he faces no easy task in the conditions giving stacks of weight to a couple of bang-in-form sorts in Holly Bush Henry, who made Ballydine pull out all the stops last time, and Kim Bailey’s ANOTHER VENTURE. The latter horse is just preferred as he is on a hat-trick after wins at Chepstow and Hereford and, while he made hard work of it last time, he showed real battling qualities and confirmed himself a thorough stayer who is best suited by testing ground. The handicapper has raised him another 7lb since, but he is still very much at the right end of the handicap – will carry just 9st 13lb thanks to Mikey Hamill’s claim – and there should be more to come from him after just five chase starts. With connections reaching for first-time cheek pieces, there is more than enough there to recommend him at Hills’ 4/1.
Wincanton 2:45 1m7½f (1m7f65y) Betway Kingwell Hurdle (Grade 2) (Class 1) (4yo+)
Ch’Tibello hasn’t won since November 2016 but he has run some crackers in defeat, most recently when making The New One work hard at Haydock last month, but he lacks the potential of CALL ME LORD, who is two years his junior and may well improve past him to reward backers at bet365’s 7/4. Nicky Henderson’s five-year-old has won two of his three starts since coming over from France, with his sole defeat coming when the stable runners were needing a run in the autumn, and he showed he can handle the forecast heavy ground proving a notch above his handicap rivals at Sandown last month. Henderson had said pre-race that the gelding has to go right-handed and condenses his spring options somewhat, but he has everything in his favour here and I fancy he can take the step up in class in his stride. Elgin was far from disgraced when sixth in a competitive handicap last time and he looks clear third best.
Ascot 3:00 2m3½f (2m3f58y) Ascot Spring Garden Show Handicap Hurdle (Class 2) (4yo+)
Dieg Man was a £200,000 purchase in the summer and has done nothing wrong in two starts for Neil Mulholland, winning a couple of low-grade novice contests at odds-on. But the handicapper hasn’t taken any chances with him, allotting him an opening mark of 130, and nor have bookmakers as he’s favourite across the board. Ben Pauling’s KILDISART isn’t much bigger, admittedly, but I would much rather back him at Hills’ 7/2 as he has won over course and distance, a maiden hurdle in November, and then bumped into an unpenalised improver on his handicap debut – the pair pulled clear – at a time when the yard’s string weren’t firing on all cylinders. He’s gone up 7lb for that, which is fair, and with the stable back amongst the winners – 6-22 (27%) in the last fortnight – I fancy he can continue his progress and book himself a place at the Cheltenham Festival (he’s entered in the Ballymore and Albert Bartlett).
Haydock 3:15 3m4½f (3m4f97y) Betfred Grand National Trial Handicap Chase (Grade 3) (Class 1) (5yo+)
Blaklion could not have won the Becher Chase any easier and he’s quite rightly amongst the favourites for the big one at Aintree in April. But I’m happy to swerve him in this race as he’s 9lb higher than when finishing second in last year’s renewal and is giving weight away to some equally progressive stayers. Three of his rivals ran in the Welsh National and, of these, Wild West Wind emerged with most credit as he still tanking along when falling at the twelfth. However, I’m always reluctant to back a horse who is coming off a purler like him and that also applies to Three Faces West, who was still travelling well when coming down in the Tommy Whittle here.
THE DUTCHMAN has no such blemishes against his name and, indeed, the eight-year-old is coming off a career-best over fences on just his third start for Colin Tizzard, that coming at this track in last month’s Peter Marsh (3m11/2f, heavy). Jumping well and in a good rhythm on and off the contested lead, he drew right away in the closing stages to win by 13 lengths and it’s no wonder he’s shot up in the ratings as a result. But he still has plenty of scope as a stayer given his profile and this looks the right race for him to attempt the follow-up rather than next weekend’s Eider, which can be a very unforgiving race and had been mentioned as a target. A great chance ride for northern-based Danny Cook and proven in the conditions, he should take plenty of beating and Betfair’s 11/2 seems fair.
Ascot 3:35 2m5f (2m5f8y) Betfair Ascot Chase (Grade 1) (Class 1) (5yo+)
All eyes will be on the legend that is Cue Card on his bid for a third success in this Grade 1, having won it in 2012 and last year by 15 lengths. The sentimental punter in me would love to see him produce a final hurrah, but in truth he’s hard to fancy on his two runs this term and this is a seriously deep renewal besides. The three horses ahead of him in the betting arrive here at the top of their game and one of these, Top Notch, was taking his course record to 3-3 when slamming subsequent King George runner-up Double Shuffle over this distance in November. He’s since won the rescheduled Peterborough Chase at Taunton and this has long been on his agenda, so I’d much rather have him than Coney Island, who has far more on his plate than when winning a graduation chase here in December.
But neither of those horses might win as WAITING PATIENTLY brings his unbeaten chase record (5-5, all under today’s pilot Brian Hughes) and lofty reputation down from the North. The seven-year-old has been brought along by the late Malcolm Jefferson (his daughter Ruth now holds the licence) and set the ball rolling at Sedgefield and Newcastle last winter, before claiming the scalp of Politologue at Haydock just over a year ago. Since then, he’s taken his form to a new level and looked a star in the making when demolishing a decent field at Kempton in January (2m41/2f, good to soft). It’s easy to get carried away with that performance and bookmakers clearly liked what they saw as he’s no bigger than 9/4 – bet365 being one of the firms offering those odds – but my impression is that he’s the real deal and today’s softer ground could help him pull out the little bit extra required to land this prize.
Ascot 1.50, Ms Parfois @ 5/2 Paddy Power
Haydock 2.05, Boite @ 9/2 Betfair
Ascot 2.25, Another Venture @ 4/1 Hills
Wincanton 2.45, Call Me Lord @ 7/4 bet365
Ascot 3.00, Kildisart @ 7/2 Hills
Haydock 3.15, The Dutchman @ 11/2 Betfair
Ascot 3.35. Waiting Patiently @ 9/4 bet365
All odds were correct at time of posting.