The ITV racing team is bringing viewers action from Ascot and Haydock on Saturday, where the Betfair Chase takes centre stage at the Lancashire course. The jumps season is in full swing now following some much-wanted rain. There are some very big names making their seasonal debuts and it’s a day to really savour.
I have taken a look at some of the key races taking place this weekend and it looks like it could be a “fav” feast in the feature races.
This looks like an ideal opportunity for Politologue to open his account for the season. Paul Nicholls’ grey was a dual Grade 1 winner last season which included the Tingle Creek and Melling Chase. Bear in mind that he is still only a seven year old and these performances were all the more impressive.
There could still be some improvement to come from him and there looks to be nothing in the field that could mount a serious challenge.
Gary Moore landed a big prize at Cheltenham last week with Baron Alco and runs Benatar in this and he could prove the biggest threat to the favourite. The lightly raced son of Beneficial was a Grade 2 winner last season and also finished third behind Shattered Love in the JLT at Cheltenham. Benatar ran disappointingly on seasonal debut at Newton Abbott but he looked in need of the run that day and should Politologue run below par, he could pick up the pieces.
Charbel beat the aforementioned Baron Alco back in October and that form received a timely boost last weekend. He finished nearly six lengths behind Politologue in last season’s Tingle Creek and if he can make match fitness count then perhaps he can turn the tables.
The field is made up by Gold Present, Hammersly Lake and Sizing Granite.
Stayers’ Handicap Hurdle
First Assignment was one of the most impressive winners at the Cheltenham November meeting last week and he gets in here off just the mandatory five-pound penalty. Ian Willams’ charge is on a real upward curve and should prove very difficult to beat here if he’s none to worse for his recent exertions.
Paisley Park was Grade 2 placed last season and began the current campaign in great fashion when landing a handicap at Aintree in October. Emma Lavelle’s six-year-old now races off a seven pound higher mark and has to give the favourite twelve pounds, which may prove too hard.
Paul Nicholls’ runs Captain Cattistock in this and he ran with real credit in the Silver Trophy when finishing sixth behind Garo De Juilley. This was improved form on what he showed last season and considering he’s only five, he may be worth following for the season ahead.
Folsom Blue is the sole Irish-raider and he’s proved a very shrewd acquisition for current connections, with the highlight coming in the Irish Grand National when he finished a fine fourth in behind General Principle. It’s worrying that he’s only won once on seasonal debut and I think there will be bigger targets later in the season.
Selection: First Assignment
This looks like a match race between We Have A Dream and If The Cap Fits. The pair have already met this season in the Elite Hurdle at Wincanton where If The Cap Fits proved seven lengths too good for We Have A Dream. They both came up short behind the improving Verdana Blue.
We Have A Dream was unbeaten since moving to Seven Barrows prior to the Elite Hurdle, having won four on the bounce last season with the highlight coming at Chepstow when emerging victoriously in the Grade 1 Future Champions Juvinelle hurdle.
It will be intriguing to see if he can bridge the gap with his rival but I find it hard to see why he would.
If The Cap Fits had an immaculate start to life over hurdles with victories at Exter, Bangor and finally Kempton, on his only three runs last season. He wasn’t ever asked a serious question on any of these starts and was one of the talking horses last season.
However, injury ruled him out for the remainder of the season and there were lots of positives to be taken from his season return.
I think he’s one of the most exciting hurdlers in training and is my idea of the winner.
Old Guard should prove best of the rest and has already run three fine races this season. I think he’ll again give his running but will come up short.
Selection: If The Cap Fits
It’s disappointing that only five go to post in this Grade 1 contest but the five that do face the starter are the creme de la creme of national hunt racing. All of the field will have the Cheltenham Gold Cup as their main seasonal target.
Native River won British racing’s blue riband event last season and makes his seasonal debut on Saturday. Colin Tizzard’s front-running gelding runs with his heart on his sleeve and although he only graced the track twice last season, he won on both occasions. The Tizzard stable is running at a 25% strike rate at the moment and if he shows up in the same form as last season he will be hard to contain.
Nicky Henderson’s Might Bite was sent off favourite in the Gold Cup last season and although he came up short behind Native River, he regained the winning thread when demolishing a field which included Bristol De Mai(re-opposes) in the Aintree Bowl. The imposing son of Scorpion could improve again for a summers grass and looks a force to be reckoned with.
Many eyes will be Thistlecrack who’s exuberant style of racing makes his an exciting watch every time he runs. Unfortunately, his racecourse forays have been limited in recent seasons due to injuries. The now ten-year-old won the World Hurdle back in 2016 and looked to have the chasing world at his feet when impressively landing the King George on Boxing Day of the same year.
Following another injury, it has to be said, Thistlecrack didn’t seem to be the same horse last season and came up short on both starts. It will be interesting to see how he fares on Saturday and a watching brief is advised.
The final runner is the Paul Nicholls’ trained Clan Des Obeaux, who needs to improve to feature.
Selection: Might Bite