Alex Hammond: Have Weird bet
The weather is wreaking havoc on the jumps fixtures this week with waterlogging at several venues. Thankfully all seems ok at the two feature meetings on Saturday with racing scheduled at Haydock and Ascot.
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The ground at Haydock will be testing though for the Betfair Chase for which six horses have been declared. Nicky Henderson once again looks set to have a successful weekend, but as ever he is up against a strong challenge from champion trainer Paul Nicholls.
His Long Run is a worthy favourite for this Grade 1 but it's a fascinating contest. He was second to Kauto Star in this last year, but his season was a bit disappointing on the whole. This track doesn't suit him ideally either and I'm not sure I'd want to take a very short price about him.
Silviniaco Conti takes his next step up the ladder after winning the Charlie Hall at Wetherby and he has come out of that race well. The worry is the ground though, as I'm not sure he's want it too testing.
Long Run was third in the Gold Cup back in March but The Giant Bolster was one place in front of him in second. He doesn't seem to have got as much credit as he deserves.
Weird Al goes well after a break and I think he could be the one to have a pound or two on. He is quirky, but ran well to be third in this last year and has bypassed this season's Charlie Hall so comes here a fresh horse.
On ratings this should go to Long Run, but on this ground and on a track that doesn't suit him ideally I'm going to take a chance on Weird Al for Donald McCain.
The Fixed Brush Hurdle has attracted a much bigger field with 16 set to run in this 3 mile contest. Katkeau is 5/1 favourite and is a very popular choice as his trainer David Pipe has won this race for the past two years with fellow French imports Grands Crus and Dynaste. He has bottom weight in this handicap and has his first start in the UK having won a handicap hurdle at Auteuil on his last start.
Pipe also has Knight Pass (13/2) in the contest with stable jockey Tom Scudamore in the plate. He is a horse that goes well fresh who was a decent performer for former trainer Warren Greatrex, this is his first start for the Wellington trainer. He is bred to be a chaser, so these brush hurdles should suit him.
Tom George's Sivola de Sivola is a 6/1 shot. He has the benefit of a run under his belt this season when finishing 4th at Cheltenham and his trainer has stuck cheekpieces on him for the first time which might bring about a bit of improvement. He also looked in need of the run there and should strip fitter and another positive is the ground which he shouldn't mind.
Saphire River (13/2) is another horse who relishes testing ground. He won a Beginners' Chase for new connections at Uttoxeter last time out. He cost 280,000 Euros after he finished second in the French Champion Hurdle twelve months ago and began his British career with Michael Scudamore. He is now with Lucinda Russell and Peter Scudamore and he looks smart.
Barafundle (8/1) has also been popular in the run up to this race and it's not hard to see why. Jennie Candlish's 8 year-old has some very smart form including a second place to Grands Crus in this race 2 years ago (he is just 3lbs higher in the weights this time round).
However, he has only run twice since then. He won the week after that good run and was then off the track for 4 months before running down the field at the Cheltenham festival. This will be his first run since then and it remains to be seen what he can produce after 20 months on the sidelines.
Holywell is a 9/1 shot for Jonjo O'Neill. He is lightly raced and there could be more to come, particularly over this trip and when he goes chasing - all credentials that could see him go well here.
Of the bigger priced runners, 18/1 shot Katenko is another interesting French recruit, this time for Venetia Williams and like the favourite could be leniently weighted on his first start in Britain. He is a Grade 3 chase winner at Auteuil but is much more exposed than Pipe's runner.
It's a difficult one to call and it's anyone's guess how well handicapped the favourite it. If I was to guess I'd say he is well treated but as a result the bookmakers have taken no chances, so I think Sivola de Sivola could be a decent bet, with the Venetia Williams trained Katenko one for each way punters.
Ascot also raced Friday and the ground was soft after more significant rain. The Grade 2 Amlin Chase has attracted Nicky Henderson's Finian's Rainbow, the Champion Chase winner will have to give weight away to his rivals, but there are only four of them.
This race is over 2 miles 3 furlongs, but he signed his season off with a win in the 2m4f Melling Chase at Aintree and he is a leading contender for the 3 mile King George on Boxing Day so the trip won't be a problem. He's the class act in this, but I don't think he's a certainty by any means as Captain Chris (the horse who beat him in the 2011 Arkle) and For Non Stop are worthy opponents.
Things didn't pan out for the Philip Hobbs trained Captain Chris after that festival win, but he showed he still retains plenty of ability and is a horse I've always liked. I'm just edging towards For Non Stop in this though, as he has the benefit of a run under his belt this season and his trainer Nick Williams is having a few winners at the moment.
He scooted up in the Old Roan Chase at Aintree in October and seems to improve with every year. He was third in the Jewson at the festival in March and providing the ground doesn't get really testing it may be worth taking a chance on him at the prices.
Nicky Henderson's Oscar Whisky will be hoping to fare better in the Grade 2 Coral Hurdle than he did twelve months ago. He fell at the last flight of hurdles when battling out the closing stages of the race with eventual winner Overturn. It's debatable whether he would have beaten the winner, but it was a great effort none the less.
This two and a half mile trip is his optimum and he is the highest rated in this four runner field. He came back to win 4 of his 5 starts after the fall signing off with a victory in the Grade 1 Aintree Hurdle in April. He goes well fresh and should win this. I don't think Get Me Out Of Here, Brampour or the improving Raya Star are quite his class and he won't mind the ground conditions at Ascot.