It’s only two weeks since we were racing in the UK on a Saturday but it somehow feels longer than that. A 10-race bonanza on ITV4 helps cure the fix and Ben Linfoot looks at what’s in store on what deserves to be billed as ‘Super Saturday’.
Whatever you were doing last Saturday, don’t worry, there’s a welcome distraction this weekend. Whether it was enforced shopping, washing the car, one of those chores you kept putting off or even punting at Naas, you can forget it now. It’s all in the past.
The future is bright. The future is a 10-race celebration of what Saturdays should be about. ITV Racing have played a blinder in ensuring we don’t miss a beat this weekend as last Saturday’s lost highlights – the Denman Chase and Betfair Hurdle – are intertwined with Betfair Ascot Chase day.
It’s a day that was already busy. Haydock will be hosting its Grand National Trial and Gold Cup favourite Presenting Percy is on show in the Red Mills Chase at Gowran in Ireland as well.
The one downside is we’re not exactly sure what runs, even less so than usual. The aftermath of the equine influenza shutdown was never going to be easy. We already know Santini won’t go in the Reynoldstown and there will be more absentees.
But we can look forward to 10 live races on ITV. One Grade 1 and five Grade 2s. The Betfair Hurdle. Three other handicaps including the Grand National Trial. The Reynoldstown, Rendlesham, Denman, Kingwell and Red Mills. The Ascot Chase.
There’s plenty to get stuck into. Here’s a chronological guide to what’s in store…
1.35 Ascot – Sodexo Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase
Santini’s absence takes some of the interest away from what is usually an informative novice chase, but there’s still enough in here to ensure the ITV4 opener is a must watch.
It will be interesting to see if Top Ville Ben turns up for Phil Kirby. He’s got a rating of 150, the highest in the race, after a couple of bloodless victories so far over fences. But can he do it at a Grade One track against Grade Two opposition?
If he does attempt to make all the chances are he won’t get a soft lead. Several other possible rivals like to lead, too, with Midnight Tune, Yalltari, Rio Quinty and Now McGinty four horses who have made all, with success, this season.
Glen Rocco could well appreciate a pace burn-up. He relished the step up to three miles last time and is usually held up. He’s in the handicap chase at the same track (2.10), though, and, off his current rating of 137, that could be a more viable option.
1.45 Wincanton – Betway Heed Your Hunch Handicap Chase
A two-mile handicap chase and there’s the potential for a fast and furious race here, too.
Gino Trail, Bigmartre, Sternrubin and Dicosimo all like to do things from the front, so if two or more of that quartet are declared this could be run at a real clip.
One that could benefit from such a scenario is Gary Moore’s Not Another Muddle, a horse that pulled hard even when he won a couple of novice chases earlier in the campaign.
2.10 Ascot – Keltbray Swinley Chase (A Limited Handicap)
Another handicap three races in and this is the contest Glen Rocco is entered in, as mentioned earlier.
There are a couple of course specialists that could run in this; I’m looking at you Regal Encore (winner of this race last year), and you, Minella Daddy. Other course and distance winners are Black Corton, who landed last year’s Reynoldstown, Gold Present and Favorito Buck’s.
Former ‘Next Big Thing’, Yanworth, has a couple of weekend entries, including this race, while loveable rogue Singlefarmpayment might bid to get his head in front for the first time in over two years when the tapes go up for the 2.10.
Janika might run for Nicky Henderson, as he’s had his jabs, while Coneygree has this option following his unseat of Sean Bowen in the King George.
Whoever turns up, this looks a good handicap.
2.25 Haydock – William Hill Rendlesham Hurdle
A first visit of the afternoon to Haydock for the Rendlesham, a race for staying hurdlers that might just fall short of Grade One class.
Yanworth is entered in this, as well, while the in-form Lake View Lad could revert to hurdles ahead of a crack at the Randox Health Grand National.
Clyne looks your archetypal Rendlesham horse, though.
He’s been exposed in better races, but is tough to beat at his level and he has form at the track.
2.45 Ascot – Betfair Denman Chase
No Native River now this Newbury race is run at right-handed Ascot, which might not play to his strengths.
It should, though, play right into the hands of King George winner Clan Des Obeaux. He improved markedly in the Christmas highlight and racing right-handed might well have been a key reason.
Whether he’ll improve his Gold Cup credentials is open to debate, but this could cut up into a nice opportunity for the Paul Nicholls-trained horse ahead of his Cheltenham assignment.
3.00 Wincanton – Betway Kingwell Hurdle
No Silver Streak in this and with We Have A Dream running at Kelso on Thursday it looks like If the Cap Fits is the highest-rated of the possible runners.
He won’t be enhancing any Champion Hurdle credentials unless connections have a complete rethink over a Cheltenham boycott, but he could well have a big say at Aintree if he turns up there a fresh horse and he ran well enough here on his seasonal return behind Verdana Blue.
An intriguing runner could be Sceau Royal, third in this race two years ago.
The Champion Chase remains very much his target, but this race could fit nicely into his schedule and his last win over timber came at this track in the 2016 Elite Hurdle.
3.05 Gowran Park – Red Mills Chase
The Cheltenham Gold Cup favourite hasn’t jumped a fence in public since he won last year’s RSA Chase, but that will all change on Saturday.
Presenting Percy bids to cement his credentials for the Festival feature in the Red Mills Chase at Gowran, a race he was second in to Our Duke last year ahead of that RSA cruise.
The horse that got closest to him at last year’s Cheltenham, Monalee, is likely to head the opposition, while Willie Mullins will get a nice indication on the strength of his Gold Cup team through either Bachasson, Killultagh Vic or both.
It’s fascinating - and also fantastic that this top Irish race is brought to UK terrestrial viewers.
3.20 Ascot – Betfair Hurdle
The Betfair Hurdle is saved. Hurrah! And leading the celebrations will be connections of the likes of Jolly’s Cracked It and Didtheyleaveuoutto, whose horses have all shown their best form at Ascot.
Lisp was second to Mohaayed in that other big handicap hurdle at this track (also sponsored by Betfair) in December, so he won’t mind the switch either, but it remains to be seen whether leading antepost hope Al Dancer will appreciate this test.
The one my eyes widened for, though, is another of Nicholls’, Grand Sancy.
He wasn’t due to run in the Newbury race, but the switch to right-handed Ascot looks to have caught the attention of the 10-time champion trainer.
Grand Sancy was fourth behind Mohaayed here in December, but he’s finished second in a Tolworth since then and beaten horses from that race (think Agrapart and Kalashnikov) have a tremendous recent record in the Betfair.
With Lorcan Williams already jocked up claiming 5lb, latecomer-to-the-party Grand Sancy could well bolster that trend on Saturday.
3.35 Haydock – William Hill Grand National Trial
Always nicely positioned just after the Grand National weights come out, this year’s renewal won’t feature previous winner of the Aintree spectacular One For Arthur.
That much we do know, but whether we garner clues for Liverpool or not, this is always a good betting heat and so it should be again with plenty of previous Haydock winners in there like Yala Enki, Daklondike, Vieux Lion Rouge, Red Infantry and Bishops Road.
Watch your Ballys - Ballyoptic, Ballyarthur and Ballydine all run – while Ms Parfois, an intriguing National possible, is another interesting entry along with Royal Vacation, Impulsive Star and Carole’s Destrier.
Run over the extended 3m4f in likely soft ground, this is one for the sloggers.
3.55 Ascot – Betfair Ascot Chase
And finally, the best is saved until last with the sole Grade 1 of the day, the Betfair Ascot Chase, ending proceedings on ITV Racing at 3.55.
The story of the day could well be Paul Nicholls’ domination. If Clan Des Obeaux lands the Denman Chase and one of his take the Betfair Hurdle then that will certainly be the narrative and having his best horses ready to run following vaccinations in January will be part of the tale.
In the Betfair Ascot Chase he has a strong hand with Politologue and Cyrname, two horses that are proven over the course and distance.
Cyrname’s performance in handicap company last time was tremendous and whether he can replicate that sort of effort against top-level opposition is the big question mark with him.
Politologue is probably the solid option of the Nicholls pair, his defeat of Charbel at this track in November a clear form clue for this race.
And then there’s Ruth Jefferson’s Waiting Patiently. His profile suggests he’s perfectly named and his last completed start was in this race a year ago when he stormed to victory at the expense of Cue Card.
With his trainer confirming her horses are ready to run after vaccinations, Waiting Patiently could well bounce back from his unfortunate unseat in the King George.
And that will be it. A day that very much deserves the ‘Super Saturday’ billing.