A sensational weekend of Horse Racing action lies ahead, and it’s hard to know where to turn with a huge ELEVEN races on ITV4 this Saturday
Betfred TV’s Matt Hulmes
Ireland’s Dublin Racing Festival is the highlight, with eight Grade 1 races spread over the weekend; while Sandown has its own feature Grade 1 for novice chasers, and some good handicaps.
Dublin Racing Festival – read our columnists’ thoughts here
Throw in a decent card at Wetherby featuring the reappearance of top novice Ahoy Senor, plus the two-day Scottish Trials meeting at Musselburgh, then add a good card featuring two Listed contests at Lingfield, and just about every racing fan is catered for.
Let’s now focus on the action on this side of the Irish Sea, but we’ll revisit more Leopardstown highlights at the foot of this piece.
12:57 MUSSELBURGH – PAY THE PIPER
Only four to post for Musselburgh’s opener, and PAY THE PIPER is fancied to continue the excellent form of the Hamiltons. They have a Cheltenham date set with Tommy’s Oscar, and PAY THE PIPER (our featured inage, above) may join him.
He travels very well and although it was disappointing he didn’t go past Midnight River at Wetherby, he was conceding that useful horse 6lb. He has form on good ground and the quick nature of Musselburgh will help this strong traveller.
Of his opponents, Friend or Foe’s wins have all been at the minimum trip while Kiltealy Briggs and Roi De Dubai could well get tapped for toe on decent ground around a sharp track considering they are three milers really.
2:30 WETHERBY – SAINT PALAIS
Just four go to post for the Towton Novices Chase and all eyes will be on Aintree Grade 1 winner Ahoy Senor after coming off second-best versus Bravemansgame at Kempton on Boxing Day.
He will appreciate a return to a more galloping track this afternoon, but the fact remains he made a few errors at Kempton and did come to grief at Carlisle on chasing debut. He is top-rated but must find a little on the figures in concession of 11lb to the very progressive SAINT PALAIS.
The 5yo already has a win at Wetherby on his CV and completed a hat-trick when winning the Mandarin at Newbury. He was clearly well-treated in rattling off those handicap wins and faces a tougher test here in Open company, but we don’t know how far he can go.
He is a half-brother to Grand National Trial winner Lord Du Mesnil so has plenty of stamina to call upon, and seems to have the class, too.
3:00 WETHERBY – JACK SHARP
It isn’t one of the top races of the afternoon, but a winner is a winner and JACK SHARP looks to have a clear chance in this two and half mile handicap hurdle. He has never been out the frame in five hurdle starts, four of which have been at Doncaster. I thought he was unlucky not to win last time having travelled the best and was undone by all the hurdles in the straight being omitted.
The winner hasn’t franked the form since, but JACK SHARP has remained on the same mark and the way he went through that race suggests it is an exploitable one.
Foster’sisland’s winning run came to an end in the Lanzarote Hurdle and although this is much easier, he is off a career-high mark and has had plenty of runs. No Risk Des Flos looks the biggest danger for an in-form Olly Murphy team, but his three wins have all come over two miles and he was well held when upped in trip in October.
2:55 SANDOWN – REE OKKA
A very competitive renewal of this staying handicap hurdle and many have chances as you would expect.
Easysland makes his debut for Jonjo O’Neill ahead of a tilt at the Cross Country at Cheltenham next month, and tops the weights. Beauport had his finest hour when winning the EBF final here last March from a good field and has bumped into well-treated rivals the last twice.
He looks to have a good chance with everything in his favour while supporters of Green Book will hope the money spent on his unfortunate Lanzarote Hurdle experience, when brought down, is only lent to the bookmakers.
Orby’s Legend showed his Silver Trophy win in October was no fluke when adding a Pertemps qualifier on Boxing Day but I think the handicapper has given a real chance to the lightly-raced novice REE OKKA.
He brushed aside the 126-rated Complete Unknown giving away 1lb at Chepstow in December, and the result was never in doubt when cantering to victory at Kempton upped to three miles last month.
He made an error at the last but that was probably a lack of concentration as he seemed to find that assignment very easy, and was in front soon enough as he travelled so powerfully.
The 6yo has an entry in the Albert Bartlett but Harry Fry must think a mark of 130 is open to exploitation and he could be a handicap blot in a competitive handicap.
3:30 SANDOWN – LINELEE KING
The Masters Handicap Chase can go to LINELEE KING (pictured above) for Olly Murphy. He may have been beaten into third at Ayr on his second chase start but that only tells half the story.
A juddering halt at the fourth-last and a slow leap at the third-last would have stopped many a horse, but the fact he got to within two lengths of the winner suggests he is a well-treated chaser.
He won on his fencing debut at Aintree and will appreciate stepping back up to three miles. He could have a few pounds up his sleeve, and is the most unexposed in the field.
Diese Aba has a good record here as evidenced when second in the London National but had a tough race in the Welsh National just six weeks ago, while Kapcorse is a hard horse to keep right having had just two runs in three years.
Farinet could still be ahead of the handicapper after his easy course win four weeks ago but will need to prove himself on good ground. Five Star Getaway bounced back to form when wining at Kempton, and that form is solid as the second has run a close third in the Peter Marsh behind Royale Pagaille since.
He is the danger, but the youngster LINELEE KING gets the vote.
BEST OF THE REST
Not many novices have excited more than Venetia Williams’ L’Homme Presse this season and he looks a worthy odds-on favourite in the G1 Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase at Sandown. He has won his last three races by an aggregate of 29 lengths including the Dipper at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day and looks to just have Paul Nicholls’ Pic D’Orhy to beat.
January is usually a quiet month for Nicholls but his last winner came on the 26th of last month, some 26 runners ago.
The race that precedes the above is the Contenders Hurdle for horses prepping for a tilt at the Champion. With the greatest of respect, it should be called no contenders this year as only two of the five runners are entered in the Champion Hurdle and it would take a huge leap of faith to see Song For Someone or Goshen troubling the judge there. Actually I doubt either will line-up.
It’s a fascinating contest in its own right this afternoon though with little separating Song For Someone and the enigmatic Goshen on the figures, while Guard Your Dreams and Song For Someone have had a couple of good battles this season. Global Citizen and Goshen will ensure a good pace so should be truly run, but it is hard to choose a winner.
Lingfield hosts a couple of Listed contests, and The Winter Derby Trial sees just the six go to post. Fancy Man is top-rated but made hard work of winning his only all-weather start here in September when 4/11f in a four runner conditions race. He may be vulnerable to the prolific all-weather pair Al Zaraqaan, who is four from four on artificial surfaces (three from three on Polytrack), and King Of The South, who himself is 6/12 and not been out of the first three on his all-weather engagements since debuting on the surface.
The Kachy Stakes, named after Tom Dascombe’s superstar sprinter, houses nine speedsters. Good Effort won the race in 2020 and is four from four at the track. He is well berthed in stall three with main market rival Rohaan, who is 4/8 on synthetics and has course figures of 1221, drawn inside in stall 1.
Lord Of The Lodge will give them a good tow into the race from stall 5 and they can battle it out up the straight. Kachy’s owner Dave Lowe relies on Fizzy Feet who was second in this race last year and is well drawn in two, but it looks a hotter renewal than twelve months ago, won by the returning Exalted Angel.
Today’s horse racing odds, Saturday Feb 5th
Cheltenham Festival betting
Rest of Leopardstown
3.15 LEOPARDSTOWN – DELTA WORK (EACH WAY)
Now it does take a leap of faith to side with DELTA WORK (EW) in the Irish Gold Cup, two years after his finest hour in this very race, but prices of around 11/1 in an eight-runner heat with a few questions surrounding all the runners seems quite generous.
Firstly, Gordon Elliott has said they plan to ride him a bit handier than normal. There is guaranteed to be a decent pace on with Frodon, Kemboy and Cilaos Emery all likely to be vying for the lead.
They have also dispensed with the hood and reached for cheekpieces for the first time and if they work, he should go very close. Now his form looks to be taking a downward turn but he wasn’t beaten far by Frodon at Down Royal when notoriously rusty, and he was just beginning to make a move in the Savills Gold Cup here over Christmas when getting in too tight to the second last and making an untimely mistake.
He was heavily eased after the last, but they are his only two runs since finishing third in this race last year when sent off at 5/1.
A fascinating contest at 1:35 in which Fil D’Or, Triumph Hurdle second favourite, unbeaten in three starts and stablemate of last week’s easy Cheltenham winner Pied Piper, takes on the horse who was half a length behind Pied Piper on debut in Vauban.
There is little to choose between them in the market, and it looks like being a cracking match up.
A very difficult 24 runner three-mile handicap Hurdle is the puzzle at 2:45 where last year’s winner Maze Runner is back for more, while nine go to post at 3:50 for a two mile handicap chase in which A Wave Of The Sea bids to defend his title.
The Bumper at 4:25 is a stunner with seven last time out winners locking horns, and all have hopes of going to the top level. Even the 33/1 outsider, Carnfunnock comes from a red-hot Punchestown bumper and won in a canter at Ayr back in November.
Five of the runners are unbeaten including Facile Vega, a son of the great Quevega, whose victim on debut has won a warm bumper subsequently. Itswhatunitesus beat a subsequent winner by six lengths on debut while The Big Doyen won by fifteen lengths doing handsprings to make it two from two in November.
Embassy Gardens won over the track over Christmas, albeit narrowly, while Sandor Clegane ran out a convincing fifteen length winner at Punchestown in December. This has the potential to be the race of the weekend and will have a big bearing on the Cheltenham Bumper market.