Alan Thomson, the former Racing Editor at the Daily Record, puts up five tips at Ascot, Newmarket and Wetherby on Saturday. View selections below.
IT’S hard to get away from odds-on Cue Card in the feature bet365 Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby and, from a punting perspective, the William Hill Handicap Hurdle at Ascot holds more allure.
It is a formidable task trying to scoop this nice prize under top weight but CH’TIBELLO (3.00) looks a hurdler to be with this season following his sparkling success in the Scottish Champion Hurdle at Ayr on decent ground.
Ch’tibello then ran a cracker in the Swinton Hurdle at Haydock, finishing well into third behind Gwafa and All Set To Go after being slightly hampered at a crucial stage two out.
Heavy ground wouldn’t have been ideal when he finished behind Sternrubin and John Constable in the Gerry Feilden at Newbury in November and the five-year-old again showed his liking for a sounder surface when giving crack recruit Altior a run for his money in a novices’ hurdle at Ascot in October.
Dan and Harry Skelton have picked up where they left off last season and lightly-raced Ch’tibello should strip fit enough to do himself justice.
Paul Nicholls’ Diego Du Charmil landed the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham and showed his wellbeing three weeks ago at Chepstow when beating Furiously Fast. A 3lb rise is very fair.
Hint Of Mint is well treated if Harry Fry has got him back on song after a 601-day absence.
There are another couple of trappy handicaps on the card and I’m hopeful PEARLS LEGEND (2.25) will go one better than last year in the Byrne Group Handicap Chase.
John Spearing’s gelding found Cold March too strong on the run-in that day but led running down to the last in a furiously run affair.
Ulck Du Lin took off like his tail was on fire (eventually pulled up) and he again faces the tape, which should at least ensure a true-run race. Pearls Legend went on to run fourth to Katachenko in the Red Rum Chase at Aintree, following a close-up fifth to Solar Impulse in the Grand Annual at Cheltenham.
Croco Bay should go well under top weight if none the worse for his exertions at Cheltenham last weekend when unseating two out in the race won by the gambled-on Fox Norton. He had Germany Calling in third when scoring at Worcester and there is little between them on revised terms.
Miss Tenacious saw off Noche De Reyes at Kempton two weeks ago and the runner-up is allowed 4lb for about four lengths. The aforementioned Ulck Du Lin toyed with Miss Tenacious at Wincanton on fast ground in April, but is a hard horse to predict.
Yorkist has left Micky Hammond and is interesting on his opening salvo for the Skelton team. The bookies aren’t taking any chances and last night’s odds of 5-2 look pretty miserly. Famous last words.
WOLFTRAP (4.10) and Arty Campbell are tightly matched but preference is for Philip Hobbs’ runner in the 2m 3f novices’ handicap hurdle.
Wolftrap finished just ahead of Arty Campbell in a muddling four-runner contest at Newton Abbot won by Hobbs’ favourite Verni, with neither horse suited by the way the race unfolded.
After some distinctly modest efforts early in his career (for a different trainer), Wolftrap demonstrated he had got a hang of things by producing a series of solid efforts last season. His narrow win over Eddiemaurice at Worcester in May has been made to look fairly useful form, with the pair drawing 14 lengths clear.
Arty Campbell boasts fine flat credentials, notably a third to St Michel at Goodwood and a fourth to Life Less Ordinary at Ascot. Like Wolftrap, he would appreciate a stout end-to-end gallop.
At Wetherby, Cue Card’s trainer Colin Tizzard has chosen the bet365 Hurdle, a Grade 3 contest over three miles, for Native River’s comeback and he should go well.
Preference is for BALLYOPTIC (2.45), unbeaten in four starts since joining Nigel Twiston-Davies. The gelding had the speed to cope with a drop in trip when landing the totepool Silver Trophy at Chepstow three weeks ago, a race which could be the springboard to big things this season.
The six-year-old ended his novice campaign in sparkling fashion by rallying to beat Bellshill in the three-mile Sefton Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree and can prove more than a match for his elders.
These include If In Doubt, so unlucky when finishing third in the Pertemps Network Final at Cheltenham after being hampered in the straight. If In Doubt also turned up at Aintree, this time chasing home Ubak in another competitive handicap hurdle.
Lil Rockerfella races over three miles for the first time but is a tenacious battler. Although outclassed behind Annie Power (seventh) in the Stan James Champion Hurdle, Lil Rockerfella is another to bring solid handicap form into the race.
Paul Nicholls saddled Tidal Bay to land back-to-back victories in 2012/13 and relies on Silsol, closely matched with If In Doubt on their running behind Ubak.
Native River found only Minella Rocco too strong in the four-mile National Hunt Chase at the festival and had RSA winner Blaklion in third when landing the Betfred Mildmay Novices’ Chase at Aintree.
The Romford Pele lacks nothing in courage and will help push the pace, but needs to step up on his winning Newton Abbot form.
At Newmarket, BAYDAR (4.05) looks capable of completing a five-timer for Hugo Palmer. Josephine Gordon again gets the leg up on the course and distance winner.
Baydar really battled to edge out another upwardly mobile three-year-old in Scarlet Dragon (winner since) at Newbury and meets some exposed sorts. Educate and Basem are tough and durable, while Restorer bids to follow up last year’s success in this event, although the track was riding soft that day.
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