The Ascot Chase promised to be the best Grade 1 Chase run this season this side of the Irish Sea and it sure delivered. As my ante-post King George selection Waiting Patiently beat the gallant Cue Card. I won’t be looking into that race today but instead I am going to focus on Haydock’s big Saturday handicap chase the Betfred Grand National Trial, which was ironically won by the only horse not in the Aintree race. Watching it was attritional stuff for racegoers, TV viewers as well as the horses themselves and in truth it wasn’t a great advertisement for the jumping game.
My selection for the race Wild West Wind travelled well throughout and when he went into the lead he looked like he would win the race but sadly he went on like a light after three out and he refused at the second last. The 3m 4f on bottomless ground was just too much for the 9-year-old who looks worth another go at this sort of trip on a better surface. If this race hasn’t taken its toll then he looks handicapped to take a decent handicap off his present mark before the season is out.
Yala Enki was virtually last man standing. He has been a bit of a “cliff horse” for me this season and I didn’t back this time around as I wasn’t sure he would stay this far. Well he proved he stayed, albeit very slowly. He was probably helped by the fact that he settled better than he has done in some of previous races. It was a nice winner for his trainer Venetia Williams who really hasn’t has the best of seasons so far.
Blaklion looked up against it at the weights, on this sort of going but he was never really jumping and travelling through the race and did well in the circumstance to complete his race albeit he was beaten 54 lengths by the winner. He will miss Cheltenham and head for the National now and if you fancy him for that race I wouldn’t be put off by this run.
Only three finished this gruelling stamina test with last years Eider Chase winner Mysteree plugging on to grab some third placed prize money. Of the rest Three Faces West took another heavy fall on the first circuit and recent course winner The Dutchman was pulled up mid-way through the race but was subsequently found to have bled from the nose.
Insight on the Weekend
This weekend’s big race jumps action is at Newcastle, with another marathon race the Betfred sponsored Eider Chase. Meanwhile at Kempton, we have the 3m Betdaq handicap Chase and over at Lingfield it’s the Betway Winter Derby for all-weather punters. It’s the Betfred Eider Chase that I am putting under the spotlight this week.
Newcastle 24th February
Betfred Eider Handicap Chase (Class 2)
Another stamina test awaits the runners here, this time over 4m ½ f, which as ever will take some getting if the going remains heavy. But with just over £50k on offer to the winner it should attract a decent sized field with 21 horse still entered at the five day stage.
There are no really eyecatching trends for the race. Although it’s worth noting that despite the distance of the race those horses at the top end of the weights or official ratings have been favoured in recent years.
All the last 8 winners have been officially rated between 125 to 139 and 6 of the last 8 winners carried 11-0 or more in weight. An ability to handle underfoot conditions has also been favoured in recent years with 6 winners, having had 1 or 2 wins on the prevailing race day going. So look out for classier horses, which have had a one or two wins on the going.
Assuming the going is heavy on Saturday. Vinnie Lewis is getting better with each race over fences and last time out won the 3m 4 ½ f Sussex National on heavy ground at Plumpton on his last start. He won that race by 6 lengths that day and the second Shanroe Santos won at Carlisle this week so the form looks solid. The 7-year-old has been put up 9lb for that win which makes life difficult but he’s only 2 wins from 4 runs over fences and is capable of improving further. Looks a worthy favourite and top of the shortlist.
West Of The Edge trained by Dr Richard Newland won over 3m 5f at Warwick last season and after that race the trainer suggested that the Eider would be a possible target for the 10-year-old this year. A winner twice on the heavy in the past he stays well and has only had the three runs so far this season and was a good second at Haydock last time.
I put the David Pipe trained Daklondike up for last weeks Grand National Trial but he was non-runner on the day. Once again if he runs then he will be high on the shortlist.
The Kim Bailey trained Knockanrawley was 4th in this 2016 and was runner up last year. He is a 1lb lower than last year and although 10-year-old doesn’t win very often but he’s on a decent mark and has been running well this season as ever until a poor run at Haydock last time. Each way claims again and looks a fair price at 20/1, might prefer soft rather than heavy.
Irish raider Thebarrowman could well improve for the step up to 4m but he was a shade disappointing when a beaten favourite at Punchestown.
Finally, you always have to keep Sue Smith runners onside in those staying handicap chases: Hainan will appreciate the step back up in trip. A winner over 3m 4 ½ f at Haydock two starts back. The 7-year-old wasn’t disgraced when 3rd, dropping back in trip in the Peter Marsh Handicap Chase back at the same track on his last run. Looks a thorough stayer who may well improve for the 4m and his best form has come on heavy.
Sue Smith also has course specialist Smooth Stepper who made it 3 wins from 6 runs 5 placed when winning here over 2m 7f last time out. The only time he was out of the places at the track was when 6th in this race last year. Not sure he stays this far based on last years running or on heavy ground but can never be ruled out given his trainer and normally sound jumping.
Back To The Thatch got his first win over fences after four starts when comfortably dispatching nine rivals at Chepstow on his last run. He has been put up 9lb for that 11 length win. Likes heavy ground and going left handed and if gets the trip could still be a well handicapped horse even of this higher mark. Trainer Henry Daly has been among the winners recently and the 14/1 available would be interesting each way if you know he was a runner.
Verdict: As you can see this race looks a tricky puzzle with eight strong contenders for the race and I will be holding fire as to my bets until the final declarations are out. If you’re an Eycatcher Pro subscriber I will be adding my final selections on Friday evening.
I won’t go into the Betdaq Chase at Kempton (3:35) in detail. But keep an eye on Theatre Guide if he runs. The 11-year-old won this race in 2016 and was beaten just 3 lengths when 3rd in it last season. He caught my eye on his seasonal reappearance at Wincanton and although he runs off 1lb lower than last year. He likes Kempton 2 wins from 6 runs 4 placed here and the good to soft ground will also be in his favour. If he does run this will be his second start since a wind operation. No guarantee that he runs but the 20/1 available with Bet365 & BetVictor (1/4 odds 4 places) looks good each way value if he does.
Let’s hope the freezing weather doesn’t arrive before Saturday!
Friday 16th February
Step Back – Mark Bradstock – No Coneygree but he can win races for the trainer. A three time point winner despite being an 8-year-old he’s only had four runs under rules winning on good to soft at Ludlow last year. This was his second start over fences and he was well backed to win, after his 2nd placed effort at Chepstow on his chase debut two weeks earlier. He can stay further than 3m and can win races over the larger obstacles.
Friday 17th February
Minella Daddy – Peter Bowen – The 8-year-old was expected to run a big race on just his second start since pulling up in the Feltham Novices Chase at Kempton back in December 2016. The slightly sounder surface probably suited the gelding and he looked likely to repay his backers coming to the last but the eventual winner jumped it better and he had to settle for the runners up spot.
His three best runs over fences on Racing Post Ratings have now come here at Ascot but he’s a won left handed over hurdles so I wouldn’t rule out him winning a decent race going that way. No doubt the trainer will have some spring targets for the horse who looks on a competitive mark.
Flying Tiger – Nick Williams – The 5-year-old was only beaten 5 lengths into 4th behind Elgin in the Kingwell Hurdle. He won the Fred Winter last season’s at the Cheltenham Festival and looks like he could be aimed at the County Hurdle at this year’s Festival as long as the handicapper doesn’t put the horse up too much for this performance. If you fancy him for that race he can be backed at a generous 33/1 with Betfair Sportsbook.
All that’s left now is to wish you a profitable week’s betting.