With the countdown to Cheltenham officially in full drive, people’s attention will no doubt be on National Hunt’s showpiece meeting in March. We do however have some stella action this weekend from both sides of the Irish Sea. Kempton hosts three Grade 2 events, including the Sky Bet Dovecote whilst in northern waters, Newcastle features the Eider Handicap Chase over a marathon 4-mile trip. Over in Ireland, there is a strong looking card at Fairyhouse featuring 3 Grade 3’s and potentially some late Cheltenham clues. Last Saturday was a frustrating one for the preview with both Demachine 11/2 and Regal Encore 9/1 hitting the crossbar, finishing second. We did have a nice winner with Goshen 11/4 bouncing back to form with a stunning victory in the Kingwell Hurdle.
Diocletian can strike for in form Balding in Kempton opener
The action gets underway from Kempton at 1:15 with a Handicap Hurdle over 2 miles and 5 furlongs. Top weight Golan Fortune has been in fine form over fences of late and could attract some support with useful claimer Luca Morgan taking 7lbs off. I do have concerns about the trip for him despite being a course and distance winner. Ecco is another who is likely to prove popular for Nicholls and Cobden but the one I like in here represents Andrew Balding, who has 5 wins from his last 19 runners, boasting a 26% strike rate. Diocletian 5/1 was rated 98 on the flat and seems to be improving with every start over hurdles, culminating in an easy win last time out. Given his flat form, 126 looks a nice opening handicap mark and he should be able to use his flat speed round a track like Kempton. This looks like a competitive little heat, but I am confident he can run a big race.
Pendil Novices Chase can go to Snowden and Sheehan
Just the four runners go to post for the Grade 2 Pendil Novices’ Chase and as a result, we may get a tactical affair. Current favourite, Tamaroc Du Mathan has not been seen since chasing home Shishkin in the Wayward Lad over Christmas. He was destroyed that day and as an even money shot here, I’d be inclined to take him on. Coole Cody has had a fine season for Evan Williams, winning the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham back in November. I do have slight concerns about Kempton suiting him though and he may well find one or two of these a tad more progressive. The outsider of four is Son Of Camas who for all I believe is a talented individual, he has become a risky proposition. That leaves us Ga Law 7/4 for Gavin Sheehan and Jamie Snowden. Despite being a 4-year-old coming into the season, connections wasted no time in sending Ga Law chasing and you can certainly see why now. Three impressive chase victories saw Ga Law take up his place in the Grade 1 Henry VIII Novices Chase where he came third behind the impressive Allmankind and talented Hitman. He didn’t appear to have the raw speed to challenge that day and this step back up to two and a half miles on good ground will really suit. Kempton can often favour a front running horse who jumps aggressively and that is exactly what I hope Ga Law can do.
Take on Tritonic at the prices
Next up we have the Grade two Adonis Juvenile Hurdle where Tritonic is a short-priced favourite for trainer Alan King. Plenty of the racing world were very taken with his debut win at Ascot but I thought he took an age to pick up and won in the manor of a real stayer in the making. Kempton on good ground may therefore go slightly against him, for all he does have solid flat form on good ground. I do believe that conditions will really suit Honneur D’Ajonc 4/1 who I thought was going to beat Heross Du Seuil over course and distance before taking a crashing fall at the last. I was
really impressed with his jumping that day so will have to hope the fall hasn’t knocked his confidence. His debut 5 length second to Monmiral would not read too badly now and for me he represents a nice play against the favourite.
Nicholls to unleash future star in The Grade 2 Dovcote
The final Grade 2 on the card comes up at Three O’clock with the Sky Bet Dovecote Novice Hurdle. Won by the likes of Sire De Grugy in the past, I am hoping with may see another future star in the form of Atholl Street 2/1 who has been seriously impressive so far this season. A perfect 2 out 2, Atholl Street has won two ordinary novice hurdles in commanding fashion, particularly last time out. Cruising along in front, Atholl Street never saw another rival and cantered away for a 16-length success. Given he quite literally cantered round, I was impressed to see his time compare well to fellow smart novice, Boothill, who was three seconds quicker, carrying 6lbs less, in the following race over course and distance. Given Boothill destroyed his rivals too but was carrying less weight and worked harder that Atholl Street, I would be inclined to think the Hemmings gelding has a serious engine. With just the 6 opposing rivals, none of whom lead last time out, it may be Cobden can once again set his own fractions and hopefully take some pegging back. Dan Skelton’s Calcio was impressive on his hurdles debut but I would question the strength of the form with both the third and fourth horses beaten convincingly since. Irish raider Cape Gentleman looks an interesting runner for Emmet Mullins but must bounce back from a disappointing run at the Dublin Racing Festival. A former Irish Cesarewitch winner, he may be the main danger to Atholl Street.
Play 2 against the field in Handicap Chase
The big handicap chase on the card is the Close Brothers Handicap Chase run over 3 miles. This year’s renewal looks a really good one and 18 runners go to post. Cap Du Nord currently heads the betting and would appear to be in extremely good form whilst Al Dancer has been a little frustrating to follow but has the class to land a significant blow off a mark of 153. Double Shuffle rolled back the years for a fine victory over course and distance last time out and Talkischeap reappeared with a lovely effort in a Jumpers Bumper. Black Corton 10/1 was the first to make significant appeal to me with the good ground a major plus. He does have to carry top weight, but I still believe he is on a winnable mark. Second in the race off a pound higher last year, Black Corton hasn’t had his conditions so far this year and boasts form of 12122 around Kempton including the Grade 1 Kauto Star Novices Chase back in 2017. For a horse who loves Kempton and will thrive on the good ground, 10/1 looks a nice price.
Dan Skelton’s Romain De Senam 14/1 also caught my eye at a double figure price and appears to be in really good form. An emphatic 12 length success at Musselburgh has seen his mark rise back up to 148 and with the Skeltons in flying form boasting a 28% strike rate, he is hard to ignore. He also has form in this race, finishing a good fourth in 2019. He will handle the good ground and I’d expect a big run for team Skelton.
Nothing really caught my eye in the 4:10 but I did think Prince Nino 11/1 was an interesting runner in the Bumper for Nicholls and his daughter Megan. Closely related to both Rouge Vif and Lalor, I would expect the son of It’s Gino to really enjoy conditions and he could be one to watch out for should the money start talking.
Side with the favourite’s in trio of Grade 3’s at Fairyhouse
Fairyhouse is the stage for three Grade 3’s this Saturday and although boring, I do believe all three favourites will be hard to beat.
The first Grade 3 is a Juvenile Hurdle where Willie Mullins introduces both Tax For Max and Farout. Neither would really appeal to me as betting propositions, unless the money really started talking and therefore, I believe it wise to side with Teahupoo 1/1 who impressed me over course and distance in January. Youmdor took a crashing fall at the last that day but Teahupoo was alongside and ran all the way to the line so it is hard to say what would have happened. Druid’s Altar was 15 lengths back in second and has come out and won since so the form would look decent. The clock paints a pretty picture too. Teahupoo recorded a time 1 second faster than the bumper later on the card, won impressively by Gerri Colombe. He also defeated Good Ball on his sole start in France so I am inclined to think Teahupoo is a fair animal and should take some stopping, despite giving weight away.
Up next we have the Red Mills Trail Hurdle where I would expect to see Jason The Militant 9/4 go off favourite and deliver the goods despite carrying top weight. Henry De Bromhead has Honeysuckle and Aspire Tower for The Champion Hurdle but on a few occasions has been quick to say, “don’t forget Jason!”. If he is to be a Champion Hurdle horse, he needs to win this. I think he has a very good chance and to my eye looks the progressive 2-miler in the field. Petit Mouchoir has run to a high level in recent years but has been regressing of late and I believe both Sixshooter and Darasso want further.
The Bobbyjo Chase is the last Grade 3 on the card and 2019 Irish Grand National Hero, Burrows Saint 1/1 looks to have a big chance at the weights. On Official Ratings he finds himself 1lb clear of stable mate Acapella Bourgeois yet due to the conditions of the race he receives 6lbs. Paul Townend has chosen to ride and three hurdle spins so far this season should have Burrows Saint race fit for this return to fences. If he is to be competing in the big spring nationals, he should be going very close in this.
Crossley will need a tender ride in Newcastle’s Eider Chase
The feature race of the day from Newcastle is without doubt the Vertem Eider Handicap Chase over more than 4 miles! Sam’s Adventure heads the current betting and has some decent course form to his name. His win two starts back would not appear to be overly strong though with the second, third and fourth all well beaten since. Salty Boy sits at the bottom of the weights and looks sure to appreciate every inch of the marathon trip. Top Weight Crosspark is a guaranteed stayer and looks sure to put up a bold effort in a bid to regain his crown. In these types of races, I always like to look to the bottom of the weights and in doing so, Crossley Tender 8/1 caught my eye. Highlighted in my preview last time he ran, he finished third at Ascot coming from miles off the pace. Given a similar approach is taken here I think he can play a big part. Absolutely thriving off late, we know he is in fine form and his efficient style of jumping will really help him see out the trip. His hold up style of racing will suit and I can see him travelling well into the latter stages. Unexposed at 4 miles, it is hard to be certain he’ll stay but visually over 3, he looked as though he would. 8/1 is a nice price.
Best of Luck if you’re having a bet this weekend.
The Cheltenham countdown is well and truly on!
By Sam Rideout
Follow me on Twitter – @TheTr17pleP