Another busy Saturday of Horse Racing lies in wait as Ascot hosts Grade 1 action and Haydock have a largely Betfred-sponsored card with the Grand National trial their highlight of the day's action.
We are just three-and-a-half weeks away from the Cheltenham Festival too, so it will be one last chance for most to put the finishing touches on those preparations.
Only four runners line up for the Reynoldstown Chase and one horse who will appreciate the unseasonably quicker conditions is KINONDO KWETU.
Sam England sends her improving seven-year-old down from the north in search of a seven-timer, having won all five of his chase starts. The trainer has brought him back early form a mid-season break due to the decent conditions and that can be rewarded with a Grade 2 success. He won quite comfortably when seen at Aintree in October while his previous win at Uttoxeter also worked out as solid form.
He does have a bit to find on the figures with Bold Endeavour who will prefer being back right-handed as he jumped that way at Doncaster last time and is unbeaten in two starts for Nicky Henderson. But he is far from bombproof, and it is worth siding with the northern raider who likes hearing his hooves rattle.
I have made no secret of the fact I believe there is a decent prize heading in the direction of PHOENIX WAY and although I’m interested to see where he lines up at the Festival, he has a chance of going one better in this contest on Saturday than when second over track and trip off this mark fourteen months ago. He followed that up with a course success over slightly shorter but has won over this trip.
It was an eye catching run at Cheltenham when staying on over 2m 4f behind Il Ridoto and I’m sure his turn is near. Everything will suit, ground, trip and there should be a fair pace with Laskalin and Danny Kirwan often keen to get on with things, off a winnable mark for a team in fair form.
I expected Cap Du Nord to attempt to retain his Coral Trophy crown at Kempton next week so was surprised at his declaration but is too well treated to ignore.
The Danny Kirwan has gone up six pounds for two runners-up efforts while it may not be a sufficient test of stamina for Revels Hill. Stick with PHOENIX WAY to rise.
2.40 HAYDOCK – TIME TO GET UP & TIM PAT
Only twice in the last decade has the word ‘good’ appeared in the going description for the Betfred Grand National trial and this could be the quickest ground of all in that timeframe.
Bristol De Mai won last years renewal in heavy ground he adores and is actually five pounds lower for this year’s renewal. His chase record at Haydock reads 111121P14 which is sensational, but father time waits for no man and the 12-year-old may need to concede to younger legs on this spring like ground.
It will take some getting though and Venetia Williams has lined up a pair to emulate her 2014 and 2018 winners of the race.
Quick Wave turned the London National at Sandown into a procession in December and went off 4/1f for the Welsh National where he got stuck in the mud. He is eight pounds higher, though, while stablemate Fontaine Collonges won here in November and was a fair fourth at Kempton over Christmas but tackles his furthest trip to date.
Omar Moretti is a lightly raced chaser who was on my radar. I was just a little worried that the ground could be quick enough for him though and the stable form is also of a little concern.
So I’ve opted for a couple of each way pokes at prices.
TIM PAT was the first one for Donald McCain and Brian Hughes. Although he four pounds ‘wrong’ at the weights he as won over this course and distance on decent ground in March. He is nine pounds higher here but showed his best form since on the best ground he has encountered subsequently at Doncaster three weeks ago and the application of first time cheekpieces could bring out about enough necessary improvement to be ultra-competitive off just 10-2.
Secondly, TIME TO GET UP is worth a small play. A Midlands Grand National winner in 2021, he was second in this race last year, although thirty three lengths behind Bristol De Mai, and is a massive 11 pounds lower. He ran well for a long way in the Welsh Grand National and a return to form would not surprise. It is also encouraging to see some support around for him at big prices and he can leave his form this year, so far, behind.
Fortescue is another to keep an eye having won on this weekend last year at Ascot and was staying on fourth in the Becher Chase in December, but he never went a yard in the Welsh National.
3.12 WINCANTON – KNAPPERS HILL
Paul Nicholls usually dominates proceedings at his local track and although he is more famed for his staying chasers, he has won the Kingwell four times with nippy hurdlers and KNAPPERS HILL can make it five.
The seven-year-old won the Elite Hurdle over track and trip in November beating Sceau Royal who had farmed the race previously. That was a good tactical ride from Harry Cobden but we know Bryony Frost can get the fractions spot on too for her exploits on Frodon to name just one. However, with Global Citizen and Greatwood winner I Like To Move It in the line-up, they may go a fair pace anyway. KNAPPERS HILL can be forgiven his run at Cheltenham on New Years Day as his last two below par performances have come on soft ground and he will have plenty to his liking on Saturday afternoon in Somerset.
There is little to choose between him and First Street on the figures, who is one pound inferior but gets two punds off the selection. He had the impossible task of giving one pound to State Man in the County Hurdle last year and was a good third in the Relkeel (ahead of Knappers Hill) on New Years Day. He is the obvious danger, but I’m siding with Nicholls to take this prize for the fifth time.
With all the talk surrounding last year’s winner Fakir D’Oudairies, and the enigmatic but problematic Shishkin, PIC D’ORHY can come on the blindside and take the Ascot Chase.
He has the perfect conditions in a right-handed track over two and a half miles on decent ground, conditions he has been untouchable over in his last two starts. Although he has an entry in the Ryanair, this will have been his target as neither of the two summer festival tracks ideally suit and Punchestown don’t have a suitable race. This will be his Gold Cup.
Shishkin has a lot to prove. He has had a wind op since third in the Tingle Creek and hasn’t won since that brilliant Clarence House duel with Energumene thirteen months ago. He has clearly had his issues and Nicky Henderson did mention midweek that he was concerned about the quick ground.
Fakir D’oudairies meanwhile was arguably lucky to win at Thurles last time when Gowran Park bound Haut En Couleurs came down at the last and will need to be on his A-game to cope with Paul Nicholls’ eight-year-old this afternoon.
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