Just four will go to post for the Grade 1 Betfair Chase at Haydock Park on Saturday, but it is a fascinating race with Bristol de Mai 5/4 favourite at BetVictor from Lostintranslation 6/4 and Frodon 5/1.
On the same day Ascot will play host to the eagerly-awaited clash between Altior and Cyrname but they stage a tremendous card on Friday beginning with a novices’ chase over a trip just shy of 2m 3f.
Nicky Henderson saddles two of the four runners and both are potentially top-class novices. Birchdale lost his unbeaten record in the 3m Albert Bartlett at the Festival although he travelled like the best horse in the race until his stamina, seemingly, gave way. Today’s trip looks an ideal starting point although he will get further in time.
Angels Breath (1.00) won a grade 2 hurdle on debut here last season and ended the campaign with a third in an Aintree Grade 1 to Reserve Tank over two-and-a-half miles. The selection can be a bit keen and Henderson did contemplate fitting his grey with a hood for his chase debut, but this winning pointer gets the vote. Kim Bailey’s First Flow jumped out to his right at Uttoxeter on his chase debut and he should appreciate the switch to a right-hand track.
Tamarac Du Mathan has not run since winning a 3-y-old hurdle in his native France back in April 2018 and has had a wind operation ahead of his British debut for Paul Nicholls. He and impressive Kempton winner Glory And Fortune must give 5lbs, however, to Master Debonair (2.05) who represents the team of Colin Tizzard and Robbie Power who team up with Lostintranslation.
The selection finished second at Cheltenham at their Showcase meeting last month and he is entitled to come on for the experience. Kim Bailey has a number of good chances this afternoon and Mr Grey Sky was unbeaten in a couple of points on soft/heavy ground at Haydock last year. He may need further over jumps.
The Kings Writ has an excellent record fresh and has his ideal conditions for his seasonal reappearance. Kayley Woollacott has not had a winner so far this season, however, and the vote goes to Sky Pirate (2.40) as the ground is no worse than as described at noon on Thursday – good to soft.
The selection was just about to challenge leader Crievehill when coming down four out in the Bobby Renton at Wetherby on his reappearance and had he won, as I thought he would, the handicapper would have raised him a good few pounds. As it is, he can race from the same mark and the 6-year-old certainly deserves a change of fortune.
Orchardstown Cross has won his last three but has been raised two stone in the weights and this represents a step up in grade this afternoon. Good Man Pat is one of my handicappers to follow this term but his three career wins under rules have been in small fields and he might be best watched on his reappearance.
Philip Hobbs has his string in excellent form and Reikers Island (3.15) has been dropped a couple of pounds for finishing fourth at Exeter on his reappearance and he is taken to come on for the run. The selection is only six and remains open to considerable improvement although in a recent interview with the Racing Post Hobbs wondered whether 3m was a sufficient test of stamina for his gelding. He gets the each way vote in an ultra-competitive heat.
The 2m handicap hurdle which concludes the card is another hot contest with Wetherby winner Speed Company and Not So Sleepy both looking ahead of the handicapper near the foot of the weights on their flat form. Not So Sleepy will ensure it is a true test but he is not the most fluent of jumpers and marginal preference is for Oakley (3.45) who is ridden by the excellent conditional Ben Jones. The each way selection finished third at Cheltenham on his reappearance but both his career wins have been on right-handed tracks and he should have the race run to suit.
This is a big weekend for the Sue Smith yard who, at the time of writing, are 0-75 so far this jumps season but I felt Ravenhill Road ran an excellent race at Wetherby at the weekend and Midnight Shadow – who runs at Haydock on Saturday – would have won at Carlisle had he not come down at the last earlier in the month.
Captain Moirette (1.50) runs in the same colours as Midnight Shadow and this course winner over hurdles certainly has the scope to jump a fence. He looked ready for a step up in trip when well beaten in a much better race at Uttoxeter last time and the Smith yard must come good sooner rather than later.
In the 6f Novice Stakes at Newcastle King Ragnar (4.00) bumped into a rejuvenated – and gelded – Ottoman Court at Chelmsford and this stiffer track should suit for John Gosden’s juvenile who can make it third time lucky.
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