RACING fan Graeme Johnston (@GraemeJ_83) picks out his best bets from a busy Saturday card.
13:50 Ascot | ITV4
The Reynoldstown Chase is a Grade 2 for staying novices and a though it’s a decent field it’s unlikely to influence any Cheltenham markets. Staying is the name of the game here and on soft ground this will be a real test.
Label Des Obeaux won at the fourth time of asking over fences and was an impressive winner from the front in Ludlow novice chase. A consistent sort, he is likely to run his race but he finds winning difficult. On his 20 career starts he’s won just twice (novice hurdle and novice chase) and the percentage call is to oppose him.
Fletcher Flyer is a real tough stayer and has won over 3 miles 6 furlongs in Ireland. He is likely to set out to make this a real test and I would be surprised if he doesn’t attempt to make all here. However he concedes weight all round and his rivals stay well too and he may just plug in to a place rather than win.
Arpege D’Alene was the best of these over hurdles and has made a pleasing start to his chasing career. He put up two solid efforts at Cheltenham on his last two starts and I get the feeling small fields suit him as he has a touch of pace for a stayer. His one previous trip to Ascot was a winning one and I think he can maintain his unbeaten course record here.
14:45 Wincanton | ITV4
The Kingwell Hurdle is one of the final recognised Champion Hurdle trials and it could be an informative race. Yanworth has become a real contender for the big race in March and has to win here to cement his place in the line up.
He won the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton and has a penalty to carry here as a result but looks the most likely winner. He stays really well and a small field on a quick 2 miles is not ideal so there are question marks over him for that reason. I wouldn’t recommend any extravagant lay bets against him but I see reasons to oppose him.
Irving on his day is one the the best hurdlers in the UK however he has a patchy record overall. He seems to be best when fresh and his form tends to tail off throughout most seasons. He has yet to win outside of November since his novice days so I expect him to struggle here.
Sceau Royal was a revelation earlier in the season and was well fancied for the Fighting Fifth Hurdle where the enigmatic Irving got the better of him. He seemed to tire close home that day where they got racing a long way out and I think he is better than he showed there. On his early season form he could pose Yanworth a question or two and is a backable price here.
15:50 Haydock | ITV4
The Albert Bartlet Prestige Novice Hurdle is a trial for the Cheltenham race with the same sponsor and this is a real test for inexperienced horses. Seven line up here and it looks worth concentrating on the ones at the head of the market.
As ever Evan Williams has a group of talented novices however they are yet to really catch fire this season. A few of his fancied runners have been disappointing lately and I’m prepared to swerve his representative here Report to Base. He’s likely to send out some big price winners later in the season but I can’t back him today.
No Hassle Hoff was a very impressive winner of a Hereford maiden earlier in the season and has shown he’s a talented young stayer with two solid efforts in stronger company since. This looks an easier assignment than he faced last time however at the prices I like his market rival a little more.
The World’s End for Tom George has won his last two starts, both at Chepstow, and looks a really dour stayer in the making. Sent off favourite for his debut over hurdles he was disappointing when beaten by Gayebury and his jumping was clumsy. He has looked more professional since and the extra distance will be right up his street here. I think at the odds he appeals despite conceding weight to his market rival.