AFTER some sensational tipping for us last week, Graeme Johnston (@Graeme_J) returns with more interesting shouts this weekend.
13:50 Haydock | Channel 4
A small field here with just four turning up for this two mile £61,000 to-the-winner hurdle. It's a puzzling race with the possibility of a muddling pace and the most interesting runner in the field making his seasonal debut but I really like the look of him.
Melodic Rendezvous ran a great race last time behind Irving where he looked back to near his best. However he is nine years old now and he had everything in his favour that day and I don't think he will be winning here.
Irving beat Melodic Rendezvous last time out and he should do so again, but I just don't trust him. For every good performance he has put in (notably a Fighting Fifth victory) he has an alarming flop to counteract enthusiasm. He has been pulled up twice when well fancied and I never know what to expect from him. If he had an attitude to match his talent he'd be a Champion Hurdle contender, but he's not for me.
Top Notch from the Nicky Henderson stable has tasted defeat once, in the Triumph Hurdle behind stablemate Peace and Co. The winner looks a class act and he pushed him hard that day, I'm excited to see where these two end up this season. Top Notch won on his debut in France, and on his debut for Nicky Henderson on the back of an eight month break so he clearly goes well fresh. I firmly believe he will be able to do himself justice first time out.
In what looks a winnable race I'm backing Top Notch to make a winning seasonal debut as he is a promising young horse and I expect him to have too many gears for his rivals here.
14:05 Ascot | Channel 4
The Stella Artois 1965 chase has produced another small field but this looks very much like a match between Vatour and Ptit Zig. Both look top class with Vatour heading the market for the Gold Cup after his sensational victory at the festival last season.
Vatour has put up two mighty performances at the Cheltenham Festival winning the Supreme Novice Hurdle and the JLT Novice Chase, impressive both visually and on the clock and he is one of the most exciting horses in training. However he is not bomb proof. He lost both of his starts in France and on Boxing Day last year he made some shocking jumping errors before being eventually being well beaten behind Clarcam. He proved that form to be all wrong, but on his seasonal debut do you want to take 2/5 about him winning this?
Ptit Zig was behind Vatour at Cheltenham when they last met, but that is not a true reflection of his talent. He never looked happy that day, possibly still feeling the effects of his fall in his previous race and was beaten a long way out. This season he won the Powers Chase at Down Royal in good style on his seasonal debut and he looked better than ever.
He is going to be a tough nut to crack here, and despite having to concede weight to Vatour I'm prepared to have a speculative bet on him reversing Cheltenham form. I may be wrong but I feel Vatour could be caught cold with his main targets later in the season and if there is a time to take him on its today.
15:00 Haydock | Channel 4
The Betfair Chase is the first Grade 1 staying chase of the season and although it's attracted a field of just five its attracted some of the best staying chasers in the UK. Four of the field are Group 1 winners and the other, Ballynagour has been placed in three big races so it's a good renewal.
However as good as it is on paper I'm not excited by this race. Cue Card and Dynaste were two of the best two and a half mile horses around two years ago, and after injuries had stopped both of them adding to their Ryanair chases, they returned in the Charlie Hall filling the first two places looking back to something like their best.
However that form doesn't get the pulse racing. They both, along with Ballynagour were receiving weight from their rivals, who themselves were not at the top of their game. I have a feeling that Dynaste will reverse form with Cue Card from the race as Cue Card was very fit that day, however neither of the trio will be winning here.
Silviniaco Conte is a cut above his rivals here. Arguably the best staying chaser in the country, he hates Cheltenham but his record elsewhere is fantastic. He has won this race twice before, along with two King George Chases and two Betfair Bowl victories at Aintree making him one of the top chasers in recent years.
Yet he is somehow underrated by the masses. In his last 16 races he has only underperformed at Cheltenham where he simply hates, and in this race where he had not had a prep race. Paul Nichols has not made that mistake this year and his reintroduction over hurdles will have put him spot on for this. I make him a very confident selection for this.
13:50 Haydock – To Notch to win (13/8 William Hill)
14:05 Ascot – Ptit Zig to win (4/1 Bet365)
15:00 Haydock – Silviniaco Conti to win (10/11 William Hill)
Bet 365 promise to be best price on any horse running in a live Channel 4 race on Saturday. Decent that!