By Samantha Martin (@sam_angelina22)
This Saturday seems to be the most exciting day of racing so far this season – there are top-class cards at Wetherby, Ascot and Down Royal. My ‘Saturday Focus’ is on the Charlie Hall Chase, which I have previewed in full. Also, I have had a look at the other eight races that ITV are showing.
The Charlie Hall Chase is a grade two race over three miles. There are ten runners going to post for this year’s renewal. I consider this race to be the first proper race of the season. It is great to see Cyrname back racing after that scary fall at Ascot last time. Apparently, he bounced back from the tumble well and would’ve ran again if Covid hadn’t happened. He had won well at Ascot before that and then, in the King George VI Chase at Kempton, he was second. The thing with Ascot and Kempton is that they are both right-handed. Wetherby is left-handed. I don’t like to make a problem about that though – surely the best horse in the race can win regardless of how the track turns?
A similar thing can be said about Vinndication. I think a lot of this horse and always have done. He won his first two novice chases at the backend of 2018 before following in Defi Du Seuil twice. He won the Sodexo Gold Cup on this day last year but didn’t run again until he came forth in the Ultima at Cheltenham. He deserves his chance in this kind of company and has to be one of the leading players in this. Kim Bailey is running at a 37% strike rate over the past two weeks and David Bass is currently riding at 39%. He’s round about second favourite to Cyrname.
We have the last two winners of the race in the line-up – Ballyoptic (2019) and Definitly Red (2020). Ballyoptic ran a brilliant race that day, beating Definitly Red and La Bague Au Roi. After this, he was well-beaten on two runs but took winning honours in a listed handicap chase at Ascot on soft/heavy ground on his only start so far in 2020. You can never really discount him. He did have the benefit of a previous run last year before this. Definitly Red reversed form with Ballyoptic next time out when he came fourth in the Becher Chase and Ballyoptic was eleventh. He finished second in the Peter Marsh, before winning at Kelso on heavy ground in late February, with Saint Xavier third. It was good ground when he won this two years ago so he’s very versatile.
La Bague Au Roi was a very smart novice chaser in the 2018/19 season, even beating Topofthegame and Santini in a grade one and winning the Leopardstown Flogas Novice Chase. Since then, she hasn’t won and was last seen finishing fourth in handicap company. Saint Xavier’s last win was in a novice hurdle at Kempton in January. Two starts later, he was behind Definitly Red and he’s changed yards a few times since. He doesn’t have much going for him on paper but the in-form Kielan Woods rides.
Keeper Hill won a graduation chase on his first start last season and got to within a length and a quarter of Frodon. He was last seen in a handicap hurdle and, even though he’s a grade two hurdle winner, he seems to have a bit to find. Aye Right has form with Kepper Hill’s stablemate and my favourite horse, Mulcahys Hill. Aye Right won a two runner race in January against him. Next time, he out-ran his 100/1 odds in the RSA Novices Chase. On reappearance, he came second, staying on, at Kelso, which was an encouraging run. This is a step up in grade for him and, before he won, he unseated in behind Sam Spinner. That horse came second in the Stayers Hurdle and started out his chasing career at Wetherby and won both starts there. The last time we saw him was in a grade two at Doncaster, when he won by thirty-eight lengths. He was ruled out for the rest of the season because he suffered a bad pelvis injury so it is very impressive that the yard have got him back so soon. He’s a really exciting chaser and, if he feels good, he should go well.
Last to mention is Mister Whitaker. He won the 2018 Close Brothers race at Cheltenham. He won there next season in a listed and, a few starts later, was third in the Stable Plate Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. He’s a good horse but its hard to know whether he’s up to this level.
Overall, I am going to overlook CYRNAME’s lack of good left-handed form and side with him because, when you think about it, Paul Nicholls could’ve sent him to Ascot or Down Royal. But he didn’t. I like the chamces of Vinndication too and I hope Sam Spinner can go well.
Rest of the Races
13:35 Wetherby – MINELLA FOR ME hasn’t actually won a race since March 2019 off a mark of 117. He got put up 10lbs for that. Last time, he showed that he was nearly back to his best with a second, beaten less than a length. He has won here before and the trainer/jockey combination are going well.
14:10 Wetherby – Verdana Blue was second thirteen days ago at Kempton. She’ll be odds-on for this so, looking for a good EW shot, I have settled with ROSIE AND MILLIE. On this weekend last year, she won a novice race by fifteen lengths and she only went down a neck in listed company. The Mares’ Novice at Cheltenham was a bit too much for her but the price of 25/1 is too big.
14:45 Wetherby – This looks a good race. We’ve got the Stayers Hurdle winner LISNAGAR OSCAR, who comes into this with a 6lbs penalty. He has a leading form chance and I don’t think his Stayers’ Hurdle victory was a fluke. It is interesting to see that Roksana is favourite and she was last seen in the Mares Hurdle. Copperhead could have a good chance at a bigger price.
13:20 Ascot – DORKING BOY made his chase debut eleven days ago, coming second to a rival carrying 7lbs less but only by a length. He’s related to grade one-winner Ballyandy and he seems to have a good chance.
13:55 Ascot – IBLEO is very lightly-raced. Early this year, he ran for the first time after 838 days and he won well, at Wincanton. Then, he went to Huntingdon and won again. Last time, he may have been stretched a little bit too far over two miles four at the latter track but was still second. I think he has a good chance here.
15:05 Ascot – I really like KID COMMANDO in this. He’s a six-year-old, who has only ran five times. He won his debut by eighteen lengths and was then second in a good race. He ran in a listed bumper, finishing fifth, and then made his hurdles debut. This really impressed me. He’s been campaigned ambitiously as he was next seen in the Dovecote, where he came third. He’s a nice son of Robin Des Champs.
15:40 Ascot – This looks an absolutely sensational race. It is full of talented horses but it think I’m going to side with VALTOR. He’s only had seven runs in England and, last time out, he ran very well to be second here, beating Regal Encore. He should go well first time this season off 11st1.
14:25 Down Royal – Gordon Elliott holds a strong hand here with five of the nine runners. This has been something dubbed as a clash between Presenting Percy and Delta Work but I’m siding with THE STORYTELLER. His run last time out, which was a win, was very good and he beat a few of these rivals. He is a grade one winner and this is a tougher ask but I’m hopeful.