Betfred TV’s Matt Hulmes shares his tips ahead of a stellar day of racing at Cheltenham, Newbury and Doncaster this afternoon
Cheltenham opens its doors for the first time this season and the ITV crew are there for five races.
Coverage is shared with Flat action from Newbury and Doncaster – with the latter playing host to the season’s final Group One contest, the Vertem Futurity Trophy, which should crown the winter favourite for next year’s Derby.
The opener at Cheltenham is a two-mile hurdle for conditional jockeys.
Plenty of punters will be attracted to Paul Nicholls’ unbeaten Samarrive, who trounced useful flat performer Seinesational at Kempton in April and also beat a big field on his debut in France. This is a different kettle of fish though, in a competitive, likely to be quickly-run handicap, and although he may have plenty in hand he is short enough in the market.
Samba Dancer has improved for the switch to Fergal O’Brien and is on hat-trick after wins at Uttoxeter and Stratford. Those contests weren’t the strongest and he has a 7lb higher mark to defy.
His stable companion, Byzantine Empire, comes here on the back of victory and has had a wind operation. Liam Harrison gets off him to ride Samba Dancer, but a 1lb rise for the Southwell win isn’t excessive and the excellent Lilly Pinchin gets the ride.
Ingleby Hollow is very exposed, while Small Bad Bob is another lightly-raced, hat-trick seeker, but his stable is out of form.
The one to be with could be SARASOTA STAR for Martin Keighley.
The yard loves a winner at their local track and won this race in 2017. This one was noted travelling very strongly at the April meeting when brought down two out. He reverts to hurdles after winning over fences at Worcester last month and looks a decent each-way play at a double-figure price.
At much bigger odds, Pasvolsky could be of interest. He was a useful novice who beat Straw Fan Jack on 4lbs worse terms in March. He has been too bad to be true in two subsequent handicaps but has dropped 3lbs as a result and it is still early days for him. At around 25/1, he could also sneak into the frame.
Heavy ground is the order of the weekend at Newbury, so you must find horses who will handle conditions.
Of the three once-raced winners, Light Infantry won on good ground by six lengths at Yarmouth but Tacarib Bay was a soft ground Haydock winner who may be better suited to underfoot conditions. Dubai Poet was a fair third to Coroebus in the Autumn Stakes and won his maiden in impressive fashion over track and trip.
This may rest though between the Flying Scotsman 1-2 of NOBLE TRUTH and Hoo Ya Mal.
Just a nose separated them on that occasion, despite the former being a big drifter on the day – but he has subsequently proved his effectiveness on heavy going when second at Longchamp on Arc weekend and that earns him the vote.
The first place to start with this staying handicap chase is top-weight and last year’s beaten Grand National favourite Cloth Cap. He usually needs a run to put a fitness edge on him and was third in this race behind the admirable Frodon in this race last year before winning the Ladbrokes Trophy.
He travelled well for a long way in the National before weakening after Valentines the second time and making a noise. He has had a breathing operation over the summer but returns here 18lbs higher than last season and this will put him right for future targets.
Lots of punters will point to Kerry Lee’s sensational start to the season, saddling seven winners from her 16 runners so far, including the last five. Her Storm Control is a two-time course winner and despite winning after a break he usually does need a first run of the season and that is a slight sticking point when looking at a 9/2 shot.
It is not an issue with JERSEY BEAN though, whose record after a break of 100+ days is 11234. He’s just 4lbs higher than when winning over this trip on the new course in April. He has won three of his nine races over fences and off just 10-7 he can win on reappearance again with conditions very much in his favour.
The frustrating but consistent Definite Plan for Gordon Elliott, the hat-trick seeking Domaine De L’Isle and other last time out winners Minella Bobo and Go Another One will also have their followers in a competitive handicap.
Siskany steps up to Group 3 company after winning a competitive handicap in good style at Newmarket a fortnight ago, gets a weight allowance as three-year-old and has impressed on his only start in soft ground – although that was on handicap debut off what we can now say was clearly a favourable mark.
He is short enough in the betting and better options may come with MAX VEGA and Morando, two proven mudlarks.
Morando hasn’t had his ideal trip and ground since a close third to Hukum at Goodwood in May and can be expected to run well. He finished alongside Max Vega at Newmarket last time but the selection ran an excellent fifth in the Ebor and was unlucky not to get much closer.
He was a soft ground Group winner as a juvenile and was a close fourth in deep Longchamp ground in a Group 2 last autumn. He was well backed for the Newmarket race a month ago and can land a deserved victory here.
Ilarab has won on a York handicap with dig in the ground but struggled on his two starts in Group company in similar conditions.
Just four go to post for the big four-year-old hurdle, but there is still quality on show.
Tritonic looked to be the best British juvenile last season when running away with the Adonis Hurdle at Kempton but was another who couldn’t live with the Irish invasion at the Festival, finishing fifth in the Triumph Hurdle.
He was sent off just 4/1 and Alan King decided against running him again. He had a spin on the flat at Royal Ascot, finishing mid-division, and this looks an ideal starting point for him back over hurdles this season.
His main challenge appears to be from Stepney Causeway for the Skeltons.
He rattled four quick wins in six weeks to help Harry Skelton to the jockey’s title, but they were very winnable events and I am not sure he is worthy of his 137 rating. This race will tell us.
The one to be on is I LIKE TO MOVE IT for Nigel Twiston-Davies, who has race fitness on his side.
He made a very likeable winning hurdles debut at Worcester a fortnight ago, and he was deemed to be good enough to take his chance in the Champion Bumper at the Festival this year, finishing mid-pack. He is a National Hunt-bred individual and can take care of the pair who started life on the Flat for a team whose jumpers are usually pretty forward this early in the season.
Twoshotsoftequila failed to trouble the judge on hurdles debut at Hexham and looks to have his work cut out.
Luxembourg will be all the rage for the season’s final Group 1 as Aidan O’Brien bids for a record-equalling 10th victory in the contest, looking to draw level with the late, great Sir Henry Cecil.
Despite Classic wins in England, Ireland and France, and seeing St Mark’s Basilica become a champion, it still feels like the season hasn’t been the best for Ballydoyle – and that is certainly the case in the juvenile department. Point Lonsdale was their best so far and he was put in his place by Native Trail at the Curragh.
That could all change if Luxembourg wins this weekend. Having already won the Beresford Stakes, he takes a tried and tested route for O’Brien and all his early Debry hopes. He easily beat up a small field there but is priced up on reputation and not his on-course exploits, so there is some value to be had elsewhere.
Royal Patronage was a big-priced winner of the Acomb at York and proved that was no fluke when staying on strongly to win the Royal Lodge. He may have been fortunate to beat the idling Coroebus on that occasion though, and despite holding Imperial Fighter on both a strict interpretation of that run and in the Acomb, Andrew Balding’s (winning trainer in 2019) hope has only had three runs and should get a lot closer.
That is strong form but the best in the book looks to be held by BAYSIDE BOY. The race wasn’t run to suit but he still stayed on strongly to win the Champagne Stakes here at Doncaster in September, before arguably bettering that form when third in the Dewhurst Stakes. The concern is that was only a fortnight ago, but he was closest at the line and looks likely to relish this step up in trip to a mile.
This trappy two-mile handicap chase features two Cheltenham Festival Grand Annual winners and no less than four last time out winners from a field of nine – plus a pair who were beaten in hat-trick bids on their latest starts.
Sky Pirate had his finest hour back in March when just getting up to win the Grand Annual to end a very fruitful campaign. That effort has seen him rise 7lbs and is borderline Champion Chase class so will need to kick on again to defy this mark.
Belargus landed an emotional success at Sandown in April for connections as the Nick Gifford-trained six-year-old won the Josh Gifford Memorial Chase. This will be his first outing at Cheltenham and young Niall Houlihan is fresh from a hat-trick at Plumpton on Monday so is full of confidence – but the horse is up another 8lbs for his first start in six months.
The best bet may be BEFORE MIDNIGHT for Gold Cup-winning jockey turned trainer Sam Thomas. He battled on for success at Chepstow in April and is ultra-consistent. He has only had seven runs over fences so could improve again this season and the yard has started the campaign in good form with its few runners to date.
Solar Impulse won at the Festival in 2016 and is not improving as he embarks on his 65th start here. Despite wining at Perth in July to show the fire still burns, it would be disappointing for the others if the 11-year-old scores here.
Both Hatcher and Bathiva saw winning runs end abruptly recently, suggesting the handicapper has finally caught up and is in charge.
Ashutor would be interesting if well supported. Sophie Leech does well with her runners at the track and this recruit from the Paul Nicholls yard is well-handicapped if a change of scenery instils some sort of revival.
I am a lover of the famous Juddmonte silks of Khalid Abdullah’s operation and so when I see a once-raced, unbeaten youngster pitched into pattern company I get all gooey eyed. DEODAR has plenty more going for him than my strange affections though.
He was a 12/1 debut scorer at Newbury, beating Richard Hannon’s Witch Hunter, who had previous experience, by a neck. Subsequently, the runner-up was mightily unlucky at Listed level at York when denied by half-a-length and racing away from the developing action. That form is a timely boost to the selection while the third home was previously runner-up to the now 108-rated Hierarchy.
108 is the rating awarded to Flaming Rib, but I think it may flatter him. He made his debut in April and you would have been hard pressed in midsummer to say this fellow would be in pattern company at the end of the season. But after winning a small field contest at Thirsk he won a big nursery at the Ebor meeting, before easily landing a contest at Chester – the bare form of which is highly questionable. He was put up 7lbs for that latest win though and young apprentice Pierre Louis-Jamin cannot claim here.
Gold Medal won his only start for Richard Hughes on the all-weather and is respected, while few trainers have been in better form lately than Clive Cox, whose hat-trick seeking Mohi could be the main danger. He is rated 88 after a pair of nursery wins on the all-weather but the team is flying, and Hector Crouch has given up some fair rides at Newbury to head to Doncaster on Saturday.
The first six in this contest will qualify for the final at the Festival in March and although that is still six months away connections will not want to be blowing handicap marks, so it’s always a case of treading carefully in these contests. Sometimes it pays to look at those towards the foot of the weights who need a significant rise to have a chance of making the cut in the spring.
Tullybeg represents the Gordon Elliott stable and is looking for three wins on the spin after narrow success at Navan and last time out on handicap debut at Gowran Park. The British handicapper has hit him with a 10lbs rise though, plus his exciting jockey Jordan Gainford claims 2lb less than in those success.
He still could have plenty in hand and is major player, but I expect BORN PATRIOT, almost ten lengths behind at Navan but now 10lbs better off, to get much closer and hopefully turn the form around. He had some excellent novice form behind the likes of Gars de Sceaux and Threeunderthrufive, and connections tasted Festival success last season with Belfast Banter. He has a nice weight of 11-4 and this prize looks likely to head to Ireland, but not courtesy of the favourite.
Geordie Des Champs and Jersey Wonder are very closely matched on their Ffos Las meeting back in June, with the former having a spin recently over fences at Chepstow – while Butlers Brief is improving rapidly since upped in trip to three miles and could trouble the judge despite a 9lb hike for his easy Bangor success when last seen in May.
To finish off we’ve got a wide-open sprint handicap with a third of the field last time out winners.
Illusionist’s victory at York was sensational. After missing the break and switching sides, he passed the entire field to nab Zargun, a winner subsequently at Catterick, right on the line. Incredibly, he’s 3lbs better off here and should confirm the form.
Raasel has rattled off a hat-trick at a lower level and could still have plenty more improvement for the shrewd Horse Watchers, and he will need to off a 6lb higher mark – although the 5lb claim of Adam Farragher makes that more manageable and he is a major player at the foot of the weights.
Boundless Prospect was second in the Portland here at the St Leger Festival and is of interest despite the 7lb higher mark after winning at Ascot on heavy ground. He won’t mind whatever weather hits Town Moor on Saturday.
Dakota Gold tops the weights but he hasn’t been at his best of late, while Sunday Sovereign, who chased home Zargun at Catterick, also has to enter calculations.
The second and third home at Musselburgh in a conditions race may hold the key here though, as there was nothing to choose between INDIAN SOUNDS and Makanah.
Makanah deserves another good prize as he has been knocking on the door all season off a three-figure mark and may just need a helping hand from the handicapper to score. INDIAN SOUNDS finished just ahead of him at Musselburgh off levels, flying home and was just denied by the 105 rated Roulston Scar. He comes here untouched on a mark of 90 (10lb pull with Makanah) and must enter calculations. He has finished second and third on his two Doncaster visits and can make it third time lucky for sprint king, Paul Midgley.