The world of horse racing, and all that earn their living from it, are bracing themselves for the “Beast from the East” this week as the forecast cold snap threatens to devastate national hunt racing and even the all-weather flat racing if the snow arrives. We can only pray it subsides before the start of the Cheltenham Festival on March 13!
It’s a relatively quiet mid-week program apart from a couple of “Road To The Kentucky Derby” qualifiers delivering some quality action at Kempton and Lingfield. Meanwhile, there are some interesting Saturday races at Kelso, Doncaster and Newbury that might throw up some Grand National and Scottish National pointers. However, we’ll take a look at last week’s pointers and this week’s top news stories first.
Last Week’s Round Up
The performances of Redicean, Global Citizen, and Baywing stood out from the crowd last weekend. Redicean looked very smart in winning the Adonis Juvenile Hurdle at Kempton and his jumping was much better than on his previous two runs. Alan King has won the Triumph Hurdle before and he looks to have another live chance.
Meanwhile, Global Citizen clocked a time that was nearly three-seconds quicker than Redicean over the same course and distance and, though it’s hard to know what he beat, he was visually impressive. He simply looked too quick for a 108-rated flat horse behind, whilst the fourth horse Mont Avaloirs also gives the performance some substance. He only has an entry in the County Hurdle at Cheltenham, so it will be interesting to see what handicap mark he is allotted.
Meanwhile, Baywing looked like he’s sure to get competitive in either a future Grand National or Scottish National when running out an impressive winner of the Eider Chase at Newcastle. Connections think he needs soft ground to be seen at his best but there have been plenty of soft-ground Nationals.
This Week’s News
Richard Johnson notched-up his 150th winner of the season on Monday, despite his main provider Phillip Hobbs having a terrible season. Meanwhile, racecourse gallops by Might Bite, Altior and Buveur D’Air suggest Nicky Henderson’s favourites for the Gold Cup, Champion Chase and Champion Hurdle could give him a big-race treble at the Cheltenham Festival. However, Willie Mullins may yet have a big say in those title races with Faugheen and Yorkhill both entered for the Champion Hurdle, whilst Douvan is now considered to have a better than 50/50 chance of lining-up in the Champion Chase.
“Road To The Kentucky Derby” Conditions Stakes (Kempton 7.30, Thursday)
Whether any of the runners in this class 2 conditions stakes will actually make it to the Kentucky Derby remains to be seen. However, this £43,000 to the winner race is part of a new initiative which gives 3-year-olds from England, Ireland and France a chance to qualify for the 2018 Kentucky Derby on May 5. There are seven qualifying races for European horses this season with the first four home in each earning points that could qualify them for one of the biggest races on the planet. Aidan O’Brien certainly looks to be taking the opportunity seriously as he has three entries in the shape of the 117-rated Mendelsshon, the 112-rated Seahenge, and the 111-rated Threeandfourpence. Meanwhile, the highest-rated of the English entries is the 100-rated Fortune’s Pearl who is trained by Andrew Balding.
Play Jackpot Games At Sunbets.co.uk/vegas Handicap (Lingfield 4.10, Friday)
It’s Lingfield’s turn to stage class 2 all-weather action on Friday and it will be interesting to see what Mitchum Swagger is capable of on his first run for Ralph Beckett after being transferred from D R Lanigan. The 6-year-old has run some decent races at Listed and Group level in the past and Beckett has had nearly five months to try and bring above some improvement. He will have to concede weight all-round if lining up but rarely gets the chance to run against this level of opposition.
Patton Stakes (Dundalk 8.00, Friday)
Ireland’s all-weather track also stages a “Road to the Kentucky Derby” qualifier here in this one-mile Listed Race. It’s no surprise to see that Aidan O’Brien has the three horses he has entered at Kempton also entered here with a first prize of over €44,000 and it would be no surprise if he took both contests. O’Brien also has three more entries in the unraced Cliffs of Dooneen, the once-raced Family Tree, and the three-time raced maiden Spanish Point. We can only hope jockey-bookings point us in the right direction come the day.
Kelso (Saturday 3 March)
Kelso stages two important races on Saturday including the Grade 2 Totescoop6 Premier Kelso Novices’ Hurdle (3.20). The last three renewals have been won by Mount Mews, La Prezien, and Glingerburn, and there looks to be plenty of potentially useful types entered. First Flow looks likely to make a bold bid for a fourth successive win over hurdles for trainer Kim Bailey, whilst Beyond The Clouds could bid to make it five wins on the bounce for Kevin Ryan. The red-hot stable of Ben Pauling could also send the improving Delire D’estruval up north which could be a hint in itself.
However, it’s the Totesport Premier Chase (3.55) that takes centre stage with some fascinating potential runners. Top of the pile is 2017 Betfair Chase winner Bristol De Mai. He’s disappointed on his last two starts, including when finishing a place behind the re-opposing American on his last start at Cheltenham. He’s 4lb better off here though for 2½ lengths and it could be close between them. There are also a couple of National types entered, with Vicente looking to warm up for either the Grand National or a bid to win his third Scottish National in a row. Seeyouatmidnight is also a possible with plenty of money around for him for the Grand National since the weights were announced. It’s also worth remembering that this course and distance winner once beat Bristol De Mai in a novice chase off level-weights at Carlisle.
Doncaster (Saturday 3 March)
Doncaster also stages a recognised Grand National Trial on Saturday and the Grimthorpe Chase will be the main focus on Town Moor. Seeyouatmidnight and Vicente are also entered here but there are also other notable possibilities. Rehearsal Chase winner Beware The Bear will be looking to book his Grand National ticket after flopping last time, whilst Wakanda somehow snatched victory in the Sky Bet Chase at the course when last seen. Meanwhile, Wotzisname beat the well-fancied Mount Mews last time in a novice chase at the course and could be interesting against more exposed rivals.
Newbury (Saturday 3 March)
There also looks to be a third Grand National trial at Newbury, though this one is hiding behind the title of the Elite Racing Club Supporting Veterans’ Handicap Chase (2.05). It certainly features some familiar names as Grand National regular Saint Are looks to be warming up for another go at Aintree, whilst the 13-year-old Alvarado may well have the Scottish National as his big spring target.
Also entered is last year’s Bet365 Gold Cup hero Henllan Harri, Houblon Des Obeaux and Three Faces West.
The highlight of the Newbury card though is the Greatwood Gold Cup Handicap Chase (2.40). Runners from the Paul Nicholls yard need monitoring closely as he has trained 7 of the last 10 winners and has been in good form this week. Nicholls currently has four entries in Adrien Du Pont, Marracudja, Warrior’s Tale, and the 2016 winner Sametegal.