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Craig Porter 31st Jan 2009 - 0:00

Channel 4 live racing tips

Saturday's Channel 4 horse racing coverage is from Sandown, Wetherby and Doncaster and can also be viewed right here at williamhill.com through racingTV.

Paul Jones, our Weatherbys' expert tipster , brings you his thoughts on the big TV races of the day. With the big meeting just weeks away, you might also like to read Paul's weekly Cheltenham Festival previews.

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2:05 Sandown Read preview Bet now
2:20 Wetherby
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2:35 Sandown
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2:50 Wetherby
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3:00 Doncaster
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3:10 Sandown
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3:25 Wetherby
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3:30 Doncaster
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3:45 Sandown
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2.05 Sandown

Anything other than a convincing victory for Celestial Halo would have to go down as a disappointment and that is hard to envisage happening in receipt of 4lbs from last Osana and Afsoun (both placed in a Champion Hurdle) in testing ground. Paul Nicholls said after he won the Triumph Hurdle on decent ground that Celestial Halo would be even better with there is much more cut about which he will certainly get today.

I am not sure we should be taking his 4l defeat by Binocular at face value as he pinched ten lengths at the start and went a good gallop from the outset but it was still a very decent effort as his trainer was at pains beforehand to say he would improve for the run and would have beaten the other three classy horses even if he did not get a flyer when the tapes rose.

Afsoun couldn’t beat Songe last time which makes him very vulnerable and he is becoming a disappointing horse whilst Osana hasn’t been seen since last April so I can’t imagine they will want to bottom him on his seasonal debut in what is essentially a prep for the Champion Hurdle plus the yard are still hardly flying though have had three winners this week.

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2.20 Wetherby

The rise in Saunders Road’s handicap mark for his Cheltenham win appeared to catch up with him next time out at Ascot so preference is for Ellerslie George chasing his third win in four starts for the in-form Howard Johnson yard. Those two victories both came over this course and distance (has won 3 of his 4 starts at Wetherby on what can be a course specialist’s track) and he gamely held off the re-opposing Corlande on the latter occasion and can confirm placings with the runner-up having another hard race since.

The other seven runners either look out of form or in the handicapper’s grip with the exception of the top weight The Whisperer but he has not been seen on a racecourse since last April so would have to be seriously wound up to win first time out on a surface as soft as this.

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2.35 Sandown

Only five runners line up for this Grade 1 race but it is a fascinating renewal where I like Pressgang’s chance. Although he just lost out to Herecomesthetruth at Taunton but that was a step up on his chasing debut at Newbury behind Buck The Legend and he subsequently won with plenty in hand at Kempton despite jumping violently to his left and then veering even more wildly to the left on the run in so he is improving with each run. It says a lot for his engine that he re-grouped and got back up close up home with his jockey being able to ease up in the last couple of strides.

Those rivals weren’t in this league but he definitely has the scope for further improvement and I take heart from the fact that his jumping was much more straightforward on his other two chase starts. Araldur is a grand staying sort and will appreciate this step up in trip as it took him all his time to get the better of the speedier Free World at Sandown last time. However, I felt Free World didn’t quite last out and his stamina was subsequently exposed at Ascot so I think the merit of Araldur’s Sandown win can be questioned.

I was taken by Massini’s Maguire’s win on his chase debut at Ascot following a 588-day absence but, on balance, came away disappointed by his subsequent second to Breedsbreeze in the Feltham over 3m at Christmas. I think Breedsbreeze is better than any of these rivals but, even so, after travelling well into the straight I’d expected Massini’s Maguire to find more, yet he was readily disposed of. Perhaps he didn’t fully stay so this trip is more suitable. In summary, although he is clearly the lowest rated of these on official ratings, it is Pressgang for me, particularly given the nature of the course and the uphill finish.

I just hope that he doesn’t jump in the manner he did at Kempton, which commentator Richard Hoiles described as being ‘like a drunk on Boxing Day’.

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2.50 Wetherby

Wild Cane Ridge will relish the conditions but he hasn’t shown much for 13 months now and the same can be argued of Laertes so the two top weights are not for me. The old boy of the party, Tighten Your Belt, would just get my vote. Donald McCain Jnr’s 12-year-old showed he was no back number when third here on Boxing Day and the yard have taken off since then so it would be no surprise to see him improve on that effort and win what is not a very competitive handicap truth be told.

He may be 12 but he is lightly-raced having run just 13 times over hurdles so don’t let that out you off. Bold Policy can help make the market as punters will be keen to back the Nicholls runner in a weak race, especially a last-time-out winner, but it was only a weak maiden hurdle he won and he could be overbet.

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3.00 Doncaster

Paul Nicholls sent a novice under Christian Williams to Doncaster last week and returned with the big handicap winner in Big Fella Thanks and I like the look of I’msingingtheblues giving him a second big-handicap chase win at the track in the space of 8 days with another novice under the same jockey.

First-season chasers do have a terrific record in the top 2m handicap chases as their record in the Grand Annual at Cheltenham and Red Rum Chase at Aintree illustrates and this slick-jumping novice looked ideally suited to the track when beating Calgary Bay on his last start when giving 6lbs. I have little doubt his extra experience and race fitness carried the day on that occasion but that is still smart form and if he can master Doctor David for the lead by the time they turn in providing they haven’t cut each other’s throats, he is the one I feel is best placed to win.

I do have respect for Caroline Bailey’s novice who is a soft-ground, flat-track bully but will he be able to get his own way today like on his last two starts? I also feel he may be a little harshly handicapped for his drubbing of Kalahari King who simply didn’t act on the soft ground last time. I’m So Lucky is the third novice and ran well attempting to give weight to lively Arkle outsider Planet Of Sound last time out following six months off but I wonder if the ground is lively enough for him.

Medicinal is the only non-novice I would consider but his tendency to make mistakes at crucial times puts me off at his likely price.

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3.10 Sandown

Only in-form horses win this race and both Blue Shark and Ballydub were going well until the penultimate flight ended both their hopes last time out and they are two I like plus the lowly-weighted pair Cruchain and Otto Des Pictons. Of the first-named pair I would prefer Blue Shark as only a horse with the class of Baracouda has won this race with over 10st 10lbs in the last ten years as it is always a real test at this trip in testing ground and Ballydub has 11st 7lbs on his back.

I have one eye on Blue Shark for the Festival if it comes up soft and he was travelling nicely in Big Buck’s’ handicap hurdle victory at Cheltenham on his last start when all but unseating his rider 2 out and losing all chance and he will love this testing ground having won a Grade 1 juvenile hurdle in the mud before a three-year absence. His trainer has also fared well in this race of late from few runners and he is only 1lb over the 10st 10lbs limit that has been important in this race.

The horse that forced his mishap was Ballydub who fell directly in front of him and he was also going well at the time and is another major player for the Hobbs stable that has done well from few runners in this contest but that big weight does worry me slightly. Cruchain only has 10st 3lbs and like 10 of the last 16 winners won last time out so he is a big player especially having also proven himself at this trip last time out at Ascot where he was moving up from 2m for the first time so there is more to come from him.

Otto Des Pictons was not given a hard time on his seasonal debut but was fifth in the EBF Final over course and distance behind Albertas Run two seasons ago and represents the Nicholls-Walsh combination so has to be of considerable interest. In summary, although I have respect for Ballydub, I just prefer Cruchain and Blue Shark.

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3.25 Wetherby

Will Be Done is my type of horse, one that just keeps on galloping and tries his heart out and I fancy him to follow up his previous four victories this season in this Grade 2 race. He outstayed his rivals despite two uncharacteristic mistakes in the home straight on his last start at Haydock so was value for much more than the winning margin in what was a decent-quality event and this should be much more his bag than the Sandown race for which he was also declared.

Companero is another real stayer in the making but he is just too dour for me and maybe more of a prospect for the four-miler at the Festival and the horse he narrowly beat last time out did not exactly frank that form on his next start. Therefore I much prefer Will De Done of the two unbeaten chasers and believe they have a class advantage over the remainder.

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3.30 Doncaster

This is really tough but I think the top weight Gypsy George will go well and can repay each-way support. I think he is a better horse giving weight away to lesser rivals than receiving weight in a better race and he is 7lbs better off with Jass for when they met three weeks ago where he was only beaten two lengths. Forget his previous run in the Welsh National when out of his grade and he had previously won staying chases at Uttoxeter and a real slog in heavy ground at Kelso so four miles today should present a problem.

Of the low weights at a likely bigger price, Bellaney Jewel had a rare off day last time but she won the Borders National at Kelso two seasons over 4m in a quagmire so will stay forever and can also make her presence felt.

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3.45 Sandown

Monkerhostin ran a belter last time out only to be denied by a well-ridden winner who poached the race and he runs Sandown well too but he is a better horse when the ground rides on top which is enough to put me off. Gungadu has been disappointing this season, Erics Charm only ran eight days ago in testing conditions in Ireland where he fell away tamely, Something Wells has risen from a rating of 125 to 137 for continually getting beaten and According To John will be doing well to defy a 446-day absence so the winner can emerge from the other four.

New Little Bric was a classy novice two seasons ago but has really struggled since. However, he returns to the scene of his best runs as a novice and has had a breathing operation in the summer and just had one run since when running alright until two errors finished him off at Newbury and, rested for two months since, I can see him going close this with Walsh back in the saddle now the handicapper is starting to relent. Lacdoudal won the old Whitbread here over a stone higher mark plus he was placed in other good races so is respected and his only run this season was over hurdles. If right, he is more than capable of winning off that mark but that could be a big if.

The novice Sound Accord has just his fourth chase start and it was just an ordinary novice chase he won last time so he does not excite me but Can’t Buy Time is progressive, stays and acts on soft ground and takes the eye bang off 10st especially with his capable conditional taking off 7lbs bringing him down to 9st 7lbs in bad ground. Furthermore, the fact he made most of the running for his last three wins is something I like for chases at Sandown where front runners excel. His defeat last time out was when he was held up so hopefully they learn from that and set out to make the running again and let his low weight do the rest on this ground.

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