Race-by-race tv previews
Saturday's televised horse racing is from Kempton and Newcastle 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.
Remember that all UK and Irish horse racing comes with our Best Odds Guaranteed promise which means that, if you take the price when placing your bet, you will get paid at the SP if it ends up bigger than the price you took.
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Ainama bids to cement his position as the leading British hope for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle in a race his trainer won with Flown before he went on to win the traditional Festival curtain-raiser.
His fast jumping and instant turn of speed when McCoy let out an inch of rein were the two most impressive factors of his hurdling debut and there will be some glum faces at Seven Barrows if he can not enhance his already-glowing reputation especially returning to Kempton where he looked so good beating what could be a very useful hurdler in Hebridean with the minimum fuss.
Dee Ee Williams is being aimed at the Champion Hurdle on the request of his owners and has to bounce back from a disappointing run at Haydock on tacky ground last time out. This surface will suit better but I feel he will be better on a track that places more emphasis on stamina as he does finish his races well. Alfie Flits is a bigger player for me as he was far superior horse on the Flat to Ainama and has his favoured conditions of decent ground on a flat track where he has twice looked very useful this season at Haydock.
Conflictofinterest has been a talking horse so far so is no value but he is a dangerous lurker if Nicholls feels he is his best Supreme Novices' Hurdle hope. He has had corrective surgery on his breathing since his last run so all was clearly not well when beaten on his only start this season. Alan King has the Fred Winter Novices' Hurdle in mind for Trenchant so maybe he is best watched today.
Not a very strong race for terrestrial television coverage and I would think this will come down to Prosecco, Nelson Du Ronceray and Best Prospect who all met at Ayr last month and just one and a half lengths separated the three.
Of the three, the best percentage call would be Prosecco who won on that occasion (has won two of his last three starts) where he just beat Nelson Du Ronceray and is now crucially also 6lbs better off. Lucinda Russell's seven-year-old has a most progressive profile and I am not sure the handicapper has got to grips with him just yet.
Nelson Du Ronceray handled these testing well at another stiff track in Carlisle last time out and is also still progressing having won two of his four starts this season so rates as the main danger with Best Prospect also respected having had a spin on the Flat since finishing on the two principals' tails at Newcastle.
A disappointing turnout of four and I would fancy Ouzbeck a lot more if this were run after the Cheltenham weights are released next week as his most likely target when I spoke to his trainer on Monday is the Festival Plate rather than the Jewson. That said he is already rated 153 so am not sure the handicapper can put him up too much more if he beats Herecomesthetruth.
The latter won a weak Grade 1 novice chase last time and would have been comfortably beaten by Massini's Maguire if that horse did not make a terrible mistake. The ground is the key to Ouzbeck and his trainer feels he is good enough to win a handicap off 153 on his favoured good ground so this Grade 2 novice chase can prove within his compass.
In short, I am not really a big fan of Herecomesthetruth who has too many quirks for me so if the ground is good and Ouzbeck touches 7/2, I could very well be tempted. Au Courant's last run is probably best ignored but he still has too much to find with the big two for me to seriously consider him.
This has been a really strong patterns race in recent years with last-time-out winners winning 9 of the last 10 runnings and previous course winners taking 7 of the last 10 runnings so I would be favouring Fleet Street to run a big race being the only horse to fit both those stats. In fact, the race he won last time out here in December was the same race as two other recent winners of this prize took.
He races off a 9lbs higher mark today and I think he is capable of defying that but I do greatly fear Big Fella Thanks who crashed out 3 out in that same race when probably going best before winning easily at Doncaster. Had he stayed on his feet, then it would probably be he that meets the trends criteria best and not Fleet Street and he is a deserving favourite.
Two others I looked at were Lacdodual and Nacarat. Lacdoudal has course-winning form has been very important for this race and I thought he ran well on his comeback and I note Hobbs feels he still retains most of his ability before his injury. He could hit the frame at a working man's price.
Nacarat and McCoy were the perfect partnership last time and I can see this bold-jumping prominent racer putting up a big run but the trip worries me slightly. One real outsider to look at is Billyvoddan who looks overpriced to me at massive odds. His trainer won the race with a similar type in Young Spartacus, the horse goes best fresh as proven by a victory in a big Ascot handicap first time out in the past, he loves a decent surface which he will get and has dropped to an attractive looking mark.
Top weights have a very good recent record in the Eider Chase and given this is a substandard running of this race for 0-150 rated chasers with the top-weight rated only 136, I think there is a very good chance the top weight could be collecting again this year. I like the chances of Jass who is a highly-progressive novice that loves a real test of stamina.
He will be favourite but he deserves to be after his last start when staying on very strongly to win a similar race to this last time which was arguably also more competitive than today's contest. The stable had the big staying handicap chase winner last week in Rambling Minster so all looks well for a big run.
Harmony Brig is the other top weight but he is not a horse you would trust to run the same race twice and now returns back to fences where he is not as well treated as he was over hurdles and think he is a horse to take a chance on when he is a big price rather than one to back at shorter odds.
Natiain is a horse I can see running well for a long way. A more than useful hunter last season when allowed to dominate, if he can get into a rhythm and gain an uncontested lead, he would the horse I most fear and should be considered for each-way purposes.
It will be interesting to hear why Starluck is not putting the final touches to his Triumph Hurdle preparation here as this looked the ideal prep for him being a speedy horse on far from testing ground and it has been the best recent guide to the Triumph in recent seasons.
In his absence I think that Hebridean could be the one. Should Ainama bolt up earlier in the afternoon, expect the money to come for Hebridean who was far from disgraced in second when they met last month but, even if Ainama is defeated, I would still prefer him here as I get the feeling he will continue to progress from race to race as his second run over hurdles was a big improvement on his first.
He is only rated 124 so I was half wondering whether they would go for a small race so he gets in the Fred Winter off at the Festival off a tempting mark but he wasn't entered this week which suggests they think he is capable of running well in the Triumph Hurdle which augurs well for his chances here. He also receives 7lbs from Helium which is a lot in juvenile hurdles so the top weight will be doing well to win and I wonder if the ground may also be a little livelier than he would prefer.
Henderson clearly still has a high regard for Excape to run him here as this is usually his chosen port of call for his best Triumph Hurdle hope (not this year though as Zaynar would not be suited to Kempton) after disappointing on his only hurdles start after being well touted. It would require a big leap of faith for me to back him. Alan King runs two including Saticon who he feels could be one for the Fred Winter on good ground.
He is better than he has shown so far as has not had his ground until now so it would not surprise me if he put up a big improvement. Cosmea is the stable's number one though and the track will suit plus she has the fillies' allowance so can be the one to most shake up Hebridean.