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Alex previews the weekend's racing

Alex Hammond Posted 26th January 2012 view comments

It's festival trials day at Cheltenham on Saturday and there is also a super -competitive Sky Bet Chase to fathom out at Doncaster.

Let's start off with Doncaster's feature, the Sky Bet Chase - a Listed Handicap over three miles.

Henderson: set for a productive day?

Henderson: set for a productive day?

Nicky Henderson could have a productive day at Doncaster with some interesting runners. He is likely to head to Town Moor to saddle Shakalakaboomboom in the feature but he also runs the smart-but-quirky Kid Cassidy in the Grade 2 Sky Bet Mobile for Iphone Lightning Novices' Chase.

Kid Cassidy is a horse who has almost died twice - he was sadly involved in the horrific incident at Newbury when two horses were electrocuted and he took a heavy fall on his chase debut at Lingfield in November which nearly killed him - he's clearly made of stern stuff.

I'm going to go with the Henderson horse, Shakalakaboomboom but will have a saver on Wymott just in case!

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This will be much tougher than the Beginners' Chase he won at Ludlow last time with the likes of Menorah in opposition. Tom O'Brien has the ride on Philip Hobbs' chaser as Richard Johnson is in action at Cheltenham.

National pointers

Back to the valuable Sky Bet Chase and this race should give us some Grand National pointers.

Henderson thinks Shakalakaboomboom needs to be raised a couple of pounds by the handicapper to get into the National and he thinks that's likely here. He has won his only start this winter and should have come on for that too.

It won't be easy though as Alan King saddles the exciting prospect Hold On Julio who comes here having won his last three. The first of those victories came in a Hunter Chase after which he was sold for £28,000 to King's owners. He has since won twice in decent handicap chases at Sandown.

He is already favourite for one of the Cheltenham festival handicaps and hopefully won't dent his reputation here.

Qianshan Leader is an interesting runner for Emma Lavelle, he won over this course and distance last month and is improving with time. It was great to see Somersby win the Victor Chandler Chase for Hen Knight and Terry Biddlecombe and they saddle Calgary Bay in a bid for another valuable Saturday prize.

AP McCoy returned to action on Thursday just 27 days after a serious fall at Taunton which left him with several broken ribs and a punctured lung. He heads to Doncaster to ride Galaxy Rock for Jonjo O'Neill so he is sure to attract plenty of support.

Trainer Gary Moore is hoping for a bold show from Fruity O'Rooney. He comes here off the back of a win in a three-mile handicap chase at Kempton over Christmas and he has been raised 6lb for that win.

I'm just about giving up on Wymott so now's probably the time to back him! Something must have been amiss on his last two starts and he can't have deteriorated since his promising run in the Hennessy in November and I still think he's one to keep on the right side of.

It's interesting to see Donald McCain is sticking the blinkers on him for the first time on Saturday and I'll have to have a couple of quid on him for old times' sake and to make sure he doesn't make a fool of me!

Imsingingtheblues carries top weight for David Pipe. I'm going to go with the Henderson horse, Shakalakaboomboom but will have a saver on Wymott just in case!


The Hurdle is the feature race at Leopardstown on Saturday and there is also a very decent 2m 5f Handicap Chase.

I fancy Seabass in the latter for Ted Walsh. The horse had the option of running in the Thyestes Chase on Thursday but took this option instead. He was impressive at Limerick last time out and has a very nice weight to carry despite being raised 9lbs for that win.

As for the big hurdle race well it will be interesting to see if Blazing Tempo lines up after winning over fences last week. Zaarito may be worth backing each way at a decent price.

Colm Murphy's former smart performer is reverting to hurdles here which should suit as he has issues with his jumping over fences. He was last seen in the Haldon Gold Cup where he was fifth and is much lower rated over hurdles (just 127).


So, it's the last big meeting at Cheltenham before the festival and the Argento Chase is the feature on trials day.

The 3m, 1 1/2f race usually has some bearing on the Gold Cup but sadly Grands Crus hasn't been declared for this race as David Pipe was concerned he may have a hard race with the festival just around the corner.

That will be a relief to the rest and Arkle winner Captain Chris does go to post. He was third in the King George last time out.

Diamond Harry has been backed in the run up to this race. He was fourth in the Betfair Chase on his first run for a year and he is entitled to improve for that.

Second-season chaser Time For Rupert returns to his happy hunting ground. He has won twice at Prestbury Park, but burst a blood vessel in the RSA Chase. He showed some of his old sparkle in a graduation chase at Newbury in December and that was a much needed confidence boost.

Whether he is good enough for the Gold Cup remains to be seen though and if he does line up in March he will have to show more than he has so far.

Midnight Chase loves it round Cheltenham and his trainer Neil Mulholland thinks he is in good form. He ran well at Wetherby on Boxing Day and, of course, was fifth in the Gold Cup last March.

Tidal Bay is far from straightforward but we have seen him staying on strongly up this hill in the past and he could be one for a place although he won't carry any of my money! He, like The Minak, is trained by Paul Nicholls and the latter looks like a potential National horse rather than Gold Cup.

Without Grand Crus this race has a much more open look to it. I would love to see Captain Chris bounce back and stay the trip well but he is vulnerable. However, I don't think he was himself in the King George and I'm going to stick with him to prove he stays the trip well for Philip Hobbs and Dickie Johnson.


Three time World Hurdle winner Big Buck's is the hot favourite for the three-mile Cleeve Hurdle. He hasn't run in this race for a few years but should win another decent prize and take his winning run to 15!

Dynaste was fourth behind Big Buck's in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot last time out. He will be ridden differently on Saturday in a bid to finish closer to the staying champion and although I think Big Bucks's is invincible and will win I'd be interested in having a pound each way on Dynaste.


There is some quality Irish action on Sunday at Leopardstown.

At last we will get a look at Hurricane Fly as he makes his seasonal debut in the Irish Champion Hurdle. He won't offer any value but I can't see him being beaten. He has it all, class, slick jumping and attitude. Although he is bound to strip fitter for this run he should win anyway.

Dermot Weld's Unaccompanied is a smashing mare and she seems to be getting better all the time. Weld has voiced his concern about her age and thinks next season could be her time.

The Irish Arkle is the other Grade 1 on the card. Blackstairmountain is the likely market leader for Willie Mullins who has his team of horses running better than ever. This horse benefitted from the fall of Bog Warrior in a Grade 1 in Ireland over Christmas but it was a deserved success.

He beat Notus De La Tour there and David Pipe tries his luck once again. I think he needs to improve to reverse those placings. Flemenstar is his nearest rival and Peter Casey's novice is really catching the eye. The better ground he'll get on Sunday will suit him as he seemed to win despite the testing conditions at Naas earlier this month.


Other horses to look for at the weekend are Ballyrock in the Grade 2 Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle at Doncaster (River Don Novices' Hurdle). Tim Vaughan will be hopeful he can advertise his Cheltenham festival claims in the Doncaster race.

The Triumph Hurdle Trial (Cheltenham) looks superb too. Baby Mix was incredibly impressive on his British debut at Cheltenham in December for Tom George.

He takes on more tough opposition here including Sadler's Risk and Grumeti but this is a class act and the current Triumph Hurdle favourite shouldn't be knocked off his perch.

Whatever happens in this race there will be a shake-up in the market as this is as strong a line up for a trial as you can get.


Shakalakaboomboom in the Sky Bet Chase @ 8/1. Wymott (each way) @ 20/1
Ballyrock in the River Don Novices' Hurdle

Zaarito in the Hurdle (each way)
Seabass in the Leopardstown Handicap Chase

Captain Chris in the Argento Chase @ 5/2
Dynaste in the Cleeve Hurdle (each way)
Baby Mix in the Triumph Hurdle Trial

Hurricane Fly in the Irish Champion Hurdle @ 1/2 fav
Flemenstar in the Irish Arkle

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