Sky Sports Racing's Alex Hammond discusses the upcoming action at Ascot and Newbury this weekend while revealing her Grand National fancies now the weights are out.
Now turn the clock back to last weekend and imagine the racing we had to look forward to. Do you have that image in your mind? Well, this weekend is the same, but better, so apologies if some of this seems familiar. The weather scuppered all the jumping last weekend, but thanks to the flexibility of the 'powers that be', Newbury's entire card has been saved and rescheduled for this Sunday. If that wasn't enough to warm the cockles of your heart, Ascot also race on Saturday with a Grade 1 contest that should include in the line-up the highest rated chaser currently in training.
Let's kick off with that race then as the Ascot Chase deserves to take centre stage despite the quality that is on offer over that 48 hour period.
Cyrname is the aforementioned highest-rated chaser in training with a mark of 172. That doesn't tell the whole tale though as he has to put a disappointing effort in the King George behind him. He goes well at Ascot though and an on-song Cyrname will be hard to beat. His trainer Paul Nicholls also has Master Tommytucker entered, but you need a strong constitution to follow him as he has a tendency to uproot a fence on his way round. If he puts in a clear round though he could be a threat to his higher profile stablemate.
If Lostintranslation comes here, rather than to the Denman Chase at Newbury on Sunday, I'll want him on my side, but the ground conditions may be an issue. I spoke with Ascot's clerk of the course, Chris Stickles, on Monday and he said the ground is going to be testing on Saturday. Those conditions don't seem to bring out the best in Lostintranslation so I wonder if they may plump for Newbury instead. There is likely to be a strong pace guaranteed with Harry Cobden keen to be positive on Cyrname and Dashel Drasher has been seen to good effect when racing prominently at this track on his last two starts. The latter has plenty to find on current ratings, but he's an admirable horse and I'm looking forward to seeing him at Ascot again.
Also at Ascot, the Reynoldstown Chase is another race that usually throws up a smart performer and this year should be no different. Colin Tizzard has won the last two runnings of the race and relies on The Big Breakaway here. It's been said in the past that testing ground might not be ideal for this horse, so for that reason I'd be cautious. Sevarano is a lovely horse for the Oliver Sherwood yard, but seemed to lose a bit of confidence over his fences after a mistake at the first at Newbury last time. He'll have done loads of schooling since and at 6/1 with Sky Bet he might be a bit of value. It's a superb card at Ascot and I'm looking forward to being there to bring you all the coverage on Sky Sports Racing.
Well last week I said that whenever Newbury does go ahead we are in for a real treat and that remains the case, but it has a slightly different look to it with some race switching for one protagonist and the odd absentee. The Game Spirit Chase was the intended target for Altior, but Nicky Henderson has chosen to side-step it now and will instead send him straight to the Champion Chase. In an unexpected twist, Champ will now head to the Game Spirit as Henderson was concerned that a tough race over 3 miles in the Denman Chase a week closer to the festival may take the edge off him, so will now run in this over two miles.
He's Sky Bet's 15/8 joint favourite along with Greaneteen. Over this trip I'd be more inclined to go with the Paul Nicholls trained runner after good efforts this season to win the Haldon Gold Cup and to finish second to Politologue in the Tingle Creek.
So, the Denman Chase is now without last year's RSA Chase winner Champ which is good news for those that do stand their ground. Clan Des Obeaux is now 4/5 favourite, but as I mentioned above, Lostintranslation will be my pick if he comes to Newbury rather than running at Ascot and at 7/2 he appeals much more. Clan Des Obeaux was well beaten in the King George last time out and Lostintranslation was pulled up in the same Kempton race having bled from the nose. He has some smart back form though and Colin Tizzard seems to be turning the corner, with his horses running in much better form after a long spell in the doldrums.
The Betfair Hurdle has a slightly different look as Metier now heads straight to the Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle. I won't repeat what I wrote last week other than to reiterate that I like Cadzand for Dan Skelton off a mark of 138, a stone below top weight Buzz. He's been impressive with a couple of wins over hurdles to date and that is reflected in his price of 5/1 clear favourite.
Edwardstone is a 10/1 shot. He didn't look a natural over fences when he unseated on his chase debut at Doncaster and reverting to hurdles saw him back in the winners enclosure at Market Rasen last month. Fifty Ball looks ahead of the handicapper for Gary Moore and at 10/1 I still want him on side if he turns up. Harry Redknapp's Shakem Up'arry might offer a bit of each way value at 14s with Sky Bet paying 5 places. He was 12 lengths behind the now absent Metier at Sandown last time out and off a mark of 136 should be competitive.
I'm writing this column on the day the Grand National weights were announced and there are a handful of horses I want to mention to you in light of that.
I guess we are all waiting on news about Tiger Roll's participation after his connections said he wouldn't run if he was rated in the 160s or 170s. Well, we will find out if they were crying wolf or not after he was allotted a mark of 166, which equates to 11st 9lb, just one pound off the top weights. That is a rating 4lb lower than he would have carried last year if the race had taken place, which seems very fair. The second of his two wins came off a mark of 159 (11 stone 5lb) so there's no chance he'd have been rated in the 150s. We all want to see him try and emulate three time winner, Red Rum, but if he doesn't end up at Aintree on April 10 we will still enjoy a fabulous spectacle which will be won by a very worthy contender. We will get the chance to see the dual champion soon as he takes his usual route to Aintree by running in the Boyne Hurdle at Navan on Sunday.
The top weights with 11-10 are Bristol De Mai, Easysland and Santini and it's tough for any horse, no matter how classy, to win the race with that burden. On Sky Sports Racing this week (and before the weights were announced) I named 2019 runner-up Magic Of Light and Welsh National winner Secret Reprieve as the duo I'd like on side in 2021.
That hasn't changed after the weights announcement with Magic Of Light given 10.13 (I like to go with horses that are carrying less than 11 stone) and Secret Reprieve 67th in the entries with just 10 stone 1lb. The handicapper seems to feel that he should get in the race despite being so low down the weights. It's just a question of whether trainer Evan Williams sends him to Aintree as a 7 year-old, or waits another year.
No seven-year-old has won the National since 1940, but that doesn't put me off him as he's such an exciting young chaser. At the time of writing Tiger Roll is one of the 16/1 co-favourites with Sky Bet, as is Secret Reprieve with Magic Of Light at 20s. Another I want in my camp is Burrows Saint (16/1) and Kimberlight Candy (20s) has obvious claims too. We have some way to go yet, but it's exciting to get involved now we know what weights they have been given.