Alex Hammond: And they're off!
Last Updated: 13/02/19 1:57pm
Sky Sports Racing's Alex Hammond discusses the return of racing in the UK in her latest blog including Ascot's bumper card on Saturday.
How do you think the BHA have handled the equine flu outbreak - correct decision to shut down for six days or was it an overreaction?
Well, I'm not a vet, so it's hard to argue with the people that have spent several years gaining the relevant qualifications at university and have a wealth of experience in their field. I have a friend that is a small animal vet and a while ago I bought her a mug with the words "Please don't confuse your google search with my veterinary degree" printed on it! That was in response to various messages I had bombarded her with about the health of one of my dogs at the time; needless to say it's quite pertinent in this case too. I know some trainers have voiced unhappy opinions about the shutdown and have been disappointed with the measures the BHA have taken, but hindsight is a wonderful thing and if the virus had spread like wildfire we would now be grateful for their swift action. Of course trainers have to deal with what is loosely called 'the virus' each season, but the medical professionals tell us this is much more serious and long term damage could have been done. It feels like the right decision to get racing underway again with strict biosecurity measures in place, so let's hope it doesn't continue to rear its ugly head. Without getting into the nitty gritty, I can also understand the frustrations of trainers who now have to give a vaccination booster to any horse in their care that hasn't had one within the last 6 months. This sets a horse back by at least a week and as someone that has an annual flu jab, there are side effects for humans, so I guess (google again?) that applies to equines too.
With no UK racing on our screens what has the week at Sky Sports Racing been like?
Well as you know we are lucky to have an extensive international programme at Sky Sports Racing and I have to say I've enjoyed dipping my toes into the French racing waters. For any of you that watched the action with me from Mont De Marsan and Cagnes-Sur-Mer, I hope you were entertained and educated; I know I was. Lauren Barbarin is our French racing expert at Sky and he pointed viewers the way of a good few winners and my pronunciations were brushed up too; how I wished I'd paid more attention to my French after GCSE's. There is much to look forward to in 2019 on the channel from across the Channel and I advise anyone that wants to be successful with their French selections to start getting involved now. In fact, I'm back in the studio this Saturday and Sunday and we have more coverage then alongside the domestic action, so hopefully see you there. One of my favourite tweets this week came from one of my followers and read: Will there be any of that racing from France where they sit in the little chariots? There was, and 'MB' said he would be tuning in! Nice work.
Tuesday saw the release of the Grand National weights - does anything catch your eye at this stage for the Aintree spectacular?
Well, everyone is looking for a bit of value in the National at this stage and a couple of horses lower down the weights catch my eye. Ms Parfois is one of them and off a weight of 10.2 and 52nd in the entries you have to keep your fingers crossed that she gets in. A rating of 142 was bottom weight last year and she's rated 146, so she should be ok. Anthony Honeyball has been quieter than usual so far this season, but he has started to send out a few winners now, so his fortunes looked to have changed for the better. This mare jumps really well and was a classy novice last season and off that weight should have a serious chance. She's a tempting 33/1 with Sky Bet who go non-runner no bet. At a slightly shorter price I can't let Abolitionist go unbacked for Dr Richard Newland who won the race with Pineau De Re in 2014. He's a very good trainer of a staying chaser and this horse won on his debut for the Worcestershire trainer in a handicap hurdle at Aintree back in November. He joined Newland a year ago with the National in mind, but didn't make it after suffering stress fractures in his pelvis, so let's hope he gets a clear run this time round. He's rated 145 which puts him on 10.1 and at 59th in the entries is another that will hopefully scrape into the line-up at the bottom of the weights, he's 25/1 with Sky Bet. He's entered in the Ascot Chase on Saturday.
UK racing returns on Wednesday but with some restrictions, what does the week hold in store for you now?
I'm back in the Sky Sports Racing studio on Saturday afternoon for the coverage of Lingfield and Cagnes-Sur-Mer and also on Sunday for the card from Angers. Laurent Barbarin joins me both days and the man is on form! I hope his winners haven't dried up by then.
Ascot get to stage a bumper card on Saturday including the Betfair Hurdle, from what we know that's running who are you most looking forward to seeing?
There's so much to get stuck into and we are a bit in the dark about who will be running horses and who won't. Kalashnikov is likely to take up his engagement in the rearranged Kingmaker Novices' Chase at Sandown on Friday. The Denman Chase will be without Native River at Ascot on Saturday as trainer Colin Tizzard has decided to go straight to the Gold Cup with the reigning champion. The Betfair Hurdle has been saved and will be run on Saturday and readers of this blog will know I fancied Lisp in the race originally. I can't see any reason to change my mind on that one, particularly as he ran well to be second at the track in a red hot handicap hurdle on his last start back in December.
So, they are the rearranged races, of the originally scheduled contests, Philip Kirby's Top Ville Ben has entries at Haydock and in the Reynoldstown at Ascot, with the latter his intended target. He's unbeaten in two chasing starts and now he's learning to settle better is one to keep on the right side of. The Ascot Chase is potentially a crackerjack of a contest with Waiting Patiently, Fox Norton, Aso, Politologue, Cyrname and Charbel amongst the entries. I was mightily impressed with Cyrname when he ran away with a handicap chase at this track last time out and he's improving enough to give some of these a fright, the track suits the Paul Nicholls trained 7 year-old well.
In Ireland keep your eyes peeled to see how Presenting Percy gets on when he returns to fences in the Red Mills Chase at Gowran Park. He's odds on to win on Saturday, but it will give us further clues to his wellbeing ahead of the Gold Cup.