Published 15:40 22/1
It is an occupational hazard of previewing and forecasting at this time of the year that the weather may play its part. Nonetheless, at the time of writing and somewhat to the surprise of many given the recent deluge, the main meetings in Britain on Saturday are due to go ahead.
“RACING GOES AHEAD” is the capitalised message at the top of the fixture page for Haydock Park on the BHA site, though closer, er-hem, inspection reveals that an inspection of the course is scheduled for Saturday morning due to threat of frost.
Assuming Haydock takes place, the surface is bound to be testing: or should that be VERY testing?
That will be a major factor in the outcome of the Peter Marsh Handicap Chase over an extended 25f at 2:40 and is one reason why I will not be recommending lumping on Royale Pagaille at a short price despite his good credentials in many respects.
He was most impressive when winning a handicap at Kempton on the day after Boxing Day, but that was on ground that was between soft and good to soft, and this promises to be a different kettle of fish. Royal Pagaille has also spent most of his career – which took place in France prior to last year – racing at short of three miles: it is not clear that he is a stamina glutton in the way that will be required here.
He has also been raised 16 lb for that Kempton win, which is punchy. Royal Pagaille deserves to be favourite, but perhaps only just over Sam Brown and Sam’s Adventure. I would chuck in the veteran Smooth Stepper as another with a shout, and did consider him for betting purposes, but reckon this is one of those races that can be watched.
Minella Drama crossed swords with Llandinabo Lad at Bangor in October, and came off worse, but that was his debut under Rules whereas Llandinabo Lad had ample experience in bumpers. Both have done well since, but Minella Drama’s fast-time 12-length win at that same track last time suggests he has a very live shot at making the most of the 5 lb he receives off his old rival now.
Minella Drama jumped superbly that day and dismissed two opponents who have gone on to run well since with contemptuous ease. The only down side of his effort was a tendency to flash his tail late on, but he kept running through to the line.
Faivoir has a squeak, also, but the two mares have a fair bit to find. Minella Drama looks worth a bet to me, but, please, let’s have no drama in the closing stages this time.
The New One Unibet Champion Hurdle Trial at 3:15 sees ex-Champion Hurdler Buveur d’Air on the comeback trail after 420 days off. He will win turning handsprings if as good as he once was, but there is too much doubt to be backing the 10-year-old at long odds-on.
The Matchbook Betting Exchange Clarence House Chase is the highlight at Ascot at 3:35, and the reigning Champion Chaser Politologue should really win this if putting his best foot forward, as he did at Sandown on his reappearance in December.
I reckon it is odds on that at least one of that trio will run poorly, which presents an opportunity to go for one at a bigger price in what will be a good each-way race if all stand their ground.
The tough and reliable First Flow is one possibility, but there may be a bigger upside to FANION D’ESTRUVAL, who was going well when falling three out in the Peterborough Chase at Cheltenham last time, and whose stable is in far better form than First Flow’s at present.
Fanion d’Estruval is youngest in this field by some way and could be on the cusp of a breakthrough into the big time, in contrast to his more exposed rivals. Fingers crossed that all eight go.
For another bet, I turn to PADDYS MOTORBIKE in the Matchbook Better Way To Bet Handicap Hurdle at 1:50 at Ascot. He may be unflatteringly named, but he can go a bit, as he showed with wins at Uttoxeter then Huntingdon on his last two starts.
Those were against inferior rivals, but Paddys Motorbike ran a notably fast time at the latter course and should be competitive, at the least, in this off a BHA mark of 131 and second-bottom weight.
The gelding’s trainer, Sam Thomas, remains in fine form, and Paddys Motorbike seems suited by this sort of trip and this sort of ground. He has been trimmed in the betting but still seems over-priced.
Simon's Best Bets (scale 1-5 points):
1:30 HAYDOCK PARK – SKY BET SUPREME TRIAL ROSSINGTON MAIN NOVICES’ HURDLE
2 pts win MINELLA DRAMA (5-2 general)
1:50 ASCOT – MATCHBOOK BETTER WAY TO BET HOLLOWAY’S HANDICAP HURDLE
1 pt win PADDYS MOTORBIKE (8-1 Betfair Sportsbook, BetVictor, Paddy Power, Sky Bet, 15-2 bet365, Betfred)
3:35 ASCOT – MATCHBOOK BETTING EXCHANGE CLARENCE HOUSE CHASE
0.5 pt each-way FANION D’ESTRUVAL (16-1 bet365, Coral, William Hill, 14-1 general)