Steve Hughes previews a busy day of racing and gives us his best bets at Ascot, Down Royal, Newmarket and Wetherby.
Rarely can there have been so much action in one day to suit racing enthusiasts everywhere. Flat race fans can enjoy the second day of the Breeders Cup, where the Europeans look to carry on where they left off on Friday. However whilst Newmarket stages a fair card on its final day of action in 2013, the emphasis in Britain and Ireland is very much on jumping. The feature race is the Champion Chase at Down Royal where an up and coming stayer can see off the challenge of his more experienced rivals. However both Wetherby and Ascot stage superb cards too, so I have a selection from all four meetings as we bid to end a frustrating run of placed efforts this week.
Ascot 1.35: Lyvius
For a horse that has won at listed level over hurdles and competed in Grade 1 events, it is somewhat surprising to see Lyvius lurking at the bottom of the weights for his chasing debut at the tender age of five.
Admittedly his form tailed off dramatically last season, albeit he was campaigned in top level handicaps like the Betfair Hurdle and Imperial Cup throughout. However there has to be a possibility that this horse is simply best fresh as his previous record indicates.
A winner first time out in 2011/12 at Kelso, he did win another modest affair at Warwick before attaining a respectable seventh place in a Grade 1 Juvenile hurdle at the Grand National meeting at Aintree. However he showed his quality when a cosy winner of a listed handicap hurdle on his return from nearly eight months off at Newbury last November. He was not the same horse afterwards, but at least his handicap mark has returned to within a pound of that last success and Barry Geraghty is happy to take the ride on him for his chasing debut. He returns after a similar length lay-off to the previous season today.
Down Royal 2.30: Mount Benbulben – Live on Channel 4
This race perhaps revolves around whether Sizing Europe can make it fourth time lucky in an attempt to win over 3m. However morning rain won’t have helped his chances of lasting out this extra distance and he could prove vulnerable to a true stayer once more.
The one I like is Mount Benbulben who found 3m no trouble at all when scoring by 22l on soft ground in a Grade 1 novice at the Punchestown Festival. It looks interesting that Gordon Elliott has looked after this gelding who should be at his peak now at the age of eight, and had largely kept him away from the biggest festivals until Punchestown.
His record going right handed over jumps is exceptional, reading S1F1141 and he seems much happier going this way around. The morning rain will have helped his chances no end and he looks a stronger stayer than Sizing Europe and a hardier battler than First Lieutenant.
Newmarket 3.30: French Navy
A convincing 3l winner of this one mile listed contest on last year’s card, French Navy can take advantage of a return to this distance after two recent narrow failures over 9f.
A tendency to pull too hard does compromise his chances at the longer distance, nevertheless he looked sure to win at Newbury last month, until cut down by Tales of Grimm late on. He ran perfectly well at this track in a Group 3 last time when fourth despite having to race down the unfavoured centre of the track, but the softer ground and shorter distance will both be to his advantage today.
His only two runs over a mile in Britain have both resulted in wins – this race last season and on his seasonal return at this listed level at Windsor in June. Penitent is expected to set a decent gallop in front which will both enable French Navy a chance to settle and give him something to aim at in the closing stages.
Wetherby 3.35: Harry Topper – Live on Channel 4
Whilst Long Run rates a worthy favourite on his return to the track for the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby, it is easy to argue he does not looks quite as quick or classy a horse as he did when landing the King George- Cheltenham Gold Cup double in 2011. Furthermore he has been beaten on each of his last three seasonal debuts, including that wonderful 2010/11 season so could prove vulnerable once more today.
Harry Topper looks the interesting one against him having been raced sparingly but successfully so far. He ran up a sequence of three consecutive wins at the start of last season in novice chases taking some notable scalps in the process. He saw off the challenge of Paul Nicholls’ highly regarded Rocky Creek at Exeter and then was able to wear down today’s rival Benefficient over 3m in a Newbury Grade 2 event, before scoring by a wide margin back at Exeter in February.
Luck was not on his side thereafter, getting rid of his rider at Kelso, before being brought down early on at Punchestown. Kim Bailey has always thought plenty of this 6yo and deliberately missed Cheltenham last season to allow him to develop better for this season. Hopefully he will start to see some reward for his patience today.
1pt win Lyvius – 1.35 Ascot at 3/1 (Coral)
1pt win Mount Benbulben – 2.30 Down Royal at 11/2 (bet365)
2pts win French Navy – 3.30 Newmarket at 5/2 (Ladbrokes)
1pt win Harry Topper – 3.35 Wetherby at 8/1 (WilliamHill)
Betting Record for 2013: 80.5 pts staked; 15.8 pt profit; ROI 19%
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Today’s Channel 4 races Wetherby 1.50, 3.00, 3.35: Ascot 2.10, 2.45, 3.20: Down Royal 2.30