Steve Hughes concentrates on the big races at the three jumps meetings in Britain today.
We have some excellent Saturday cards once again, the last big weekend of action prior to the Cheltenham Festival. Whilst Kempton is the undoubted highlight with the Betbright Chase the feature, I am also looking at races at both Chepstow and in particular Newcastle where this year’s renewal of the Eider Chase looks particularly good.
Kempton 2.40: Fox Appeal
Despite a disappointing run last time, Fox Appeal is expected to bounce back to form and land the Pendil Chase at a more suitable trip of 2m4f.
Connections have appeared somewhat uncertain of his best trip – he was generally campaigned at 3m over hurdles, winning twice around Taunton’s sharp track, but came up short in top class 3m contests. His tendency to race keenly can compromise his chances over the longer distances, but his form at shorter trips during his novice chase campaign this winter does seem to confirm his ability at this intermediate trip.
Narrowly defeated in decent contests at Fontwell and Wincanton, he made no mistake at Ascot when convincingly seeing off the challenge of Raya Star over 2m3f. Dropped to 2m at Doncaster last time, the extra pace in the race put undue pressure on his jumping and he could only manage third. However the longer distance and softer going today will suit much better and he is preferred to likely favourite Balder Succes, who has to prove his stamina over 2m4f yet.
Newcastle 2.55: Safran de Cotte
For a long time Safran De Cotte has promised to come good in a long distance handicap and today could be the day off his light weight on heavy ground at Newcastle.
His first six career victories came on either soft or heavy going and he will get the testing conditions he relishes today. He showed decent form over hurdles including a win off a mark of 119 at Haydock, but he was always going to be a better chaser and he enjoyed an excellent novice campaign last season despite the poor form of the Henry Daly stable in general. He won three times from five races at 3m, beating top future handicappers of the likes of Godsmejudge and De La Bech.
Whilst this season has not yet brought about such success, the Daly yard has been in better form and today will be the first time Safran De Cotte has encountered really soft ground. He was a fair third on his return on good-to-soft going at Carlisle, found the sharp track at Haydock against him on his second run and put in a perfectly respectable performance in Warwick’s Classic Chase after the ground dried up dramatically on raceday. He at least proved his stamina for a marathon like this that day and 10-0 is sure to be an advantage in such holding conditions today.
Chepstow 3.40: Tidal Dance
Having had a long break since last March, and moving from Emma Lavelle to Venetia Williams, Tidal Dance has been making up for lost time with this being his fifth run since mid-January. However it is unwise to desert the Williams team at the moment with the ground still so testing and the yard still on a high, so Tidal Dance still merits plenty of respect despite his recent exertions.
The 7yo showed plenty of promise for Lavelle and an abundance of stamina despite the poor form of that yard last winter, finishing in the first four in all four hurdles contests. However the move to an in-form stable has paid dividends, although he was unable to justify strong market confidence when falling on his return to the track at Warwick last month.
He showed no ill-effects from that by winning convincingly around Towcester’s stiff 3m the following week and narrowly failed to defy 12-1 when going down by less than a length to today’s rival Kris Spin at Warwick (the selection is 2lbs better off today.) He was outpaced when only third at Wincanton last week over 2m4f, but that sharp track and drop in trip was all against him and a stiff 3m will suit far more.
Kempton 3.50: Ardkilly Witness and Tour Des Champs
Whilst the newly sponsored Betbright Chase (better known previously as the Racing Post Chase) has frequently thrown up some star names in the past, this year lacks a bit of class on previous versions. However it remains a closely knit and competitive handicap so I am taking two against the field.
Ardkilly Witness has been my fancy for this ever since he ran so well in defeat on terrible going at Sandown recently. He proved when jumping way out to his right at Newbury in the autumn that he must go right-handed, but otherwise his form has been excellent for a novice. Second to strong Cheltenham fancy Smad Place at Exeter, he was a wide margin winner at Wincanton over Christmas, and travelled nicely throughout at Sandown last time until just getting outstayed by Relax up the hill. This flatter track should help him conserve that stamina and the ground won’t quite be as heavy so he looks a strong contender.
However Tour Des Champs has two factors in his favour that make him worth a wager. The handicapper has been unusually generous allowing him to run off a mark 6lbs lower than when starting the season impressively with a fine second over 3m at Cheltenham to Balthazar King. Although he has been well beaten twice since, I have felt he was looking a lazy type in need of headgear. Visors are applied for the first time today which should sharpen him up. He has only rarely raced right-handed over fences, but arguably they have brought about his two best performances – an easy handicap win at Ludlow and a Grade 2 third to Rocky Creek at Ascot, so this track could be a positive too.
2pts win – Fox Appeal – 2.40 Kempton (6/4 general)
1pt each-way – Safran de Cotte – 2.55 Newcastle (12/1 Stan James)
1pt win – Tidal Dance – 3.40 Chepstow (13/2 general)
1pt win – Ardkilly Witness – 3.50 Kempton (13/2 general)
1pt win – Tour des Champs – 3.50 Kempton (15/2 Sporting Bet, BetVictor)