Steve Hughes previews the best of Saturday’s racing both jumps and flat
Haydock stages the one remaining mixed race programme in Britain, but it is the jumps action that really raises the excitement on the card. The Swinton Hurdle is the highlight and I have two against the field for the big race. I also have selections from the best of Ascot’s flat card on a hectic day. For the third year running we managed to find the winner of the Chester Cup, Magic Circle (SP 8/1).
Haydock 2.00: Debece & Wait For Me
This race is technically the first big race of a fresh new jumps season, but in reality it is at the end of an arduous long 2017/18 campaign and as such two horses who have had relatively light seasons are fancied.
Debece in fact ran only once, a highly creditable fourth at the National meeting at Aintree, where he ran as if just in need of the outing. At home racing from the front, these flat tracks are always going to suit him best, whilst good going is of no issue. He has improved since stepped up to this 3m trip, and was third in a Grade 1 at the previous year’s Aintree Festival at this distance.
Wait For Me is another to have benefited from a step up in trip. His first outing beyond 2m produced an impressive win on the final day of the 2016/7 season at Sandown – on good going that he clearly relished. He was then second in a valuable Newton Abbot contest in the summer despite getting badly hampered at a crucial stage. Jumping fences was not for him but he ran two decent efforts on unsuitably soft going in a Pertemps qualifier and final. A return to a sound surface will see him in a better light today.
Ascot 2.15: Speedo Boy
Trainer Ian Williams did us a big turn yesterday and Speedo Boy can do so again in Ascot’s opener.
The 4yo did not win during his first season for his new handler in 2017 (at least on the flat) but displayed enough promise to keep me interested for this year. Second in a listed race at Newmarket on his British debut, he finished in mid-division in his runs in valuable handicaps.
However his seventh at York at the Ebor meeting off 100 was better than it reads and the ground had gone unsuitable soft by the time of his last flat run here in September. He did not really take to hurdling, but still managed a win on fast ground at Huntingdon and I think he has his favoured conditions here. He will be best served by a strong gallop as he looks a hold up horse that can pick up the pieces and should get that here. The handicapper has dropped him 5lbs since York which should come in handy.
Haydock 3.10: John Constable & Silver Streak
Trainer Evan Williams could hold the key here and I fancy both of his contenders.
John Constable bids to repeat his astonishing 14l success of last season, although admittedly from a 22lb higher mark. An out and out fast ground performer he won again in the listed handicap at Market Rasen last July and has simply not had his ground all winter. That said he did push Buveur D’Air reasonably hard at Sandown and with James Bowen on board at least gets a valuable 3lbs allowance. He is a class horse on fast going and a sharp track and is sure to be thereabouts again.
However his stablemate Silver Streak could prove too good in reception of 21lbs. He is another horse who cannot have the ground fast enough. His record on good reads 2114 and he also won on drying ground at Chepstow in the autumn with the minimum of fuss. He was an excellent second despite the rain in one of the big handicaps at Ascot over Christmas and a respectable sixth on bad ground in the Imperial Cup. However from just 10-2 he might prove hard to beat on this sort of surface.
Ascot 4.00: Firmament & Keyser Soze
Two horses proven in big fields are chosen for this cavalry charge, and I also have the insurance then of one on each side of the track should there be any draw bias.
Firmament plied his trade in these big field handicaps throughout 2017 without success, but ran with enormous credit on a number of occasions. He was third at York, fifth here in September and in the International Handicap on King George day. All of those efforts came from a mark of 109, simply too high for him. However the handicapper has relented by 7lbs and he has had two nice prep runs in smaller fields that should have put him spot on for today where the stronger gallop and straight track will suit far more.
Keyser Soze ran an enormous race in the Spring Cup at Newbury. He sluiced through the field from last to first, only to falter in the final strides where perhaps a combination of a lack of a recent run, soft ground and mile distance meant the petrol gauge emptied just too soon. However with that run behind him, faster ground and a furlong less there should be no such excuses this time. Blessed with a real turn of pace, he also benefited from the first time out Jamie Spencer treatment at Newbury and will no doubt be switched off early as he did show the tendency to race keenly last season. Therefore this type of race looks sure to suit perfectly.
1pt win – Debece – 2.00 Haydock – 5/1 general
1pt win – Wait for Me – 2.00 Haydock – 11/2 general
0.75pts each-way – Speedo Boy – 2.15 Ascot – 9/1 general
0.75pts each-way – John Constable – 3.10 Haydock – 11/1 general
1pt win – Silver Streak – 3.10 Haydock – 15/2 general
0.75pts each-way – Firmament – 4.00 Ascot – 14/1 general (¼ odds first 5)
1pt win – Keyser Soze – 4.00 Ascot – 5/1 general