Steve Hughes provides his best bets for Saturday
With the wind howling there is still a danger to today’s jumps meetings but with Haydock and Ascot currently set to go ahead I have two selections from each track for the best handicaps. Clondaw Castle was a winner for us last Saturday (advised 15/2).
Ascot 2.25: Jepeck
A late entrant to racing under rules Jepeck is arguably still unexposed for an 11yo and can take this staying prize of top weight.
His main target for the year has already been hit when winning the Veterans final at Sandown last month, but that was his first race over fences this season and there may still be more to come off a 7lbs higher mark. He acts well on heavy ground having won over fences at Ffos Las and over hurdles at Bangor in bottomless conditions over the past couple of seasons.
He has to go right-handed due to the tendency to jump out that way, but he should have no issues around this track and he looks to have few challengers for the early lead as a horse that likes to dominate.
Ascot 3.00: Garo de Juilley
A chance is taken with a horse that has been busy chasing all season, but Garo de Juilley has been given a chance by the handicapper on his return to the smaller obstacles.
He has been competing respectably at a high level all winter over fences and was a respectable fourth on Trials Day at Cheltenham most recently. He is 6lbs lower over hurdles though than when last season over those jumps last season. Amongst his efforts last year, he was a fine sixth here in the Grade 1 Long Walk and he won a Grade 3 handicap at Chepstow from a 2lb higher mark.
He has not looked a total natural over fences and he might well enjoy himself over these less stiff jumping tests. In the strong wind this hold up performer can get plenty of cover to shield him from the elements which might make him a stronger contender late on.
Haydock 3.15: Yala Enki
This race will be a battle of wills early on with plenty of front-runners likely to take each other on for early dominance. Jockey Bryony Frost is usually good in those circumstances and with a willing partner in Yala Enki then can gain control of this Grand National Trial.
He loves a sharp track and won by a staggering 54l in this race in 2018 under similar testing conditions. He also proved his well being by winning the Portman Cup at Taunton earlier this month over the same 3m4f distance.
The handicapper has left him alone for that and he is easily excused last year’s well beaten fifth in this contest when the ground was far too quick for him. The race is likely to be won in the first half mile or so as Vintage Clouds, Lord du Mesnil and The Two Amigos are all likely to want to get to the front. Of those I think Yala Enki is the most versatile to the way the race develops and we no he has no stamina or ground issues either.
Haydock 3.50: Welsh Saint
Although lacking in experience, everything that Welsh Saint has done so far suggests he is a very promising stayer in the making.
He was a decent performer in fast ground bumpers, but was a keen goer. However he has been much better settled over hurdles this season. His standout effort to me was his win in filthy conditions at Warwick in December where they got racing from a long way out. So much so in fact that only three of the fifteen completed the course – yet he was still going strong at the line, winning by 15l.
He also shaped like a 3m horse when staying on into third at Cheltenham in a listed novice over 2m4f last time having got outpaced down the hill. With only 10-7 to carry today, he is not over burdened in the testing conditions.
0.75pts each-way – Jepeck – 2.25 Ascot – 8/1 general
0.5pts each-way – Garo de Juilley – 3.00 Ascot – 12/1 general (Paddy Power 1/5 odds 1st 5)
1pt win – Yala Enki – 3.15 Haydock – 7/2 general
1pt win – Welsh Saint – 3.50 Haydock – 4/1 general