Saturday Racing Tips: A suite of selections for the action at Sandown and Leopardstown
ITV racing has action from Sandown, Lingfield and Leopardstown on Saturday and our man Tony Calvin has gone through all three cards to pull out his best bets...
"Richard Johnson was aboard Folsom Blue when he was fourth to Paisley Park off a 2lb higher mark than this at Haydock in November, and that looks very strong form now - and not just because of the winner's subsequent exploits - for all he was beaten 22 lengths there.
It sounds like Sandown are odds-on to beat the freeze, which is just as well as I don't think I could take another day of solely all-weather fare.
To be fair, it appears there is also a half-decent meeting taking place at Leopardstown this weekend - just the four Grade 1s there on Saturday - so I will also have a peruse of that card a bit later in the piece.
Sandown selections start with the 15:00
We see the return of the Champion Hurdler Buveur D'Air (pictured below) in the Contenders Hurdle at 13:50 after his defeat at odds of 1/4 at the hands of the mighty Verdana Blue at Kempton on Boxing Day.
But failure here would be an ever bigger shock, and he should have a gentle enough stroll round for his third successive win in this race.
As is so often the case in these novices' chases, there is a classy turn-out for the Grade 1 Scilly Isles at 14:25 but it fails to spark any betting interest for me with just the five runners, however talented the quintet.
Vinndication was called "bone idle" by connections after winning at Ascot last time but he gets the job done, though Defi Du Seuil and Lostintranslation will make him work for his evening oats. The other two in the line-up are no mugs, either.
A massive long-shot and an each-way play
The most enticing betting heat of the day is the 2m7f98yd handicap hurdle at 15:00 and it's a tricky one to call.
Some interesting outsiders caught my eye, and none so more than Mr Clarkson at [55.0] or bigger. He is getting a speculative few quid of my money, for all he has the potential to completely blow out. The price tells you that.
He was nibbled at early in the two days leading up to his return after a long absence at Wincanton on Boxing Day, in the the race won by Padleyourowncanoe.
He was as short as 5/1 on the morning of the race but proved very weak as the off approached, going off at a Betfair SP of 18.34 compared to the industry SP of 11/1, suggesting that he wasn't unduly fancied there on his first run for 20 months.
He was eventually pulled up in the straight after looking far from straightforward, with an awkward head carriage and hanging on occasions, but there was a bit more promise in the run that he looks.
He is now 2lb lower than his last winning mark in 2017, and it could be that a step back up in trip on softer ground - he chased home Finian's Oscar in his sole point, and three of his four wins have come on soft - with first-time cheekpieces to straighten him out a bit will see him outrun his status as one of the complete rags.
I expect Lord Napier to improve for the step up in trip and he would be my idea of the favourite after his Lanzarote third - he looks very solid to me, and 8/1 with the Sportsbook is very fair - while I am convinced Mr Antolini has races in him off his mark, but connections seem to have no idea of his optimum trip and you have to question his stamina.
I will be gutted if Mr Antolini obliges but you can't let sentimentality distract you in this game, so my second play in the race is Folsom Blue at 16/1 each way, five places, with the Betfair Sportsbook.
The UK handicapper has given him an extra 2lb to carry and the blinkers replacing cheekpieces is an odd angle - the only time he has worn them was back in 2016 and he ran poorly - but he still has plenty going for him. Perhaps they thought he was simply too lazy at Chepstow last time?
He can still race off a 14lb lower mark than over fences, and is 2lb lower than when staying on well into fourth in this race last season.
He travelled over early to swerve any travel problems, and he is fancied to put a lack-lustre effort in the Welsh National behind him - he was never sighted but eventually finished eighth - back over hurdles, with Richard Johnson up again.
Johnson (pictured below) was aboard when he was fourth to Paisley Park off a 2lb higher mark than this at Haydock in November, and that looks very strong form now - and not just because of the winner's subsequent exploits - for all he was beaten 22 lengths there.
Back Ben at a best price with Betfair
Venetia Williams has won the 15:35 twice in recent years and she has a strong hand with Houblon Des Obeaux and Belami Des Pictons, but the one I like at a price is Classic Ben.
The 33/1 in the marketplace went earlier, but he remains at a bet at 28/1 each-way with the Betfair Sportsbook, or similar win and place terms on the exchange.
His best efforts over fences and hurdles have been over 3m at Doncaster, and on each occasion he has been staying on really well. That could be just because he is a very lazy operator, as his trainer admits, but he does respond and this stiffer track could suit him better. And he ran well here when second in a bumper last season.
The cheek pieces were back on for his improved third in a good time at Doncaster in December, and are retained here, and he also has winning form on soft. As a six-year-old, he is the youngest in the field and he has a fair bit going for him at the price.
I am also going in two-handed here in the shape of Le Reve, winner of this race in 2015 and 2016.
He is an 11-year-old now and may be a light of his former self on the evidence of a very modest run here last time, when I expected a lot better of him. He just never got into the race, and simply plugged on for a very distant eighth.
But the handicapper has dropped him 3lb, and he did show more at Warwick previously after a long absence, so he is worth a small-stakes, win-only play on a track on which he clearly goes well at.
His trainer reckons he is "just getting back in the swing now" and the softer ground here may suit him better too, so back Le Reve (pictured below)at [15.0] or bigger.
A Special mention for one other Sandown runner
I was going to leave it there for Sandown, but then I noticed that Special Acceptance was running in the 16:10.
Quite simply, this horse has been a massive eye-catcher in his three runs this season.
He also showed bags of promise in two bumper runs last season, and that theme has been kept up over hurdles this term.
He shaped very well when fourth on his Kempton return, and then wasn't given a hard time of it all at Huntingdon, and then his jockey made his move far too late when second at that track last time after travelling powerfully in behind horses between the last two flights.
Given a more aggressive ride, I think a mark of 117 gives him an excellent chance here, and the step up to 2m4f for the first time is another big positive, too. He is a half-brother to a 2m5f winner, and I am sure he will improve for the extra half mile.
There were no prices available at the time of writing though, so obviously I can't recommend a bet. Look to keep him on side though and anything at around 6-1 or 7-1 or bigger would probably interest me.
A few lines on Leopardstown to finish
ITV4 are also showing the two excellent Listed races at Lingfield - though neither threw up a bet to me, so I will move swiftly on - and an unexpected bonus for their viewers has materialised as they are showing three races live from Leopardstown.
That doesn't include the Irish Champion Hurdle at 13:25 - surely the course could have switched this race to 2pm to allow it to be shown live but I guess we shouldn't quibble - where hopefully last year's winner Supasundae will enhance his 2m Cheltenham claims by seeing off Apple's Jade, Melon and any other fruit ranged against him.
But you have to fear Apple's Jade in particular with that 7lb sex allowance, and the betting agrees.
The opener on the card is the small matter of a 16-runner Grade 1 novices' hurdle, but the three ITV races start with a valuable 19-runner handicap hurdle at 14:00 in which Wonder Laish is the favourite at around [4.3] on the exchange.
He is progressing fast, and hails from last year's winning stable, but I can't see him floating the boat of many at that sort of price. He doesn't mine, anyway.
I'll be honest, and say that I don't really follow Irish handicap form closely enough to have even a rough idea of what is being teed up for Cheltenham or not, but I can't resist an each-way tickle on Ivanovich Gorbatov at 50/1 with the Betfair Sportsbook, five places.
He has been well beaten on his last four starts, but at least he has come down 7lb in the weights and he is now 4lb lower than when just getting touched off at Killarney in August.
The tongue-tie and blinkers are back on this course-and-distance winner, and he may just outrun his odds. Keep stakes to a minimum, though.
Min is a predictably short-priced favourite to win the Dublin Chase in the absence of Footpad, and I haven't got any view on the Arkle, either.
Just as well because I have probably had enough bets already.
Ivanovich Gorbatov at 50/1 each way, five places, with Betfair Sportsbook in 14:00 at Leopardstown
Mr Clarkson at [55.0] or bigger in 15:00 at Sandown
Folsom Blue at 16/1 each way, five places, in 15:00 at Sandown
Classic Ben at 28/1 each way with Betfair Sportsbook in 15:35 at Sandown
Le Reve at [15.0] or bigger in 15:35 at Sandown