Saturday Racing Tips: A quintet to back at Haydock and Ascot on a bumper day of UK action

Old Guard jumps
Tony is backing Old Guard (above) at Ascot

Tony Calvin expects Saturday's Betfair Chase to be a stunning contest. Here, he explains why he's sticking with his ante-post pick and backs two more at Haydock and three at Ascot...

"Gardefort has been on my radar at the five-day stage a few times since his fourth at Aintree over a year ago, and I have to back him at Ascot at 26.025/1 or bigger."

Those who managed to follow the Monday ante-post advice on the Betfair Chase and back Clan Des Obeaux each-way at 8/1, three places, with the Sportsbook should be happy enough with their position.

We were taking under the odds on the win part of the bet - he was 12/1 elsewhere on Monday - but that extra place was always going to come in very handy, given the likely end-game shape of the race.

My ante-post bet faces four stellar rivals

Predictably enough, the race has indeed cut up from nine entries to just five runners, but what is good news for the sponsors and racing fans isn't particularly welcome for us Clan Des Obeaux backers!

Because the other four horses lining up are Native River, Might Bite, Bristol De Mai and Thistlecrack.

Wow, wow, wow, and wow again. I am not going to get involved again in the big one at 15:00, largely on account that all of the five are making their seasonal reappearances and levels of fitness will obviously be key to providing the winner.

Clearly, I'm not privy to those levels of information but, with a £1m bonus again at stake for any horse that can win this race, the King George and the Gold Cup, I imagine all will be pretty much primed for action.

Judging from the comments coming from Ditcheat, it would appear Clan Des Obeaux is certainly not a gallop short here, and he will need to be at peak fitness too, as he is rated only 157 against four top-class rivals. This course winner is a mere whippersnapper of a six-year-old though, and I'm convinced much better days are ahead of him.

Clan des Obeaux BF signs 1280.jpg

But he could hardly face a more searching test.

Native River may be playing second fiddle to Might Bite in the betting, but the handicapper rates him 4lb superior to the favourite on their Gold Cup form, and there are some bullish vibes coming out of the in-form Colin Tizzard camp.

He won first-time-out last season and I wouldn't go overboard about how much of a negative the likely good ground is for him here. Sure, his best form has come on soft, but he won a Hennessy off 155 on good to soft and finished third to Sizing John on good in the 2017 Gold Cup.

Similar ground comments could well apply to Bristol De Mai, too, although trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies is walking the track on Saturday morning before making a final decision on his participation.

For sure, his career-bests have come when the mud is flying and his runaway win in this race last year made it three-from-three at the track at an aggregate winning distance of some 111 lengths!

However, those dismissing him on the basis of good/good to soft ground may be playing a dangerous game given his Aintree second to Might Bite in April, and his JLT run in 2016, and it could be that he loves this place as much as he does testing conditions.

And don't forget how good his reappearance win was last season, when giving Blaklion 6lb and ½-length defeat in the Charlie Hall.

He appeals more at the prices than 2016 King George winner Thistlecrack, who has been off the course with a stress-fracture since his Kempton fourth to Might Bite last year.

Then again, he loves good ground, and he could well be suited by a frenetic early pace up front if the top three in the market, who all like to go forward, go at it from the start (and Clan Des Obeaux could also be a beneficiary of a big burn-up).

Might Bite is the clear market-leader and could be most suited by the track and ground, but I would want more than around even-money to get involved in this field, for all his record screams class and consistency.

In summary, my money is already down earlier in the week, and I am now content to let it ride and watch a stunning race unfold.

Theo's Charm could upset the odds in the 14:25

There is another small but select field in the 3m handicap hurdle at 14:25. It revolves around First Assignment, who is 8lb well-in here for his wide-margin win over 3m at Cheltenham last weekend and is priced accordingly.

No doubt his presence, and quicker ground than is the norm at this meeting, is responsible for the disappointing lack of runners for such a valuable prize.

He has an obvious chance, as his odds suggest, and there could be a lot more to come from a horse who is unexposed at this trip and having just his seventh start over hurdles.

But I don't think it was a particularly strong race he won at Cheltenham, it's a quick turnaround for a horse labelled "not really robust", and there is no shortage of interesting opposition.

Captain Cattistock could be well suited by his first attempt at 3m, Folsom Blue is 13lb lower over hurdles than fences (it would have been 17lb if the UK handicapper hadn't given him an extra 4lb for coming over), Bobo Mac ran really well on his comeback at Newbury and the cheekpieces that he wore when winning at Warwick in April are back on here, and Paisley Park is another improver.

But Theo's Charm catches my eye most and is the suggested bet win and place on the exchange at 12.011/1 and 2.77/4 or bigger.

He is the same price with the Betfair Sportsbook, and hopefully all eight stand their ground, but I want the back-up of the exchange and original place terms if we do get a defection or two.

I was a bit concerned about the form of the stable. I know they had had a recent winner at Fontwell but, going into Thursday's racing, four of their last eight runners were pulled up and another three were soundly beaten. But Fairway Freddy's win at Wincanton on Thursday eased those reservations a touch, and he has just had another winner at Ascot as I write

And surely Nick Gifford has targeted this horse at a race in which he finished second in 2016, and third to Sam Spinner and The Dutchman last season. Indeed, he said as much in an interview on Wednesday when he said this race was his "Gold Cup."

He was beaten a long way into third last year but the first two were obviously well-treated, and his course form figures read 2332, including a close third off just 1lb higher mark than this on good soft here last year.

Yes, his best efforts have come on soft and heavy, but the ground doesn't overly-concern me (he finished seventh in the Cheltenham Bumper on good in 2015), though Gifford did say he was worried about the drying conditions in that midweek interview.

The horse was making his reappearance when an excellent second in this race in 2016 when it was run over the fixed-brush hurdles, splitting Kruzhlinin and Yala Enki, with some more good horses in behind.

If he is indeed straight enough here, he could well be placed again and a winning return is certainly not ruled out.

The rest of the Haydock card

I'm nearly over my word count already, so I better keep it as brief as possible from here (he lied). The 2m3f handicap hurdle at 13:50 is a tricky little affair and, in truth, you can make a case for a lot of these.

Cyrus Darius has his first start for Colin Tizzard (and he has had a wind op, too), Cliffs Of Dover makes his return to hurdles on a decent mark, having been in good form on the Flat of late (he could also get the run of the race from the front) and Magic Dancer is of interest away from Ascot, but I kept on coming back to Mr Antolini at 6.411/2 or bigger (pictured below). It was annoying to see the early 8/1 disappear on Friday afternoon, and his price continued to shorten throughout the day, and 5/1 would be my minimum price to back him.

Mr Antolini right 1280.jpg

He was on my shortlist at the five-day stage for last Sunday's Greatwood Hurdle but he surprisingly wasn't confirmed for the race, and maybe his connections reasoned that 2m on drying ground was going to be too sharp for him, even at Cheltenham.

He won't get the testing ground he excelled on last season here either, when improving 19lb in four starts, but he had winning form on good in Ireland and this 2m3f trip could be a big positive.

He had excellent form over 2m last season when beating Call Me Lord in the Imperial Cup at Sandown (the runner-up is some tool at that track) but he shaped really well over 2m5f behind First Assignment at Cheltenham on his return, and he would have finished a lot closer than a six-length fifth had he not landed flat-footed at the last, when going well and looking set to take a hand in the finish.

Indeed, he traded at evens in the run there, and he could take some stopping off the same mark here. He travelled really well through the race last time, and he can rate a fair bit higher than his mark of 138.

I am not quite sure why there is a 3m4f handicap chase and a similar contest over 3m1f at 15:35 on the Haydock card. But, in any case, it has cut up to just six runners and I don't fancy much in it - Braqueur D'Or would be my idea of the most likely winner - so let's move on.

Three to back at Ascot

Over at Ascot, Laurina was going to be the star attraction in the Coral Hurdle at 14:40, but she was confirmed a no-show on Thursday evening.

In her absence, I am going to side with Old Guard, who ran such a good race for us in the Greatwood, at 8.07/1.

I'll be quick here. I know he has a job on at these weights with a 6lb penalty - if you believe the official handicapper - but he comes here in great form, the 2m3f trip and ground should really suit, and I am not at all convinced by the two market-leaders at the prices.

Politologue wisely sidestepped the Betfair Chase to take in the easier opportunity of the Grade 2 chase over 2m4f at 14:05 and he has an obvious favourite's chance - the strong Irish entries didn't materialise in the declarations at 10am on Friday morning - even if his price of around 11/10 doesn't look overly-generous to me.

Gold Present has a stone to find with him at these weights but he could run a lot better than the ratings suggest, as he shouldn't be underestimated on his defeat of Frodon off a mark of 147 here over 3m last December. He is effective at this shorter trip, too.

He looked a serious chaser there, and he also won on his reappearance last year (and in 2016), and has had a wind op too, it seems. I nearly left the race alone but Gold Present looks worth a small interest at 10.09/1 to me.

You can fancy a few in a tightly-knit 2m handicap chase at 15:15 but Nicky Henderson looks to hold a strong hand again with Theinval, who beat Dolos pretty snugly at Ayr in April - just 24 hours after finishing fourth at that track - and I reckon a 6lb rise is bridgeable for him.

He is probably just about the one to beat in my book, and his price of around 10/1 is very fair, though I accept all his best form has come left-handed (though he has won twice at Kempton) and he may be a spring horse (though this is spring ground) who tends to need a run or two to put him straight. Given those doubts, he is a reluctant swerve.

Gardefort has been on my radar at the five-day stage a few times since his fourth at Aintree over a year ago, and I have to back him at the price.

He would have finished a lot closer that day had he not made a jarring mistake two out, and a subsequent 2lb ease in the weights makes him a very well-handicapped horse.

I assume he has had his problems since, but he has won on his reappearance in the past and he is now just 1lb higher than when second in the Grand Annual back in March 2017, just two starts ago.

Two of Venetia Williams' three winners this season have come in the last 10 days, so hopefully the stable are beginning to fire a bit. Given his fragility, I imagine she will have Gardefort close to spot-on here.

He was the 25/1 outsider of the party in the ante-post market, and he rates a bet at 26.025/1 or bigger here. I'll play him win-only on the exchange (though he is 25/1 with the Sportsbook, who are offering four places).

Good luck.

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