*All prices are bang up to date with our snazzy widgets, while odds in copy are accurate at time of publishing but subject to change
Skytastic won two bumpers last year, at Newbury on his debut when he beat Orbys Legend (now rated 141), Mr Glass (rated 127) and Fine Casting (119) among others. He followed up under a penalty at Doncaster. He won his hurdles debut at Doncaster last month beating a subsequent winner who had an experience and fitness edge over him. He remains unbeaten and is likely to improve for that run at Doncaster and could book his ticket for the Ballymore.
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Does He Know’s best form is all on decent ground, so testing ground would be a worry. He was well beaten in an Exeter handicap off a mark of 143 and he carries a 3lb penalty. I like Corach Rambler but he has a tongue tie on here and can be a bit quirky. At the moment, he appeals more to win a nice handicap. Doyen Breed ran well in the Grade 2 Hampton Novices Chase at Warwick, when second to Threeunderthrufive. He is vulnerable to anything that runs 140 plus.
J’ai Froid was a massive improver in handicap hurdles last season over 3m. He won his second handicap start off a mark of 108 in March 2019 before having 18 months off and returning to win four handicaps on the spin (after his reappearance) and then finish second at Aintree off a mark of 143. He’s now rated 147 over hurdles and all his form is on testing ground. He had two chase starts at Hexham when he was well behind Doyen Breed and at Cheltenham in a handicap when well behind Corach Rambler. J’ai Froid won a handicap hurdle on this card last year on soft ground and I think he will go out and try and make all and the ground will really help him. Another positive is that Laura Morgan has had five winners from her last 13 runners for a 38% strike rate.
Third Wind, Thomas Derby and Molly Ollys Wishes all carry a 6lb penalty. Third Wind won’t mind the ground but I’m not sure that Thomas Derby and Molly Ollys Wishes will appreciate it. Wholestone has his first start in over 15 months and Emitom is just a horse that has become a bit disappointing. It can’t get testing enough for Top Ville Ben and he did peak at a rating of 164 over fences this time two years ago. He won at Lingfield on Winter Millions weekend over hurdles on heavy ground when beating Emitom. It’s likely he will get an easy lead here and dominate and won’t be easy to pass, as he won’t stop on the testing ground.
Sojourn is a very lightly raced nine-year-old with only 10 starts under rules, including six chase starts. He won first time out the last two seasons, at Market Rasen off 117 in 2019 and at Carlisle in 2020 off 129, both on heavy ground. He was second in the Tommy Whittle last year off 140. He was strong enough in the market on reappearance here in the London Gold Cup Handicap in October (that the re-opposing Larry won) and travelled well until stopping like he was shot coming to two out.
He has since switched from Anthony Honeyball to Martin Keighley who is having a great season. His strike rate for the past five years is 12% but his strike rate this season is 22%. The ground should be ideal for Sojourn, he carries 10st 9lbs and we know he can go well fresh.
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The Galloping Bear is a nine-year-old but only made his point debut in March 2019. He’s only had six starts in points and five starts under rules. Since he won his first point in December 2019, he has only been beaten twice, when second in a point and when falling in a novice hurdle at Chepstow. In that time, he won three points, two hunter chases and the Sussex National.
His hunter chase win when he slammed Sametegal at Fontwell suggested that he could be well treated off 135 when going handicapping at Lingfield over 3m5f on heavy ground. He was prominent throughout and showed limitless stamina on horrible ground. He’s only got 5lbs for that win and his trainer Ben Clarke had a double at Sandown on Thursday, which was his third winner from his last five runners. His record in chases this season is 5-13.
Good Risk At All will be tough to beat off a mark of 127 which is only 3lb higher than his close second on his handicap debut at Warwick. He should have won but his jumping will have to be better here and he is short enough. Skelton won this last year with Shannon Bridge. Lucky One had two starts in France and moved to Nicholls after just one start with Willie Mullins. He won a Southwell maiden hurdle very easily on his third starts for Nicholls.
He easily won a novice race at Wincanton under a penalty on heavy ground and won by 20l from Natural History (118) and another 19l to Lily Pedlar (112). He was still in touch in the Grade 1 Mersey Novices Hurdle and going well when falling four out, despite being a 50/1 shot. That was a good renewal, with My Drogo, Minella Drama, Guard Your Dreams, Ballyadam and Dreal Deal all running. He switched to Dan Skelton this season and has barely beaten a rival in two starts in handicaps but his mark has fallen from 137 to 127. Testing ground is no issue and think he is worth taking a chance on at a big price.
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The biggest price winner in the last ten years is Dashel Drasher last year and Balder Success in 2015 who were both 4/1. I think it is fair enough that Fakir D’oudairies is favourite, as last season he was second in the Ryanair and won the Melling. I was a little disappointed with his fourth in the John Durkan, as he had the benefit of a run already. In the Horse & Jockey Club at Thurles he made an awful mistake at the first and his chance was compromised then. He boasts the highest official rating in the field of 164 but he is hardly a winning machine either, with six wins from 23 career starts.
Saint Calvados hasn’t won since October 2019 but he has only had six starts in the interim, which include a neck defeat to Min in the 2020 Ryanair and a fourth and a third in the last two King George’s. On both occasions he travelled like the best horse but stamina let him down. Testing ground is no issue and he should travel well here and as long as the stable form isn’t too much of an issue, he should go close at least. Nicholls had three runners this week since the weekend. A second in a four runner race but had a winner and a close second with the other two.
Hillcrest is 3-4 over hurdles and has looked a top prospect. He was smashed in the betting last time in the Ballymore trial, from 7/4 into 4/5 but unseated when hampered by the fall of Harper’s Brook. He is a massive horse who jumps well and looks to have a huge engine. It looks to be between him and Green Book.
Green Book won the Heroes Handicap Hurdle last time off a mark of 130 but was beaten in his first two hurdles starts and his wins have all come in handicaps. He is improving and he handles bad ground, particularly on the flat, but I think that Hillcrest could be a genuine Grade 1 horse and I’d be surprised if Green Book was.
Saturday’s betting tips:
13:15 Ascot – Skytastic
13:50 Ascot – JAi Froid
14:05 Haydock – Top Ville Ben
14:25 Ascot – Sojourn (each way)
14:40 Haydock – The Galloping Bear (each way)
15:00 Ascot – Lucky One (each way)
15:38 Ascot – Saint Calvados
15:50 Haydock – Hillcrest
*All prices are bang up to date with our snazzy widgets, while odds in copy are accurate at time of publishing but subject to change.
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