It’s Saturday so of course you have to give Venetia Williams horses a second look. As sure as Sunday follows Saturday she’s sure to have a runner in the winner’s enclosure, usually accompanied by a mud sodden jockey and horse – such is her horse’s preference for the deepest of cuts in the ground. DUBAWI ISLAND in the 13:50 2m 3f hurdle at Newbury is the one that most interests me today. Barely seen last time out as the fog was that bad, but you could make out one staying on strongly at Ludlow off a mark of 128 – comes here today off 135, but this 6yo is still improving and will need to today to beat the likes of Ma Fileule and Heath Hunter; both of whom I think have big chances. The Williams runner is no certainty, but is overpriced at a general 13/2 and as much as 8/1 on the machine.
Next up is the 14:30 at Doncaster – a race in which I’m a fan of the Tony Carrol trained, PRAIRIE TOWN whom has been on the drift since the bookies chalked him up; something I love to see. The only 4yo in the field, Tony does a great job with these types and I was very taken with his performance the last day at Sandown where he won off a mark of 120. Has been put up by the handicappers to 125 for today’s contest, which isn’t as tough a race to my eye and he still looks progressive off that mark. He’s a solid 8/1 chance in the market, with one firm seemingly taking him off their Christmas card list and have gone 9/1. The market leader Hannah’s Princess is deserving of favouritism, but off top weight on ground that I think will come up on the slow side of good will be against her. Trainer Warren Greatrex is no mug and he’s sent her to Punchestown in search of good ground, which makes me all the more confident that she’s ground dependant.
The first interest at Newcastle’s Fighting Fifth meeting is in the 14:40 3m chase and it looks to be setting up for one of the most interesting races of the day in terms of the future potential. Before we go any further, I will say now that if VIRAK is a 7/1 chance then I will walk away from the game. If you can get a lend of a medium sized wheelbarrow, fill it with as many pound notes as possible and run like Usain Bolt to the nearest bookmakers – although your heels would wear out before you got to one that would lay the bet, but that neither here nor there. Off a mark today of 146 thanks to the very capable claim from Harry Cobden, this lad stays and has speed. The galloping Newcastle track will very much suit him and I am genuinely excited to see how much he can progress over fences this season. However, while I jest in having your absolute lot on there’s another (annoyingly) also entered for whom I feel is progressive and that’s the Sue Smith trained WAKANDA who if allowed to dictate proceedings upfront can be very dangerous indeed. He was impressive the last day at Wetherby in heavy ground, which an official going description of “soft” at Newcastle tends to actually be. Has been put up 6lb for that win, and while that looks somewhat harsh I thinks he’s overpriced at 9/1 to go in again in a race that could tactically fall into his hands. I’m now shamefully going to leave them both in your very capable hands.
BOBS WORTH is a horse whom I feel you were either very happy to see back to winning ways, or can’t wait to rubbish his chances in today’s race. Myself, I feel he has a cracking chance at winning this race for a second time off a mark 7lb lower than his previous win in 2012 – the year in which he went on to claim the Gold Cup at the festival. He’s a 10yo so I don’t feel he’s going to scale the heights he once did, but I also don’t think he’ll have to show he’s back to his best to win this. The main protagonists all look to be carrying the burden of top weights owing to the cutting up of the race – namely the removal of Conygree, which at least to me makes them instantly more unattractive. The main of which is SAPHIR DU RHEU whom carries top weight today and is an absurdly short 7/2 to win. However, should he win then I’ll be the first to back him for the Gold Cup from his current price of 14/1 until he’s favourite for the race. Which isn’t to say his chances rest on a victory today, but I do feel top weight in these conditions is a step too far for him at this point in his career.
I sound like I’m clinging onto the past with the old boys in the field, but FINGAL BAY isn’t the without a very good chance in this, and at the prices (14/1) is well worth another look. Lost his way in handicaps when raised to a career high mark of 153, but is being given a chance today off a mark of 144. Looked well in himself last time at Kempton over an insufficient trip and should be fit enough for today. The ground will have cut up after two days racing and the heavy conditions will suit him well.