The only thing that will be guaranteed to fly on Saturday afternoon is the mud! Both Punchestown and Sandown have heavy going descriptions which means much of the racing this afternoon will be a ferocious test for all the participants. One respite appears to have come on the jumps track at Sandown, where conditions are supposedly less testing, with parts of the circuit obtaining good to soft ground at the time of writing.
Today will not just be tough for the horses but also those choosing to place their bets. Nothing is guaranteed when conditions are testing and even horses who enjoy the intrepid ground can become unstuck at times. Let the luck be on our side, as I have plenty of races to concentrate on.
3.15 - thetote.com Punchestown Gold Cup (Grade 1)
This race has been rearranged from midweek after high winds forced a postponement. With good fortune my Antepost bet has remained intact, but anyone who placed their bet on the day, will need to do so again, as that money is likely to have been refunded to all betting accounts. Whether or not you decide to back RUBI LIGHT at his present odds of just 5-2 is another matter, but Captain Chris is now out of the equation, so the only realistic rival in this ground is the Willie Mullins trained Quel Esprit. Quantitativeeasing should fair best of the lesser fancied runners, but surely he will be outclassed at this stage of his career, by the mudlark selection.
THE BET: RUBI LIGHT @ 5-2 (Various)
4.30 - AES Champion Four Year Old Hurdle (Grade 1)
Under normal circumstances this race would be the highlight of the card but with the postponement of the Gold Cup it looks more like a supporting event on this final day of the festival. Nevertheless this renewal is a classy one with several high grade novices in opposition.
British trainers have an excellent record in this race and Alan King is represented by two runners, with the main focus being on race favourite Baldur Success. This recruit to hurdling is well adept to testing conditions, but having fallen at Cheltenham around halfway, it has to be noted that it has been some 75+ days since his last full-length race. With his confidence having likely taken a knock too, there are enough doubts to make him possibly short enough in the market already, to have an investment in.
The value each-way alternative in a tough race is UT DE SIVOLA who Boylesports appear keen to take on (offering 8-1). This horse is unbeaten in the mud and can take advantage of any chinks in the armour of the favourite, if he is not in prime condition. His form has most certainly tailed off since he has stepped up in class, but this is likely to the better going he has faced. On a heavy surface, he has a chance and I will have a small play.
The pick may have been Shadow Catcher, but for the average form of trainer Gordon Elliot. He is on the upgrade and will love the difficult, testing ground. Hisabaat on form is the best horse in the race, but his inability to finish in first significantly hinders his chances, and more so, his value at a short price.
THE BET: UT DE SIVOLA @ 8-1 (Boylesports) *each-way*
2.00 - Bet365 Handicap Hurdle (Class 2)
With 17 runners lined up this may well prove a stiff test over the 2m 3f 110yd trip in the soft ground. One horse who should be running on at the finish is the resilient ACT OF KALANISI who I believe can run a solid race at a big price and go close to victory. He scored last season off a mark of 130 in soft ground at Ascot in a very similar kind of race and that came on only his 4th outing over hurdles.
For this race he is now 4lb above that last winning mark, but no doubt with improved experience he should have improved enough to be a contender back over this sort of trip on bad ground. He also has the application of a tongue strap having ran poor races at the Aintree and Cheltenham festivals. There is no denying he has claims and whilst a placed finish is more likely, he should be treated as a win contender with a bet on the place, just an optional cover bet.
THE BET: ACT OF KALANISI @ 16-1 (William Hill)
2.35 - Bet365 Celebration Chase (Grade 2)
A fascinating 8 runners have been attracted to this Grade 2 prize including last years winner FRENCH OPERA who should be primed to retain his title. He clearly did not enjoy himself with a huge weight at Cheltenham in ground quicker than ideal and he most definitely comes here at a big price of 5-1.
Sanctuaire lacks the needed experience to be a huge danger in my view and he is swerved on that basis, despite being undefeated from his two runs over the larger obstacles, so far. Wishfull Thinking has to be a winning doubt despite a return to form at Aintree, as all his best races have come over the 2m 4f trip and the bare minimum distance has failed to suit him, so far in his career.
Somersby is perhaps the main danger to the selection having won the Victor Chandler Chase at Ascot earlier this year. However, he accepts a 4lb penalty for that win and this race may well be coming to it's end by the time he sets his sights on the winning post. It will no doubt be a close run thing between him and the selection, but the penalty and length of the race leave me in just enough doubt to think French Opera is the best value on offer at 5-1.
THE BET: FRENCH OPERA @ 5-1 (Paddypower)
3.10 - Bet365 Gold Cup Chase Handicap (Grade 3)
A real slog awaits the 20 runners set to race in this Gold Cup over the extended distance of 3m 5f 110yds. I am not sure that trends will be too significant here as previous runnings have all been on good or good to firm ground. When conditions are testing you may as well throw all stats out of the window as ANYTHING can win!
The last renewal to be run in testing ground came in 2001 when Ad Hoc won at a canter having finished 2nd the previous weekend in the Scottish Grand National. He was only a 7yo and very well treated on a mark of just 134 at the time.
The previous year in 2000, another 7yo named Beau scored off a mark of 140 in soft ground. He had previously won a Grade 2 chase and was another youngster on a lenient mark.
Any youngsters lined up in this field do not look classy enough to score in the race so it is unlikely in my view that either Viking Blond or Roalco De Farges (well fancied) will score. Neither has been successful in a big chase so far and they have it all to do to close the class gap of some of the heavier weighted horses with experience behind them.
One horse at the higher end of the weights is the 140 rated Le Beau Bai who has been touted as a potential winner, but surely any ground less inconvenient than heavy, for his rivals will mean he is far too slow to go even close! If however, there is to be a massive downpour pre-race, he may prove to be the winner.
A more likely scenario is Major Malarkey improving on his effort last year from his 5lb higher mark of 133. He came into the event still a novice and looked the winner all over in the latter part of the race before he was outpaced by his fast ground loving pursuers late on. He is very consistent over marathon trips and looks a fair each way prospect in a race of this nature.
The one I quite like though is one of my Grand National shortlisted horses RARE BOB. He is a fine horse on his day who does not find winning too easy nowadays, but having returned to his last winning mark of 145, he may be able to make his superior class tell over a staying trip.
He should stay all day and was unfortunate to be brought down in the Aintree event last time. A prominent runner he should get a clear sight of his obstacles and take a fair bit of passing late on. With no classy youngster in the line up, I feel his chances are very good and he is an outstanding price at 14-1 with Ladbrokes.
THE BET: RARE BOB @ 14-1 (Ladbrokes)
The Danger: Major Malarkey
3.45 - Bet365 Gordon Stakes (Group 3)
Finally a flat race I hear you cry! A good one at that, may I add. Some very good runners are involved in this Group 3, which almost looks like a Group 2 event on paper with the runners, scheduled to take part.
Twice Over and Sri Putra are seasoned veterans, very capable at this level, with Colombian a likely improver as the season progresses. Poet meanwhile is a mudlark and specialist in these conditions and he has been backed very strongly as a result. There is surely one that will match him though as his form of late has not been to the standard he set in his earlier career.
The one I feel offers best hope is the Godolphin trained HUNTER'S LIGHT who already has three Listed victories under his belt. A bigger stage, in soft ground, has always looked within his capabilities and today he can gain the honours ahead of an exemplary Group 3 field.
A winner of his debut run last season in spectacular style shows his ability to run well fresh and he looks the potential winner at fair value odds of 5-1. He could prove to be a horse worth following as the season progresses.
THE BET: HUNTER'S LIGHT @ 11-2 (Betfair)
We seem to have placed a fair few bets today, so there could well be tears before bedtime! Hopefully though, tears of joy!