Where to watch racing this weekend

December 22, 2017

- Grant Whittington

While Christmas may be nearly upon us, there’s time for a few more racing meetings before the festive celebrations begin.

Great news for racing fans across the length and breadth of the UK – there’s a total of 10 meetings scheduled for 22nd and 23rd December, before the runners take a well-earned break over the Christmas period.

Let’s take a look at this weekend’s stellar meetings and the best places to watch racing over the next couple of days.

Ascot, Friday 22nd and Saturday 23rd December

Let’s face facts, Ascot is always a great place to watch horse racing in the UK. In fact, this venue can easily be considered one of the most iconic jump courses anywhere in the world.

This weekend is as exciting as ever with Ascot’s famous Christmas Racing Weekend set to take place across Friday 22nd and Saturday 23rd December.

One of the most exciting races on Friday is the Mitie Noel Novices’ Chase, featuring 10 high quality runners. The lucky winner can also walk away with a cheque for £19,932, so this will be one of the most keenly contested races of the day.

An early front-runner is likely to be the Colin Tizzard-trained Finian’s Oscar, who has been in exceptional form during the autumn. In fact, this five-year old gelding has placed in the top three during his last eight hurdle outings, dating right back to December 2016. He also won over a similar distance at Chepstow and Cheltenham in October and November respectively.

He was third in a field of five last time out at Sandown however, where the heavy going seemed to get the better of him. He’ll face similar conditions at Ascot, so this should at least lengthen his odds and create a more competitive race.

Gary Moore’s five-year old Benatar could be the beneficiary of this, with the gelding also in exceptional form during recently. He triumphed over a similar distance at Plumpton in his last outing, while he recorded an impressive win in a competitive field at Ascot at the beginning of November.

Again, much will depend on how he copes with the heavy going, but he should be there or thereabouts on Friday.

Then we come to the St Andrews Holdings Championship Standard Open, which is run over a slightly shorter distance, but offers a winner’s prize of £17,085. There’s a field of 17 runners in contention here and a select few who will be among the favourites to win. This race is unique in that there are no hurdles to jump, while it will feature some of the very best prospects in the sport.

Nigel Twiston-Davies’ four-year old gelding Luckofthedraw is the most experienced runner to compete, having completed three races to date. He also achieved his maiden win at Ffos Las last time out, vanquishing a field of eight over a challenging one mile and seven furlong course. He should be well-placed to compete here and could represent an effective each-way bet for punters.

We also like the look of Paul Nicholls’ gelding Posh Trish, who has a 100% career record, winning both of his flat races to date. Having prevailed over longer distances at Aintree and Cheltenham during the last two months, he’ll most likely to start as the favourite here and could be difficult to beat.

If anything, Saturday offers an even greater selection of races, with the Racing Welfare Handicap Hurdle a case in point. With 21 runners competing for a first prize of £85,425, this is sure to be the highlight of the day and one of the most competitive races of the whole season.

The early favourite here is the popular Elgin, who is trained by Alan King and boasts a superb record over the hurdles. This five-year old gelding also won on his last outing at Ascot at the beginning on November, beating a similarly competitive field of 14 in the process. It was his most recent triumph in heavy going at Cheltenham, that will really concern his rivals though. Despite starting at a price to 10/1, he won at a canter and will surely be the one to beat at Ascot this weekend.

We also like Lostintranslation, who is trained by Colin Tizzard and is likely to start at the competitive price of around 6/1. This five-year old gelding has come into form at the ideal time placing in the top two in each of his last three hurdle races since the beginning of October. This run included a superb win at Newbury last time out, when Lostintranslation overpowered a solid field of 13 to prevail at a price of 9/4.

Sure, this field is a little more competitive, but he’s likely to start as second favourite and could well offer good value to players.

Haydock, Saturday 23rd December

While Ascot will undoubtedly steal the headlines this weekend, there’s also a superb seven-race jump meeting at the equally iconic Haydock Park on Saturday.

The standout race here is obviously the Betfred Home of Goals Galore Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle. This will see 14 runners compete for a winners’ cheque of £11,390 over a two-mile, two-furlong course.

The initial favourite here is expected to be Cap Soleil, even if this four-year old filly saw her superb run of consecutive wins come to an end Newbury recently. Prior to this, she won four races on the bounce, including three on the flat and her debut outing over the hurdles.

She was particularly impressive during her win at Sandown in March, so we’re expecting big things from this Fergal O’Brien prospect here.

Willie Mullins’ Court Artist is also a contender as she won her last two hurdle outings at Ballinrobe and Wexford. The October win at Wexford came in extremely heavy going conditions too, which should stand Court Artist in good stead for this race.

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