Where to watch racing this weekend

December 15, 2017

- Grant Whittington

Christmas is fast approaching, and most of us have our work cut out ensuring that we have enough money to get through the festive period. Despite this, Christmas is also a time of fun and relaxation, as families and individuals alike look to enjoy their well-earned break from the workplace.

Fortunately, the horse racing season continues to play out across the length and breadth of the UK, creating a thrilling spectacle across the flats and over the hurdles.

But which races should you be keeping an eye on this weekend, and which runners should you have a flutter on? Let’s take a look:

Cheltenham, Saturday 16th December

Our big weekend kicks off with a jump meeting at Cheltenham on Saturday 16th December, with seven high quality races planned across the afternoon. There are three Class 1 races scheduled, during which some of the top runners and trainers will compete for exceptional prizes.

The standout is the Unibet International Hurdle, which has a select field of seven runners competing for a hefty £74,035. At just over two miles, this is sure to be a keenly contested race that will be difficult to call.

Still, Paul Nicholls’ Old Guard is sure to start as one of the favourites, with this six-year old gelding having won two of his last three outings. He also placed third at Cheltenham over the hurdles in November, so he’ll be familiar with the conditions and represents a solid each-way bet.

The same can also be said for the Willie Mullins-trained Melon, with this five-year old gelding ending a six-month hiatus with an impressive win over the hurdles at Down Royal last month. This victory was achieved over a similar distance of two miles, while the soft conditions will also have provided excellent preparation for this weekend’s run.

For those in search of an outside bet, the six-year-old John Constable seems to offer genuine value at a price of around 16/1. While this Evan Williams-trained gelding may have struggled on the flat during his last outing at Newmarket, he has won his last two hurdle races at Market Rasen and Haydock respectively. Both wins were achieved in competitive fields, so he could well prosper in such exalted company.

The Grade III, Caspian Caviar Gold Cup Handicap Chase also represents a stellar race, with 11 runners vying for a top prize of £68,340. There are two or three contenders here – with the two-mile, four-furlong course likely to deliver a close and superb race.

We certainly like the look of the early favourite Clan Des Obeaux, who is currently trained by Paul Nicholls and has a starting price of around 7/2. He’s certainly placed well in his last two hurdle races during November, winning at Haydock and coming a close second at Kempton. Both races were run over the same two miles and five-furlong distance, so there’s no doubt that Clan Des Obeaux has the form and the stamina to compete here.

We also have the six-year old gelding Deauville Dancer who is currently priced at around a generous 25/1, however – these odds are sure to shorten as the race draws near. Trained by David Dennis, this stellar horse has won his last three hurdle outings, at Huntingdon, Fakenham and Doncaster respectively.

While his December win at Doncaster must be contextualised by the fact that he only competed in a field of three, he represents an excellent each-way bet or an outside punt for those with an eye for the big win.

Doncaster, Saturday 16th December

Saturday will also see the Festive Jumpers Raceday at Doncaster, which is sponsored by and will play host to seven excellent races.

Two of these are also Grade II, Class I races, with arguably the bet365 Summit Juvenile Hurdle being the pick of the bunch. Just six runners will compete for a winners’ cheque of £25,628 and the compact nature of the field should appeal to strategic gamblers.

The three-year old Act of Valour is one of the most interesting runners, with this Paul Nicholls-trained gelding winning his first hurdle race at Newcastle at the beginning of the month. Prior to this, he’d enjoyed a mixed flat race career, but he looked like a natural over the hurdles and is sure to attract the interest of punters. This race was run over just 16 furlongs however, which is far removed from the challenging, two-mile course at Doncaster.

Elsewhere, we fancy the Alan King-trained City Dreamer to prevail in the Juvenile Hurdle. He’s placed in five of six jump races over his lifetime. This three-year old gelding was also superb when winning consecutive races at Market Rasen and Plumpton back in September. While there’s a question mark surrounding how he will perform over soft ground, he’s the best placed to prevail here.

The bet365 December Novices’ Chase is another Grade II, Class I race, and one with a total prize fund that’s well in-excess of £30,000. What’s more, there’s only four runners competing, so it may be slightly easier to pick an outright winner.

Despite this, neither of these runners enters the race in exceptional form, with the Warren Greatrex-trained Keeper Hill arguably in the best shape. This six-year-old gelding has at least placed well during his last two hurdle outings, coming second at Plumpton and winning at Stratford at the beginning of November. He also won impressively in Hereford in soft conditions back in January, so there remains a sense that he’ll have too much for a limited field this time out.

Rocklander may have something to say about this, particularly with three wins from 14 hurdle outings during his career. He also won superbly at Ludlow at the end of November, so he may make for a good outside bet here.

So, there you have it, some clear insight into where to watch racing this weekend! Saturday is certainly a bumper day for fans, with two stellar jump meetings and some outstanding runners.

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