Where to watch racing this weekend

December 01, 2017

- Grant Whittington

While Christmas may well be approaching and dominating most people’s thoughts, the horse racing season shows little sign of slowing down. This weekend alone will see a total of 11 race meeting hosted across the length and breadth of the country, for example, from Chelmsford in the south to Carlisle in the north.

The majority of these meetings are jump races, with nine to take place over the hurdles and just two on the flat.

So, where exactly should you look to watch racing this weekend, and which runners and riders are likely to enjoy success?

 Newbury, Friday 1st to Saturday 2nd December

This weekend’s standout meeting is the exotically named Ladbrokes Winter Carnival, which runs over two days between Friday and Saturday. There will be several Class 1 and Class 2 races hosted over the course of these two days, with some of the UK’s best runners competing for huge cash prizes.

On Friday, punters can sit back and enjoy the Ladbrokes Long Distance Hurdle, which is a Class 1 race with a winners’ prize of £28,475 available. Ran over a distance of three miles and 52 yards, the sheer quality of the six-strong field should guarantee a close contest.

The early, odds-on favourite here is Colin Tizzard’s gelding Thistlecrack (5/6), who is making his eagerly awaited return from a tendon injury sustained ahead the Cheltenham Gold Cup in February. Despite this enforced absence and the fact that he finished second in his last outing at Cheltenham in January, Thistlecrack had won nine consecutive jump races prior this meeting and should have a little too much for his competitors here.

Aside from a lack of race sharpness, the 2016 King George VI Chase winner’s greatest threat is likely to come from Harry Fry’s Unowhatimeanharry (7/4). This nine-year-old gelding enters the race in superb form, with a recent win over the hurdles at Aintree one of 10 victories in 11 competitive outings dating back to March 2015. Two of these came at Newbury, with  Unowhatimeanharry winning over a similar distance in November last year.

If you want to achieve real value for money, however, look out for Colin’s Sister. Priced at 10/1, this Fergal O’Brien trained mare won superbly in similar conditions at Wetherby at the beginning of November, while she’s also emerged victorious in five of her last six jump races. So, while this is her first outing at Newbury, she has the talent and the pedigree to spring a surprise here.

Saturday is the jewel in the crown of the Ladbrokes Winter Carnival, with four Class 1 races scheduled over the course of the afternoon. The best of these is undoubtedly the Ladbrokes Trophy Chase, which has 21 listed runners and a stellar first prize of £142,375 (the total prize fund on offer  of around a quarter of a million).

There are a couple of runners to watch here, including Willie Mullins’ gelding Total Recall. This experienced eight year old won superbly at Limerick over a similar distance in October, while he also succeeded in heavy conditions at Navan in December 2016. There’s a general consensus that this runner performs better over slightly shorter distances, however, so he may not offer the best value at odds of 4/1.

Our pick is the well-backed Singlefarmpayment, whose odds have already shortened from 8/1 to 6/1 during the last 24 hours alone. This seven year old gelding, trained by Tom George, has enjoyed excellent preparation for this race having ran a respectable race when finishing second at Cheltenham in October. He also performed sterlingly in securing second place from a field of 23 at the same venue in March, and is ideally suited to the slightly longer course.

It’s worth backing Singlefarmpayment sooner rather than later, however, as his odds should continue to shorten before Saturday’s race.

Newcastle, Saturday 2nd November

There are also two Class 1 contests taking place at Newcastle on Saturday, with seven races being held in the North East at the weekend.

The standout here is the Unibet Fighting Fifth Hurdle, which will run over two miles and 98 yards and features just five runners. The winner here will walk away with a cheque for £61,897, so it’s likely to be a keenly-contested and high quality race.

There is the clear favourite here, however, in the form of the outstanding, six year old gelding Buveur D’air (1/6). Trained by the excellent Nicky Henderson, he has won his last six outings and eight of the 11 races he has contested since 2014. Now benefiting from both talent and experience, he was particularly impressive when victorious over the hurdles at Aintree in April as he shone over a similar distance.

Paul Nicholls’ Irving (5/1) is the best placed to mount a serious challenge, even though this wily, nine year old gelding has not won since November last year. That victory came at the same venue and over the exact same distance, however, while his last two outings at Wincanton and Sandown (when he came last and third, respectively) did not reflect his quality as a runner.

He also performs well soft and good-to-soft conditions, and he’ll fancy his chances and recording a third career win in the North East.

Earlier in the afternoon, 20 runners will take part in the Class 1, At The Races Rehearsal Handicap Chase. This race covers two miles and seven furlongs, while there’s a hearty cheque of £39,865 waiting for the winning trainer.

Nicky Henderson’s seven year old Beware The Bear is strongly fancied here, despite finishing fourth and seventh in his two competitive jump races of 2017.  Before this, however, he won four consecutive races in 2016, including one in almost identical circumstances at Newbury in December. He definitely has the pedigree to win here, but his lack of form must surely make him something of an outside wager.

Instead, Neil Mulholland’s seven year old gelding Shantou Village may represent superior value. Though he pulled up at Aintree last month, he was simply superb when winning over a similar distance at Sandown in April and could well again over the Newcastle hurdles.

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