Saturday Racing Preview: Ascot & Haydock Park
There's a huge Saturday of jump racing to look forward to at both Haydock Park and Ascot, and here we preview three of the big races.
Just four go to post for this Grade 2 contest that Paul Nicholls has won for the last two years and the Ditcheat trainer is double-handed this year, saddling both Real Steel and Black Corton.
The former is officially the top rated in the field and is having his first run for the yard since joining from Willie Mullins after finishing 6th in the Cheltenham Gold Cup last season. The stable switch is part of the wider change that owner Jared Sullivan made to his string during the break and it’s worth noting that many of his runners have seemed to come on for their first run for Nicholls.
Based on his previous achievements, he should probably be going off favourite for this but it’s Kim Bailey’s charge Imperial Aura who currently heads our market. A model of consistency, he made a winning re-appearance in a Listed chase at Carlisle and could be on an upward curve this season however he’s still to prove himself at this level and at around 2.5, is arguably ready to be taken on.
Itchy Feet was disappointing in the Old Roan Chase last time and while the stable is in better form now, perhaps a change in tactics could see him in a better light - he was so impressive when making all at Leicester last season.
The outsider of the field, Black Corton, is the apparent Nicholls second string dropped back in trip after running fourth in the Sodexo here a few weeks ago. The ground was bottomless that day and while it’ll still be soft on Saturday, conditions will definitely suit better. He hasn’t tasted victory since April 2019 but with stamina assured and the fact that he's getting weight, he could make this a real test for the rest of the field. With Bryony Frost a master at controlling a race from the front, could an upset be on the cards?
- Black Corton
- Imperial Aura
- Real Steel
A hugely competitive handicap where cases can be made for many in the field. Irish raiders The Jam Man and Relegate are obvious starting points, particularly the latter. Hughie Morrison’s Third Wind would have to be on the shortlist too if considering Relegate given their respective performances at the Festival in the Pertemps.
Imperial Alcazar is a respected market leader and his narrow defeat to Protektorat last season looks very good now. Fergal O’Brien is well capable of readying one first time up and the only real concern is how he copes with the step up in trip.
Philip Hobbs won this race in 2016 and his Dolphin Square is definitely of interest following a good re-appearance at Newbury last time, finishing ahead of Third Wind. He wouldn’t want the ground to come up too testing though.
- Imperial Alcazar
- Dolphin Square
A belter of a race that sees last year’s first and second - Lostintranslation and Bristol De Mai - face off again alongside the winner of the last two King George VIs, Clan Des Obeaux.
Bristol De Mai is almost guaranteed to run his race given how successful he’s been in the contest and conditions will suit, but having not tasted victory since winning this in 2018 his best years may be behind him.
Lostintranslation has won fresh in the past but many of the Tizzard string have been found needing a run this season and he’ll face softer ground on Saturday than he did when winning the contest last year. There’s also the question of how much a tough Gold Cup took out of him in March. The 2.5 currently on offer makes little appeal with many questions to answer.
Clan Des Obeaux has had only one race since winning Kempton's showpiece in 2019 but he’s had a wind op over the summer and his trainer seems very bullish about his chances for this. Having won on heavy ground at Haydock a few years ago, he should handle the ground if it does deteriorate any further and Nicholls’ runner looks to have an excellent chance.
Bellshill’s former accomplishments would give him every chance of triumphing here but at the grand age of 10 and on his first run for Sandy Thomson, it’s very much a watching brief. Outsider Keeper Hill would definitely have a chance of outrunning his odds if repeating his narrow defeat to Frodon last season, but his run in the Charlie Hall last time didn’t point towards that being achievable here.
- Clan Des Obeaux
- Bristol De Mai
*All odds mentioned correct at time of publication