Racing pundit Tony McCormick from www.irishbigracetrends.com beforetheoff.com and racing radio station racingfm.com previews a star studded weekend of National Hunt racing.
Formerly known as the Great Yorkshire Chase, The Sky Bet Chase is run over 3m at Doncaster on Saturday. It is an ideal race for trainers wishing to trial some of their leading candidates for some of the lesser races at the Cheltenham Festival in March or indeed the Aintree Grand National in April.
Trends for the race are not strong, given the amount of abandoned meetings over the years. The last eight winners were GB or Irish bred, 23 French breds have attempted the Sky Bet Chase, with just four being placed. You need to be looking for a runner in some kind of form, as the last eight winners had finished in the first three in one of their last three starts.
Seven of the last eight winners were aged between seven and nine, while six of the last eight winners were last seen at Cheltenham or Chepstow.
Paul Nicholls is very strong when coming to the Great Yorkshire Chase. The trainer’s Colourful Life won the race back in 2005 and Big Fella Thanks took the prize four years later, while Unioniste finished in third last year. Nicholls has the favourite Easter Day, at the time of writing, with the JP McManus-owned If In Doubt, Alan King’s Medermit and the Phillip Hobbs-trained Royal Player all popular in the betting.
Come race day, I will be interested to see if there is any value to be gained from another Nicholls entry, Cowards Close (currently 25/1) or Baileys Concerto from Diane Sayers’s yard.
Two big races in Ireland on Sunday, take place at Leopardstown. The Arkle Novice Chase is off at 1.30, with the Willie Mullins -trained Un De Sceaux set for his biggest test. The champion trainer has admitted he kept Un De Sceaux away from top opposition over hurdles but is keen for the talented seven-year-old to take on the best over fences.
The only blot on Un De Sceaux’s copybook in nine starts over jumps so far is when he fell on his fencing debut at Thurles in November. The French import made amends at Fairyhouse last month and is set to go for the Frank Ward Solicitors Arkle Novice Chase at Leopardstown on Sunday.
As a precaution against the weather, Mullins has given him an entry in the Grade Two Lightning Novices’ Chase at Doncaster on Saturday. “The plan is to come to Leopardstown. He’s in there, he’s in Doncaster. I just stuck him in because there are so few two-mile races just in case the weather acts up here or there so we just have a choice,” Mullins told At The Races.
“We’ve been avoiding the issue with Un De Sceaux and going round the place in his hurdling career, but now we are going to let him run in Grade One races to see what happens.” Clarcam, who has already overturned another Mullins hot pot this season when beating Vautour and the impressive novice Gilgamboa will take on the red hot favourite.
The Irish Champion Hurdle follows in the day 2.35 with Hurricane Fly likely to have a stablemate or two for company in the BHP Insurances Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown on Sunday. Trainer Willie Mullins reports the remarkable 11-year-old to be on course to try to win this race for a fifth successive season.
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