Dublin: 5°C Wednesday 8 December 2021
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Fascinating weekend as Cheltenham-bound stars aim to stake their claims

Mark Hobbs previews a busy weekend of action on both sides of the Irish Sea.

Big day in store for Paul Nicholls.
Big day in store for Paul Nicholls.
Image: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

DESPITE THE COLD snap providing a scare on these shores, a timely rise in temperatures should ensure that the weekend’s racing fare will continue unhindered cross channel.

And good news it is too for punters; the cards on both sides of the Irish Sea provide a fine mix of competitive handicaps and graded action.

Today Ascot is home to the Grade One Victor Chandler Chase over two miles one furlong, where Master Minded will be a hot favourite to claim a second success in the race following his 16-length procession in the 2009 renewal.

After disappointing last term somewhat, Paul Nicholls’ charge has shot back brightly this season following a summer wind-operation, and comes here on the back of taking performances both at this course in November, and more recently in Cheltenham.

While Master Minded is arguably not the force he was when claiming back to back Champion Chases, on all known form he is a worthy favourite and has beaten most of the field at least once.

The betting suggests last year’s Arkle second Somersby is his biggest danger.  Having been talked of as a Gold Cup horse before the start of his campaign, his two runs so far have looked a little one paced and he may lack the gears to challenge. It could be worth noting that while Somersby is available at 8/1, a horse that finished ahead of him in the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter on similar terms to today’s can be had at three times that price.

Tchico Polos, a stablemate of Master Minded, may be a value alternative to the favourite. He is less exposed than most of his competitors bar the market leader, and boasts similar form at his best.

Home thoughts

The highlight of the Irish action today comes from Gowran Park, in the form of the rescheduled Thyestes Handicap Chase.

Traditionally one of the most intriguing and puzzling handicap chases of the year, today’s race features perhaps a more seasoned and veteran field than usual. At least half of the 18-strong contingent can be described as in decline or completely out of form, and so last month’s Paddy Power Chase running may prove important.

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Pomme Tiepy and Agus A Vic came third and fourth respectively, and their ability to handle the trip in the likely gruelling conditions may prove vital.

Of the others, Paul Nolan’s Alpha Ridge is very attractively weighted compared to his smart hurdles form, and if he could produce anything near his seven-length second to Gold Cup bound Pandorama last year then he would take all the stopping. His recent runs have been encouraging, and he rates as another who should handle the going.

Leopardstown plays host to a top class card on Sunday afternoon, with two Grade Ones staged at the Dublin venue. The Irish Arkle looks a match between recent Christmas Festival winner Realt Dubh and Willie Mullins’ Flat Out. Marginal preference is given to the latter; who ran a fantastic race in last year’s Supreme Novice’s Hurdle given his inexperience. The defection of his stable mate Quel Esprit may point to his trainer’s confidence.

Old Friends

Later, in the Irish Champion Hurdle, old rivals Hurricane Fly and Solwhit lock horns for the fifth time.

The score line currently reads 3-1 in favour of Hurricane Fly, and he is very short in the betting at 1/2 to increase his lead. Despite the fact that he has already beaten all of his rivals, he will likely shorten for the Cheltenham equivalent if producing a similar display as in the Christmas Hurdle.

Therefore punters may be best advised to back him at a nice price for the March showpiece rather than play at such short odds. A Thousand Stars could be the dark horse of the five runners, and may improve for his seasonal debut to provide a real challenge to the duo.

Tips

This weekend offers a treat of top class racing, and the Cheltenham antepost markets are sure to be shaken up come Sunday evening. For the weekend’s best bets; Tchico Polos to win without Master Minded looks attractive at around 12/1 given the lack of stand-out alternatives in the field, while Willie Mullins could add another Irish Arkle to his tally with the potentially top class Flat Out in Leopardstown at 5/2.

About the author:

Mark Hobbs

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