Shishkin headlines a superb Saturday of racing

Matt Hulmes, Betfred TV

The weekend is here again and the Racing action continues to step up a gear, as we embark on a potential race for the ages at Ascot this afternoon.

The jumping at Haydock and Taunton is also of a high standard, and Lingfield hosts the middle leg of its three-day inaugural ‘Winter Million’ weekend. Thankfully Haafapiece rescued a patchy afternoon last Saturday, and hopefully better awaits seven days on.

The big race without doubt is the one we’ve all waited to see in the two-mile chasing division, as Shishkin (pictured above after Festival success) and Energumene go head-to-head in the Clarence House Chase at Ascot.

This is a must-see, and if granted a £5 free bet I would just side with the Irish challenger Energumene at the prices – but I would not be tempted to play in the race.

Instead, there are better bets to be had elsewhere – fingers crossed!

TV RACES

1.25 HAYDOCKNO BET

The Supreme Trial at Haydock could give us an indication of the levels of both Jonbon and Constitution Hill on a line through Might I.

Harry Fry’s runner was fourteen lengths behind Constitution Hill at Sandown last month when giving him 7lb. Jonbon gives Might I 5lb here but will still be looking to beat him comprehensively, to enhance his claims in the festival opener.

2.00 HAYDOCKNO BET

Tommy’s Oscar (above) has been a credit to the small team of Ann & Ian Hamilton. They only have the four horses and possess a phenomenal strike rate of 44% this season (nine winners form 22 runners).

This talented 7yo has won three consecutive decent handicaps, to elevate himself to the cusp of a Champion Hurdle tilt. Victory here would book his ticket, and could be an outside chance for the English against the strong Irish challenge for the Day 1 Cheltenham feature.

2.35 HAYDOCK – EMPIRE STEEL

I really fancy EMPIRE STEEL (above) to make amends for the hard luck story of his fall four out in the Rowland Meyrick at Wetherby on Boxing Day. He was still cantering there when just crumpling on landing.

Prior to that he was trying to give 21lb to improver Strictlyadancer over this course and distance on seasonal debut, but now the tables have turned and he gets the weight off a classy sort.

Last year Royale Pagaille won this by 16 lengths before finishing sixth in the Gold Cup, and returned with a fine second here behind A Plus Tard in the Betfair Chase.

That is obviously high-class form, but giving 20lbs away to a lightly-raced improving 8yo, who trounced an admittedly below par Protektorat at Kelso last year, may prove beyond him.

2.55 ASCOT – PHOENIX WAY

PHOENIX WAY went close to doing us a good turn five weeks ago and I’m going to give him another chance with the slight drop in trip.

I thought the step up to three miles would help his jumping and he travelled much more smoothly through the race, looking the winner turning for home.

He didn’t see it out as strongly as hoped though, despite winning at the trip over hurdles. The slight drop here will hopefully see him finish stronger, he runs off the same mark, and the Harry Fry stable have hit a nice vein of form in recent days.

Palmer’s Hill won on the same Ascot card five weeks back over just shy of two and half miles. He does stay this trip well though and will have his supporters in the same colours as the selection, but an 8lb rise for beating some below-par sorts looks slightly harsh.

OTHER SELECTIONS

12:58 TAUNTON – CHARLIE’S GLANCE

I hope CHARLIE’S GLANCE can kickstart the day the right way in Taunton’s opener. He won a Newbury bumper on debut last year and bumped into Jonbon back there when fourth on his hurdles debut in November.

He was well-backed at Market Rasen four weeks ago like victory was expected but got done for toe by useful ex-flat racer Lydford, sticking to his task gamely however and looking like a step up in trip was required.

He gets that here and the price should be upheld with the likes of Outlaw Peter and Marble Sands in opposition.

3.05 LINGFIELD – MISS CANDY

MISS CANDY ran an eye-catching debut at Wolverhampton four weeks ago and can build on that to shed her maiden tag at Lingfield this afternoon.

She looked professional after breaking ok and travelling sweetly on the heels of the leaders, but was hampered slightly on the home bend as the odds-on favourite went clear.

She stayed on nicely behind the market leaders without being knocked about and Hollie Doyle (above) comes in for the ride.

The third has gone close since and the sixth has won so the form looks ok. She looks to have been found a winnable race, with just four rivals opposing.

3.45 HAYDOCK – SHAMAN DU BERLAIS

Seven go to post for this two-mile handicap chase and I like the claims of SHAMAN DU BERLAIS for Kerry Lee.

He hit the bar a few times with Tim Vaughan over hurdles before making the move to The Bell House, where the switch to fences yielded a first success at Stratford in May.

His seasonal return was full of promise too when made favourite at Chepstow last month but was way too keen, opening a huge lead before tiring into third at the line.

He drops in trip to the minimum two miles here and his rider, Daire McConville, claims a huge 10lb and has ridden three winners from his last eight rides, including the latest at Newbury on Wednesday.

The 9yo has only had eleven starts so could still have room to manoeuvre off his current mark.

Saturday racing odds – all the cards, markets, with Betfred

Latest betting for the Cheltenham Festival