Alex Hammond looks ahead to the weekend's major races
Alex Hammond looks ahead to the weekend's major races

Alex Hammond Blog: Weekend tips for Newcastle and Newbury

The Sky Sports Racing presenter looks ahead to the weekend's action and she's expecting a big run from The Ferry Master at Newcastle.

Dan Skelton continues to send out an impressive number of winners and recently celebrated his 1000th British winner. Not bad for someone who only started training in 2013!

He’s already tasted success at the Cheltenham festival and no doubt there will be many more winners on the hallowed Gloucestershire turf in the years to come.

If one of his new recruits makes it there, then there will have been fewer more appropriately named runners at the famous four-day fixture.

Heltenham made his debut for the yard at Lingfield on Thursday and could be one to stick in your tracker.

"You know what they say about when Denman eyeballs you" - Daryl Jacob on Diamond Harry's Hennessy

Thanks to my Sky Sports Racing colleague Laurent Barbarin (Detective Barbarin going forward), I now know the story behind the naming of this horse.

It turns out the breeders are big fans of the Cheltenham Festival. As this horse is what’s known as an AQPS (non-thoroughbred) they have slightly different rules around naming. The horses have to be named according to their year of birth, so for example, he was born in 2017 when all the foals names will start with the letter H.

With Cheltenham therefore out of the running, they went with Heltenham in the hope they would see him run there one day which would remind them of a fantastic time they once had at the Festival. Lovely story, so let’s hope this 82,000-euro purchase makes it there one day and rewards his breeders with another great day out.

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Onto this weekend then and I’ll be in Sky Studios on Saturday with a busy day of jumping action.

The feature race comes from Newcastle where Epatante returns to the fray in the Grade 1 Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle, the contest she hacked up in 12 months ago.

She faces some familiar rivals including last year’s runner-up Sceau Royal, the horse who caused drama in that race, Not So Sleepy and his victim that day, Silver Streak. If you don’t remember the race Not So Sleepy didn’t fancy it and slammed on the brakes going into the first flight of hurdles unseating his rider and he then carried Silver Streak out of the race at the second hurdle whilst galloping riderless.

"When I was a child, he was the first horse I really connected with" - Ladbrokes Trophy memories

However, Epatante has to take on a new kid on the block in Monmiral, the young upstart who is unbeaten in all five of his starts and ended last season winning the Grade 1 4yo Hurdle at Aintree in April.

After that Aintree victory his rider Harry Cobden said he was the best juvenile he’s sat on, and a proper Grade 1 horse. The way he pulled away from Adagio in the closing stages was impressive and the galloping track at Newcastle should bring out the best of him.

In contrast, the wheels slightly came off with Epatante after her win here. It transpired she was suffering from a back problem for which she has apparently had surgery in the off-season, so it remains to be seen if she can reproduce her best form here.

She’s going to have to if she’s to beat the Paul Nicholls-trained runner, who I think may give her a proper race. Whether he’s up to her class yet at this stage of his career remains to be seen and his future lies over fences, but he makes a proper race of it.

Can Willie Mullins win another Ladbrokes Trophy?
Can Willie Mullins win another Ladbrokes Trophy?

The Betfair Exchange Rehearsal Handicap Chase is another race with plenty of depth at Newcastle.

I spoke with trainer Harriet Graham earlier in the week and she is obviously hopeful of a good run from Aye Right and he deserves to win one of these big handicaps having finished runner up in the Ladbrokes Trophy, the Sky Bet Chase and being placed at the Cheltenham Festival.

However, he is paying the price for his consistency and looks vulnerable to something lower down the weights. Trainer Sandy Thomson holds an attractive hand in this with Scottish National runner-up Dingo Dollar and The Ferry Master who gets in the race bang off bottom weight, ten stone.

This course and distance suits Dingo Dollar, but can he win off 12lbs higher than when he won over it back in March? I’m leaning towards his stablemate The Ferry Master who is also a course and distance winner and was possibly stretched by the 4-mile trip in the Scottish National in the spring and should run a big race.

The card at Newbury looks mouth-watering too with the Ladbrokes Trophy Chase the highlight.

There’s a strong Irish challenge coming over for the race with Willie Mullins responsible for three of the declared runners including ante post favourite Ontheropes. He’s hard to get a handle on and if he can win off 153 it’ll be a smart performance.

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Henry de Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore teamed up with A Plus Tard to win at Haydock last Saturday and they hold strong claims with Eklat De Rire whose only blip in four starts over fences came in the Brown Advisory Plate at the Festival in March when he unseated his rider. The ground is the concern for me with him as he’s a big, heavy topped horse and he may want it softer.

Last year’s winner Cloth Cap has a much tougher task this time round off his rating. Enrilo is the one for me.

His trainer Paul Nicholls has lifted this trophy on three occasions, twice with the mighty Denman who produced one of the handicap performances of the modern era to win in 2009 off a rating of 174.

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Enrilo won’t have to achieve anything in that stratosphere off 147, but it looks doable for him off that mark. You’ll remember his dramatic run in the Bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown in April where he was first past the post but demoted to third having caused significant interference?

Well, he’s only 4lbs higher in the weights for this seasonal reappearance and has won after a break in the past. Incidentally, like Heltenham, Enrilo is also an AQPS bred horse and all his contemporaries born in 2014 have names beginning with an E. Now you know!

(His half-brother who was born in the same year as Heltenham is called Henri the Second and he won on debut for Nicholls at Chepstow last month and may be another horse for your tracker).

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