Your ultimate guide to Saturday's televised action
The day in a nutshell
If this weekend feels something like the Empty Quarter in the Middle East to you then you are mistaken, although there will be one large empty space in racing by the end of the day.
Noel Fehily rides for the final time on Saturday when partnering Get In The Queue in the Goffs UK Spring Sale Bumper at Newbury (5.00). After that he will hang up his saddle with his head held high and retire from a sport he has lit up during a superb career.
Yet Saturday’s racing is not all about Fehily’s departure and what is not there. The Cheltenham Festival has gone and we have not quite reached the start of the Flat or the Grand National, but everywhere you look there are races to savour, horses to admire and stories to be told.
As well as the bumper, Newbury hosts the Grade 2 EBF & TBA Mares’ National Hunt Novices’ Hurdle Final (3.15) in which talented conditional riders Jonjo O’Neill jnr and Rex Dingle, who showcased their skills when finishing first and fourth in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle at the festival, bid for glory on Annie Mc and Our Dot’s Baby respectively.
Friend Or Foe, who missed out on a space in the Boodles-backed Fred Winter Juvenile Hurdle last week, seeks compensation in the £40,000 Be Wiser Juvenile Handicap Hurdle at Newbury (2.40), one of three races worth that sum in prize-money on Saturday.
The other two take place at Kelso, which also plays host to the £50,000 Liz Adam Memorial Handicap Chase (3.00). Having been disappointed with turnout for a valuable pre-Cheltenham raceday, course officials have every right to be upbeat with field sizes this time around.
All-weather racing takes place at Lingfield in the afternoon and Kempton in the evening, while there is Listed action on the card at Thurles. Sky Sports Racing broadcasts action from Bangor for the first time today and the Irish Flat season gets under way at Naas on Sunday.
So don’t be concerned, what you are seeing this weekend is not a mirage in a desert. Instead, it is a charming oasis in which to indulge.
Fehily farewell in Newbury finale
Noel Fehily takes the final three rides of his illustrious career on Saturday having announced his imminent retirement at last week’s Cheltenham Festival.
It is certainly a race Fehily knows how to win having captured it for the last two years on horses trained by Harry Fry, who is again responsible for providing him with a ride.
With more than 1,350 winners, two Champion Hurdle victories, two King George VI Chase successes and numerous other Grade 1s, Fehily will certainly be missed.
Racegoers will also get the chance to see three other Cheltenham winners on Saturday, with Altior, Beware The Bear and Pentland Hills parading in the paddock at Newbury at 1.30pm.
Females to the fore at Newbury
This year's runners in the Grade 2 EBF & TBA National Hunt Mares' Novices' Hurdle Series Final (3.15) at Newbury have plenty to live up to if they are going to emulate last year's winner, Roksana.
The Dan Skelton-trained mare went on to chase home Santini in a Grade 1 contest at Aintree after her Newbury success, and gained her first victory at the highest level when capitalising on the final-flight fall of Benie Des Dieux in the David Nicholson Mares' Hurdle last week.
Skelton is back again this year with two runners – Etamine Du Cochet and So Lonely – while Nicky Henderson, Alan King and Oliver Sherwood are all represented in a race they have won before.
Victory in the race would be the biggest in the career of jockey Lucy Alexander, who will be keen to grab her own deserved share of the spotlight following on from the recent successes of Bryony Frost, Rachael Blackmore and Lizzie Kelly, by steering Off The Hook home in front.
Numbers that matter: 22
Executive Force has been on a roll this winter, so much so that even defeat cannot stop him winning.
Seven days ago the Michael Wigham-trained five-year-old narrowly failed to win at Wolverhampton, but he was awarded the race in the stewards’ room, thereby taking his record since February 1 to five wins and a second in six starts.
He will attempt to carry owner Tugay Akman’s colours to a sixth win in the mile handicap at Lingfield (3.10) from a rating 22lb higher than his first success. Given the form he has been in, you would not put it past him.
Kelso pleased as field sizes hold up well
Saturday's ITV4-covered meeting at Kelso has attracted healthy field sizes for the majority of races, ensuring no repeat of the track's March 2 disappointment, when officials were “appalled” that just 33 runners were declared.
Nearly double that number feature on Saturday, and the three most valuable races of the meeting – a pair of £40,000 handicap hurdles and a £50,000 handicap chase – have attracted field sizes of 13, 11 and eight.
Kelso managing director Jonathan Garratt said: "We’re pleased, it’s certainly what we'd have hoped for. The handicaps are predominantly eight or more runners, so there’s a nice shape to those races, and generally we’re quite relieved and pleased with what we’ve got. It should be a great show for ITV.
"The concern we’ve had about small fields in the past is that it has been eroding our future income and limits our ability to put up our prize-money. By having fuller fields, it creates this virtuous circle meaning we have more money to put back into prize-money.”
Reveley rates Leo
James Reveley takes time out from the day job in France to ride Saint Leo and Seemorelights for Sandy Thomson at Kelso.
Reveley won over hurdles at Fontainebleau aboard Saint Leo when he was with Guillaume Macaire and he has travelled back to Britain especially for the ride.
“I quite like Saint Leo, I think he’s got a nice race in him somewhere and [owner] Ray Green was quite keen for me to come over,” said Reveley, who will be back in action at Auteuil on Sunday.
“He's more of a chaser but this is good prize-money. I'd planned to ride him over the winter before I got injured.”
Reveley got his eye in on Friday, riding for the first time in Britain for nearly a year, finishing unplaced at Musselburgh.
Royal win would be welcome for charity
With £40,000 on offer in the Bernhard Lighting Rig Handicap Hurdle (2.25) there is incentive enough to have a runner, but when that prize-money could be going to charity that incentive only increases.
Royal Reserve lines up in the contest on Saturday for trainer Lucinda Russell and owners London Scots For Doddie, who are donating all prize-money won by their runner to the My Name’5 Doddie Foundation for Motor Neuron Disease.
The charity was set up by former rugby star Doddie Weir, who was capped 61 times by Scotland but was diagnosed with Motor Neuron Disease in 2017.
Russell said: “Royal Reserve runs for the My Name'5 Doddie rugby charity and the aim is that all the prize-money goes to them. The fact that it's a £40,000 race has really encouraged us to run.”
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