Oli Bell’s Saturday TV guide
I am very excited to be writing my first ever Sporting Life column ahead of one of, if not the best Saturday afternoon of racing that will be seen throughout this jumps season.
Cantlow wins under Nina Carberry, one of Oli's special guests on The Opening Show.
Every week I'll take a look ahead to some of the big races coming up on Saturday and pass on my views, news from the stables and any trackside whispers that have been picked up along the way – hopefully this can equate to a profitable Saturday afternoon!
On a personal level it's been a fun start to 2017 having got the first few weeks of The Opening Show under my belt for ITV Racing. Going into the New Year there was obviously a mix of nerves and excitement about the new project but I can honestly say that the team at ITV both on and off screen have been absolutely brilliant in making me feel at home.
I get on really well with the extremely talented producer of the show, Paul Cooper, and have really enjoyed getting to know my new colleagues.
We have been very lucky during the first few weeks of the show to have been joined by superb guests in Tom Scudamore and Lizzie Kelly and this week that theme continues because joining us will be two riding legends, Ruby Walsh and Nina Carberry. I cannot wait to get their thoughts on what is simply a stunning day's racing.
Don't forget, If you want to hear the views of some of the team before The Opening Show begins on ITV4 at 10am, tune into Facebook Live every Friday night at 7.30pm for a taster of what's coming up. That's been a really fun, innovative idea from ITV that I have thoroughly enjoyed being a part of. It enables us to chat about the weekend's action in a relaxed setting, away from the cameras (sort of) and you get to pose questions to some of the team. My favourite one so far came in from Steve McGuiness who asked Matt why he was dressed like a hot water cylinder. If you saw what Matt was wearing, it was a very valid question!
Here are a few of the horses I'm particularly looking forward to seeing in action this weekend. I'm certainly of the opinion that JP McManus is going to be a very, very happy man come the close of play on Saturday.
2.30 Doncaster – LE PREZIEN. When it comes to latent talent it's my view that this horse has an abundance of it. He is still a work in progress and one key area in which he can still improve is his jumping but despite a few novicey errors he is doing the most important thing – winning, and beating some decent horses in the process. Paul Nicholls is a genius when it comes to placing his horses and not over facing them and this six-year-old looks as though he is ready for this step up in grade.
2.50 Cheltenham – CANTLOW. As mentioned above, Nina Carberry will be a guest on The Opening Show this Saturday and I'm sure she will have plenty of positive things to say about Enda Bolger's charge. The Irish trainer is a genius with Cross-Country horses and Cantlow proved with his course success last time out that he is the one they will all have to beat here.
3.25 Cheltenham – KIMBERLITE CANDY. I'm well aware that at the moment it looks like I am JP McManus' biggest fan given that the first three horses I've mentioned are all owned by him, but I was hugely impressed by this horse when he won at Newcastle last time out despite racing freely. Tom Lacey is a trainer who I rate highly and it's no surprise to me that the powerful owner bought this horse on the back of his debut Ascot win in November. It looks as though he has got a pretty useful one on his hands and while he is taking on some decent rivals, I think he is really exciting.
3.40 Doncaster – COOLOGUE. On Monday, I headed down to Charlie Longsdon's yard to get the lowdown on his runners ahead of the feature at Doncaster this Saturday. The talented trainer was very upbeat about the chances of Coologue who was runner-up in the race 12 months ago. This horse has a good overall record at Doncaster, despite not winning there and he seems to have overcome the steering problems that he had last season as a novice. Now the sat-nav is working I think he will go one better than last year.
4.00 Cheltenham – UNOWHATIMEANHARRY. Ever since he arrived at Harry Fry's yard this horse has continued to improve and following on from his Albert Bartlett win at the Festival last year he has quickly established himself as the stayer they all have to beat. He isn't the flashiest and will only just do enough but reminds me of some of the very talented staying hurdlers we've had in recent years, notably Inglis Drever who would always get the job done, without setting the world alight. This horse hasn't been underestimated because the market will make him a short-priced favourite, but I'd be very surprised if there was one good enough in the Cleeve to beat him.
As well as all that this weekend, there is the small matter of Vroum Vroum Mag running at Doncaster and then the return of the mighty Faugheen in the Irish Champion Hurdle on Sunday. What a lot to look forward to. Best of luck!