Sandown Handicaps Preview

While it’s true to say that the cards this weekend have an ‘After The Lord Mayor’s Show’ feel to them – with so many stables’ best and brightest seen over Christmas and the New Year – there are four horses who look good value at Sandown. Never miss an opportunity in this game!

In the 1:20 Handicap Chase, CAP DU NORD is available at double-figure odds, which underestimates his chances. The seven-year-old ran with credit in fourth in a strong Class 2 at Ascot last time out in deep ground, which doesn’t suit him. That run bodes well, and down in class here on better ground, Cap Du Nord looks to have been found a good opportunity by trainer Christian Williams. Williams obviously has his string in decent fettle given Potters Corner’s win in the Welsh National, and it’s notable that Jack Tudor is aboard with his extremely handy seven pound claim. Tudor is great value for that claim, meaning the seven-year-old gelding runs off (effectively) a mark of 115, and given he won in March at this grade off a mark of 118, this race could be within his grasp. Dashing Perk, who won well over course and distance in December, is an obvious danger, but he jumped to the right that day and given Cap Du Nord is available at four times the price, the value choice is obvious.

The highlight of the day for the vast majority of racing fans won’t be the Grade One Tolworth Hurdle, but the Veterans Chase Final (3:00), where old foes do battle in memory of Houblon Des Obeaux. There are two horses who I’m keen on here, especially given the drying ground won’t suit well-fancied favourite Jepeck.

The first is DARK FLAME, who has obvious claims given his second in the voided London National last month. The “winner” that day, Doing Fine, achieved a genuine win on his next start, boosting the form, and while many of these older horses are racking up their form only in veterans’ races, Dark Flame achieved that second place in open company. He’s only had 12 career starts, so might not even have reached his peak, and if so a mark of 125 is eminently workable.

The second choice is the legendary VIEUX LION ROUGE, still only eleven years old. He simply may have the class edge in this field if on song, having already proved his wellbeing this season by winning a Veterans Chase at Chepstow. Extraordinarily it’s his Sandown debut, but given this lovable chaser is famous for his impeccable jumping, he should find the track to his advantage. His odds look wrong at the current prices, and he’s worth an investment.

Finally, the closing 3:35 Handicap Hurdle has been chosen by Colin Tizzard as the comeback race for ELDORADO ALLEN, the stable’s number one novice hurdler last term until his desperately unfortunate injury at Aintree. The handicapper hasn’t been overly kind by allocating him a mark of 145, but if he is fully tuned up that mark vastly understates his ability, and he could hose up in this company. This is a bet with obvious risks attached – Eldorado Allen may not retain all his ability and/or may desperately need the run – but the market reflects that, and odds of 11/2 could look ridiculous if he is truly back on song.

 

Recommended Bets 04/01/20 (all Sandown):

1:20 Cap Du Nord 1pt e/w at 12/1 (Various)

3:00 Vieux Lion Rouge 0.5pts e/w at 16/1 (4 places, Various) & Dark Flame 0.5pts e/w at 13/2 (4 places, Various)

3:35 Eldorado Allen 1.5pts win at 11/2 (Hills, Coral)

Steeplechase Saturday Preview

Tingle Creek Day is just about my favourite day’s racing of the year: competitive handicaps galore all over the country, the National fences in use at Aintree, and graded two-mile chasing at Sandown, where only those who can cope with the furious pace through the railway fences will come to the fore.

As ever, the action at Sandown will be a terrific viewing spectacle, but both the Tingle Creek and the Henry VIII look as tough to negotiate for punters as those railway fences are for horses.

The eight runners in the Tingle Creek Chase do provide a cheeky each-way betting angle to the race, but strong place claims can be made for Politilogue, Sceau Royal, Janika and even Waiting Patiently based on his outstanding record right-handed, so there are no obvious bets there. In the win market, Defi Du Seuil is deservedly favourite, but only narrowly beat Politilogue at Cheltenham when in receipt of 3lbs that he won’t get here, and Un De Sceaux is 10/15 in 2-mile chases in his illustrious career and should be written off at punters’ peril. As I’m on course I’ll have an each-way punt, probably on Politilogue if 5s is available, but it’s impossible to have a strong view.

The Henry VIII Novices Chase is even more challenging from a betting perspective, especially with Maire Banrigh – who I would have backed due to her flawless jumping – being taken out at declarations making it a seven runner race. I can’t back a novice at Sandown on chasing debut, which takes out Grand Sancy, and I also can’t back a horse whose jumping is suspect at the Esher track, which removes Summerville Boy from the shortlist. That leaves Nube Negra and Torpillo, both of whom have impressed in their short chasing careers so far, but with the form of Nube Negra’s two wins totally disintegrating, I’ll be backing the favourite Torpillo, who helpfully gets a 6lb allowance from his elders and is 2/2 over hurdles at Sandown. Again, though, this is a tentative vote.

I’d much rather pick out some of the other races around the country where I do have strong views. Here’s my reasoning:

 

SANDOWN

The marathon London National Handicap Chase (3:55), run over 3m5f around Sandown’s unique jumping test, seldom offers up surprise winners. The four I’d shortlisted for this year’s renewal – Classic Ben, Step Beck, Royal Vacation and Sharp Response – are indeed the first four in the market, but given that of the last nine victors the longest price has been 14/1 and five have gone off single figures, that shouldn’t put us off, especially with some generous bookie terms on offer.

The one who appeals most of the quartet is STEP BACK. The nine-year-old won the Bet365 Gold Cup in 2018 over course and distance in sensational style, but disappointed in his three starts after that, most notably when jumping markedly right in the Grand National. He then returned to form in April – in exactly the same conditions he will be encountering in this race: 29 furlongs around Sandown on good ground. Another plus is that he’ll be piloted by Jamie Moore, who not only has an unmatched record around the unusual Esher track in chases, but also was on board Step Back for his big win. Mark Bradstock hasn’t given his stable star a prep run, but he went well fresh earlier in his career, so hopefully he’s fit and firing.

The problem with Step Back is that he is a mercurial talent, and sometimes he just doesn’t run anywhere near his best, for reasons Bradstock has struggled to pinpoint. That unreliability means stakes shouldn’t be too large, but if he is on song, he will surely go very close indeed down in class at his favourite venue.

 

AINTREE

It’s a real thrill to watch two races on the same day over the Grand National fences, and it’s those National fences that should be the key consideration when looking for value. Winners of both the Becher and Sefton will either have a proven track record over the big obstacles, or should stand out as super natural jumpers if they are yet to take the test. Those with any kinks in their jumping technique will quickly get found out, however good their form appears.

In the 3m2f Becher Handicap Chase Nigel Twiston-Davies has an outstanding record, with three wins in the last ten renewals, meaning his only entry Ballyoptic catches the eye. However the nine-year old has already had two very tough races this term from three starts, including his run just two weeks ago in the Betfair Chase at Haydock. That means looking elsewhere, and three experienced course specialists stand out.

2017 Grand National hero One For Arthur hasn’t won since – which is far from unusual – but looked back to form when finishing sixth in last year’s renewal. He then shaped nicely at Kelso in October before tailing off as if needing the run. Lucinda Russell’s ten-year-old was dropped to a mark of just 149 for that encouraging effort, only one pound higher than when winning the big one in 2017, so he definitely can’t be dismissed.

Vieux Lion Rouge seems to come alive over the big fences at Aintree, and his record of never falling in his many runs around the Grand National course is truly extraordinary. Second in last year’s Becher off 146, he runs off 145 this time and showed he retained his enthusiasm for the game by battling to a narrow victory in a good veterans’ race at Chepstow in October. This race will have always been David Pipe’s target ever since, and he seems almost certain to be there or thereabouts yet again.

But perhaps the best handicapped of the three course specialists is last year’s winner WALK IN THE MILL, also the youngest at nine. He won the 2018 race fairly handily from a mark of 137, and despite a good fourth in the Grand National runs off just 141 this time, which seems bizarrely lenient from the handicapper. The concern is his lifeless run in the Badger Ales in November – he was third in a decent handicap before winning last year’s renewal – but he was sent off 20/1 at Wincanton so was potentially simply not ready.

Having picked out three notable course specialists in the Becher, it’s suprirsing to see so few entered in the 2m5f Sefton Handicap Chase later in the afternoon. The clear exception to that is Ultragold, who boasts a terrific record over these tough fences. But Colin Tizzard’s charge is now eleven years old, and has been running over longer trips that this for the past 18 months; as such there’s a worry he could find himself outpaced at key moments here.

With Ultragold reluctantly – and perhaps foolishly! – passed over, the next best ‘specialist’ to consider is Flying Angel, but the best performance he can boast in this race from two starts is 6th off a mark of 142, and so he can also be dismissed, especially at short prices.

That means we are looking for a stand-out natural jumper in the field whose jumping will prove an asset, and that horse might be DIDERO VALLIS. He was foot-perfect as a novice round Carlisle, then Haydock in an open handicap, and coped well with Cheltenham’s challenges when 5th in the competitive Brown Advisory in March. His run first-time out at Ascot two weeks ago was too bad to be true, and given he raised his RPR from 53 to 136 between his first and second runs last season, it can be overlooked. Clearly this is a speculative bet, and so small stakes are advised, but there’s no doubt in my mind that Didero Vallis is a better horse than his mark of 134, and there’s a good chance he will enjoy this severe test of jumping.

Finally, MASON JAR merits a small wager in the 1:00 Handicap Hurdle, simply due to his form. The five-year old hammered House Island at Kempton, who has since won and then narrowly finished second today in a terrific graded race at Sandown. He then handed Dorking Boy a seven-length beating at Ascot, and Tom Lacey’s hurdler is now rated 123 via a win at Taunton. With Cillin Leonard on board claming seven pounds, and trainer Dr Newland in a rich vein of form (33/126 this season and +8.19 in hurdles; 2 winners this week), Mason Jar can’t go unbacked, despite this looking a hot renewal.

 

Recommended Bets:

Sandown 3:35 – Step Back 1pt e/w @ 6/1 (4 places)

Aintree 1:00 – Mason Jar 1pt e/w @ 8/1 (3 places)

Aintree 1:30 – Walk In The Mill 1pt e/w @ 9/1 (5 places)

Aintree 3:15 – Didero Vallis 0.5pts e/w @ 10/1 (4 places)

Bet365 Gold Cup Preview

The curtain closes on big Saturday handicaps in this UK jumps season with the Bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown Park – so let’s see if we can find a winner to round off the year.

While it’s not quite as prestigious as in its former guise as the ‘Whitbread’, this 3m5f test is a terrific race. The winner needs: tactical speed, because Sandown can be tight when there are 20 runners, and it’s generally run on properly good ground; stamina, of course, because any horse that’s not a proper stayer will get found out over this extended trip with a stiff uphill finish; and proven jumping ability, because taking the infamous railway fences in the midst of a helter-skelter handicap isn’t for the faint-hearted.

What the winner doesn’t need is out-and-out class: since the mighty Desert Orchid won in 1988, 25 of the 30 winners have carried less than 11 stone. Looking at the last five years in more detail, in case the nature of the race has changed recently (like the Grand National), the picture is very similar. It’s easier to use horses’ official ratings rather than their weights to do this, and the picture is clear: horses rated 145 and under outperform the rest.

Weights

That means that the top five in the weights of Beware The Bear, Rock The Kasbah and Present Man can be overlooked for betting purposes. Of those, Rock The Kasbah & Present Man are hardest to ignore given they were second and third respectively in this race last year and both get to race off only three pounds higher this time around, but there should be more likely winners lurking lower in the weights.

In many of these big-money handicap chases, it’s a distinct advantage for trainers to have targeted the race, but perhaps not here. This is probably because the race is the final winning chance of the season; if you’re wrong as a trainer, or if your horse is unlucky in running, there’s no opportunity to put things right for six months. It’s clear from the statistics that it’s a positive to be match-fit, but not overcooked.

Season Runs

Having said that, all this year’s entries have had between three and seven runs this season, although with both West Approach and Flying Angel having already run seven times this term, they might not be at their absolute peak, and should be approached with caution. The latter is tricky to pass over given that he seems fairly well in at his peak, but we can’t have a bet on every horse in the race!

What about the career profile of horses who run well here? Last year’s winner Step Back was very much an outlier, being a novice with only three runs to his name. In fact, only 2 of the last 20 horses in total have had fewer than seven chase starts, meaning that novices and inexperienced chasers would need to be long prices in the betting to be worth following.

Chase Career Runs

Therefore while Talkischeap, Give Me A Copper and Just A Sting all have obvious claims, their short prices mean they don’t represent value in the market. Prime Venture is also probably too inexperienced – and won’t handle the quick ground.

That leaves a shortlist of Joe Farrell, Step Back, Rolling Dylan, Vyta Du Roc, The Young Master and Le Reve to look at in more detail in order to choose our selection(s). Rathlin Rose just shouldn’t be good enough to be getting involved here, even though Sandown is his favourite track.

Screen Shot 2019-04-27 at 09.51.43

The final four columns of the summary above show: horses’ peak career chase RPR and the difference between that and their current OR; and horses’ peak chase RPR this season, and the difference between that and their current OR.

The latter is used to identify horses hopelessly out of form, and Vyta Du Roc certainly fits that description, with his three runs this season PU, PU, 7th. It would be a surprise if he ran well. Step Back is a much more complex case. The defending champion has been average at best this season, running below par in handicaps at Chepstow and Warwick, but he has consistently struggled in his career with going left-handed, and so perhaps those runs can be overlooked. Of more concern is whether he has recovered sufficiently from a bold front-running show in the Grand National, where he was only pulled up after the Canal Turn on the second circuit. He jumped wildly right round Aintree, and Sara Bradstock suspected he had a foot issue, something he has suffered before. If he were at long odds, he would certainly be worth a bet, because he was so magnificent last year, but there are too many negatives to take a short enough price.

Another who may have gone too far in the Grand National to have recovered for another marathon test is Joe Farrell, who was only pulled up two fences from home.

Given the non-runners, that leaves us with just three:

THE YOUNG MASTER – 25 career chase runs (and 46 runs in rules races!) would suggest that this 10-year-old is gone at the game. He started the season rated just 130, and presumably a couple of poor races away from retirement, but he won back-to-back handicaps at Chepstow and Cheltenham, and then ran a terrific race to be third in the Kim Muir at Cheltenham. He won this race in 2016 off a mark of 148, meaning that if he is anywhere close to his best, a mark of 142 is workable.

ROLLING DYLAN – As a progressive second season chaser, he has a lovely profile for this, and he’s been on my radar for a race of this type ever since an impressive staying-on third in a big Cheltenham handicap in December. His last run over 3m4f at Taunton was excellent off top weight, proving he’s in good nick. The ground should be fine, but the only concern is no proven Sandown form in the book, although he goes right-handed no problem.

LE REVE – You’d have got long odds on this 11-year-old being on the shortlist after an uninspiring 8th place in the Veterans’ Final in January off a mark of 135, but since then Lucy Wadham has managed to reignite the spark in this gutsy horse. He’s won twice since then, at Lingfield and Sandown, and with Maxime Tissier taking off five pounds, it doesn’t matter that he’s slightly out of the main handicap. If he arrives on a going day, he should have a decent chance, given he was 3rd in this race in 2015 off a lofty mark of 147.

 

Recommended Bets:

Rolling Dylan – 1pt e/w 20/1 (5 places)

Le Reve – 0.5pts e/w 20/1 (5 places)

The Young Master – 1pt win 9/1 BOG