Saturday Racing Preview
This Saturday the curtain comes down on another exceptional National Hunt Season. Sandown’s season finale card looks a cracker, featuring the Grade 1 Celebration Chase where we will get to see this year’s Champion Chaser, Put The Kettle On, strut her stuff against the legend that is Altior. Two good looking Grade 2’s also feature on the card alongside the Grade 3 Bet365 Gold Cup which has thrown up some memorable races over the years. I will look at all 7 races from Sandown, hopefully picking out a few to go well at nice prices.
Father and Son team can strike in the first
A competitive Handicap Hurdle over 2 miles kicks starts proceedings and, on a day, where he will be crowned Champion Trainer for the twelfth time, Paul Nicholls saddles the favourite Celestial Force. Reappearing after a 182-day break, he ran a good race to finish second behind stablemate, Hell Red, giving him 9lbs. This form reads well, and Celestial Force may well improve for the run. He is a big player on ground he is sure to relish. Dan Skelton has a typically strong hand with both Gylo and Rockstar Ronnie. Both appear to be progressive types and I would not be surprised to see them hitting the frame for a yard who have had an outstanding season. I’ll take them on with another family team in the form of the Moore’s who send improving 4-year-old, Royaume Uni 7/1. Out of none other than Galileo himself, it was hardly surprising to see Royaume Uni notch up a pair of impressive flat wins in the early parts of 2021. He has translated that form back over obstacles and was a major eye catcher last time out when just failing to run down Herbiers, who reopposes here but is a pound worse off at weights. Royaume Uni travelled strongly throughout, and I thought he’d win comfortably turning for home. He just failed to kick into top gear early enough and subsequently hit the line hard. I think he will love the Sandown hill and thrive off the anticipated good gallop. Receiving weight all round, I will be disappointed if he fails to get involved.
Take Frodon on at your peril
Just the four runners go to post for the Bet365 Grade 2 Oaksey Chase over 2 miles and 6 furlongs. Gold Cup fifth and King George winner Frodon 8/11 heads the betting and I think he will be very hard to beat. Both he and main market rival Mister Fisher must shoulder 6lb penalties, but I’d be surprised if Born Survivor or Militarian can find the improvement required to get involved at this later stage in their respective careers. Subsequently, I see this as a dual between the front two. Frodon finds himself 5lbs clear on Official Ratings and he ran well for a very long way in the Gold Cup before appearing to not stay the final few furlongs. This step back in trip looks sure to suit and on a track that puts an emphasis on jumping, I think his arial ability can come to the fore. Frodon has always been an outstanding jumper which is something that cannot be said for Mister Fisher on his last two starts. Now I am probably being a tad harsh, but he has made serious blunders in both the Ryanair and at Aintree in the Bowl. Against a horse like Frodon who will thrive on an uncontested lead, he simply cannot afford to make mistakes. Neither make great appeal at their current prices but I expect to see Frodon notch up a seventeenth career win.
Form is temporary, Class is permanent
The 2021 Champion Chaser is set to put her reputation on the line in the Grade 1 Celebration Chase over 2 miles. Put The Kettle On was awesome at Cheltenham and proved her Arkle win a year earlier was no fluke. She is however 4/4 from at Cheltenham now and appears to show her best at Prestbury Park. For whatever reason, some horses do just love Cheltenham! Now, I’m not saying she won’t be as good around Sandown, but it would sit in the back of my mind especially looking at her price of 15/8. Both Greaneteen and Sceau Royal were a few lengths behind her at Cheltenham and the latter especially has strong claims to suggest he may have got a lot closer had he not been badly hampered just before the turn for home. They did all finish in a heap in the Champion Chase which can signify a slightly weaker renewal or tactical affair. Given the time was an average one, I’d be inclined to think that little separates the horses in ability and subsequently none of them are of real star quality. Star quality is exactly what a certain Altior 5/2 possesses. You clearly have to take the chance that he retains all his old ability, but he’s beaten the likes of Sceau Royal on multiple occasions and with considerable ease. His reappearance run behind Nube Negra wouldn’t appear a bad effort either given that rival was only just denied by Put The Kettle On at Cheltenham. If you believe Nicky’s comments about how important the ground is for Altior these days, then you can mark his Kempton effort up considerably. He comes here fresh and will get what his trainer seemingly believes is vital good ground. If Altior still has the old spark left in him, he simply has to prove it here. He is a legend of the game and I’d love to see him fly up the Sandown Hill.
Rachel has clearly planned her attack on Sandown’s signature handicap
Next up is the Bet365 Gold Cup over 3 miles and 4 furlongs. Hennessy won this back in 2008 under one of the great AP McCoy rides and I’ve no doubt Racing’s current shining light, Rachel Blackmore, will hope to do the same aboard the well fancied Plan Of Attack 9/2. There has been plenty of midweek money around for Henry De Bromhead’s Irish raider and it is not hard to see why. Rachel coming over for the ride is clearly a clue in itself but Plan Of Attack was running a big race in the Kim Muir being taking a tumble three from home. Eventual winner, Mount Ida, has come out and enhanced the form so if you believe Plan Of Attack had a chance of getting involved, he has to make appeal off an unchanged mark of 138. Having excelled in big field handicaps before, he has the right profile for the race and looks sure to go well for his Grand National winning Jockey and Trainer. Of the potential challengers, I thought Kitty’s Light was a solid proposition and would surely be one to appreciate the stamina sapping trip. Novice, Enrillo, is an interesting runner for Paul Nicholls having contested some small field novice events so far this season. If taking to the hustle and bustle of a big open field handicap, he could be dangerously unexposed. I’ll stick with the my initial Plan Of Attack though!
Pic D’Orhy can land the spoils
The final Graded race of the season is the Grade 2 Bet365 Select Hurdle over 2 miles and 5 furlongs. Just the 7 runners go to post, but it looks a tricky little contest. On form there wouldn’t appear to be a standout pick with plenty of the runners having patchy seasons to date. Call Me Lord has a strong record around Sandown boasting form figures of 231211 and I can see him going well after failing to stay 3 miles at Aintree. That run ties in nicely with On The Blind Side who gets a 2lb swing at the weights. They’ve both had a busy season and ran just two weeks ago so I am inclined to side with a fresher horse. Pic D’Orhy 5/1 has had an indifferent season novice chasing but has shown glimpses of real class. I thought he was going extremely well when taking a tumble against the now dual Grade 1 winning Chantry House. Sent back hurdling on his last start, he ran a very good race, conceding plenty of weight all round. That run came on heavy ground which I am sure he handles but the return to good ground and the step up in trip could bring about more improvement. Remember, Pic D’Orhy is a Betfair Hurdle winner on good ground and will come into this nice and fresh having swerved the big spring festivals. The signs are there for a big run.
Iconic Muddle can mount a big challenge for the Moore’s
An interesting field of 10 go to post for Josh Gifford Novices’ Handicap Chase over the intermediate trip. Killer Clown and Not That Fuisse have both been in fine form of late and are bound to be well supported. I will take a chance on Gary Moore’s Iconic Muddle 8/1 who unlike the majority of his rivals will come into this on the back of a light campaign, having had just the two starts. Sent off 100/1 and 125/1 on his first two lifetime starts; it was unsurprising to see him finish well down the field but his lifetime form since then reads 23232132 highlighting what a consistent performer he has been. His 2 runs to date this season have come over 2 miles and on his first start he was a very respectable third, conceding weight to the now 144 rated King D’argent. He gets in here off a mark of 121 and the step up in trip on this quicker ground should really suit. Gary Moore is renowned for targeting Sandown as a track and I am hoping he’s done just that with this fella.
Two against the field in Jumps Season Finale
The final race of the 2020/21 National Hunt Season is a very tricky Handicap Hurdle over two and a half miles. This looks like it could be a very competitive betting heat and I liked the claims of two runners. The first was Nicky Henderson’s Cascova 5/1 who destroyed her rivals on her last start at Kempton. I was surprised to see her go up just the 3lbs for that win and given she travels as stylishly through the race again, this should be run to suit. The good ground is in her favour and she seems to be getting more professional with each run. I believe she open to plenty of improvement and can go well for her trainer who has a fine record in this race.
The other horse who caught my eye in here was Solo 15/2. The Champion trainer and Jockey join forces here and it really would be a fitting end to the season if they could combine for the win. Solo has long been held in high regard by connections but has had a poor season to date. His handicap mark has been on the slide all season and he was dropped a further 2lbs for his most recent effort. I actually thought this effort was a decent one and the form has been well franked since. Solo finished fourth to The Shunter who has gone on to win at Cheltenham Festival and place second in a Grade 1 at Aintree. The third, Faivoir, has also come out and won two races since. Solo was well beaten by them that day, but he did concede weight to the Shunter and run well for a very long way. He was subject to a bit of support in the betting that day so I’d suggest strong market support may be hard to ignore if the money starts talking once again. He is a dangerous horse off a sliding handicap mark.
By Sam Rideout
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