An action packed Saturday awaits us this weekend featuring an all chase card from Sandown where we have the rearranged Cotswold Chase and an extremely good renewal of the Grade 1 Scilly Isles Novices Chase. There is also high class racing from Wetherby and Musselburgh where we could get a handful of Cheltenham clues. As is the quality of this weekend’s racing, I have dedicated separate pieces to day 1 and 2 of the Dublin Racing Festival, so if you’re looking out for Irish clues be sure to give them a read! I have taken a look at all 6 races from Sandown along with the rearranged Cleeve Hurdle from Wetherby and a handful of races from Musselburgh.
Paddy’s Poem a nice price in Sandown opener
The first race on a unique all chase card at Sandown is a competitive 2-mile handicap chase. Caribean Boy heads the betting here at 5/2 and is sure to have his supporters having jumped well on his seasonal reappearance when beating Fiddlerontheroof in convincing fashion. Last time out things didn’t go to plan and he highlighted a few potential jinks in his armoury. At times, especially early on, he jumped violently left and looked a little outpaced. Both of which would appear to be a negative now he returns to a right-handed track and drops back to two miles. Subsequently I’d like to take him on. Dolos comes here in good form and conditions look sure to suit. He remains on a lofty handicap mark though and considering the likely testing conditions I’ve looked further down the weights. Bottom weight Paddy’s Poem 6/1 makes plenty of appeal to me on the back of a fine second to Ibleo over course and distance last time out. The going was soft that day so I’d like to think he’ll handle conditions and Ibleo has since come out and bolted up off 147 and is now rated 156. Paddy’s Poem runs off 132 here and went down to Ibleo by one and a half lengths receiving 16lbs so you’d have to think he’s a fair few pounds well in. With just the 16 lifetime starts to date he’s an extremely lightly raced 10-year-old and there could be more to come. At 6/1 he represents a nice bit of value.
Hitman to deliver a knockout blow for Nicholls and Cobden
This year’s Virgin Bet Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase looks an absolute cracker! If you take out the 40/1 outsider, Up The Straight, the remaining 6 contenders are separated by just 5lbs on official ratings. Kauto Star Novice Chase winner Shan Blue heads the betting with the likes of Messire Des Obeaux, Sporting John, Paint The Dream and Coral Cup Heroine Dame De Compagnie all in there. Having backed Dame De Compagnie at 28/1 for the new Mares Chase at The Cheltenham and after a lovely chasing debut at Ayr a fortnight ago, Im excited to see how she gets on. She would have been my idea of a smashing each way bet but with just 7 runners, only two places will be on offer and her lack of experience may catch her out now in Grade 1 company against more experienced opposition. Shan Blue is as good a novice jumper as you’ll ever see and the step back down in trip shouldn’t be too much of an issue. He faces rivals who seemingly jump a fair bit better than some of the horses he beat last time out. Notably The Big Breakaway who clattered a handful of fences and still looked to be reeling in Shan Blue back at the end. Shan Blue’s jumping therefore may not be such an advantage against speedier opposition and he may be vulnerable to a quicker horse.
Sporting John has a classy back profile but has failed to deliver on his last two starts including on chase debut last time out. There is no doubt he is a seriously talented individual, but he represents a risky bet in this company and odds of 9/1 wouldn’t look overly generous. Messire Des Obeux has taken to fences well this season after some time off and looks sure to run a big race. I struggle to find too many holes in him but the same can be said for my selection Hitman 3/1 who has really
impressed me this season. Being a five-year-old, he receives a handy 3lb allowance taking him clear on ratings, all be it, only just ahead of market rivals Shan Blue and Messire Des Obeaux. Imported from France, Nicholls unleashed Hitman at Ffos Las where he bolted up by 30 lengths, jumping nicely throughout bar a blip at the second last. Pitched into Grade 1 company on his last start in the Henry VIII Novices Chase, Hitman ran a cracker to finish a staying on second to the talented Allmankind. I thought Hitman jumped magnificently that day and proved he handles the tough jumping test that Sandown throws at a horse. Given Allmankind’s more experienced profile I actually think Hitman was the one to take from the race and this step up to two and a half miles looks sure to suit. Given his age and with just the 2 chase starts to date, Hitman can continue his progression and I’d be disappointed if he doesn’t go close. Either way he’s an exciting horse for the future!
Santini can storm into Gold Cup picture in Sandown show-piece
On a day where the Contenders hurdle usually features on the Sandown card, for a few reasons we have a change this year and the re scheduled Cotswold Chase takes centre stage. Bristol De Mai heads the betting at 7/4 and despite having an abundance of fans I’m not one of them and tend to take him on when he’s not at his beloved Haydock. In fact, he hasn’t recorded a win away from Haydock since he won The Scilly Isles Novices Chase on this day in 2016! Native River is his likely pace rival and I thought there was plenty to like about his comeback run at Aintree where he was jumping for fun. He wasn’t suited by the fences being taken out in the home straight and could run a big race. Yala Enki comes here in fine form after a big run in the Welsh National and a gutsy win last time out at Taunton. This is another step up in class and he has it all to do on ratings despite receiving 6lbs from the main contenders. Harry Whittington’s Saint Calvados is an interesting runner on the back of a fourth placed effort in the King George. He ran keenly throughout, and truth be told did incredibly well to still come there swinging into the straight. If he’s learnt to settle, he could be dangerous but he did jump markedly left at times in the King George and that goes against him once again running on a right-handed track.
This leaves us with Santini 5/2 who I put up in my 2021 Antepost Calendar at 3/1. I think Cheltenham would suit him a lot more than Sandown but I’m still confident he can go very close. Both starts so far this season have had viable excuses. In The Many Clouds Chase at Aintree he, like Native River, wasn’t suited by the fences being taken out coming up the home straight. Then to my amazement he was supplemented for the King George which Henderson knew wasn’t going to suit. He still ran on into fifth and this return to a stiffer track will be right up his street. Let’s not forget he was a neck second in last seasons Gold Cup and is still lightly raced over fences with just the 8 lifetime starts. He’s my most likely winner at 5/2.
Hattrick seeking Ask Me Early the best of the rest at Sandown
The 2:55 at Sandown looks a tricky little race and a few of these hold entries elsewhere. Benatar ran a massive race in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup at Cheltenham last time out off the back of a long lay off and should the dreaded bounce factor not kick in, he looks to have a chance off top weight. I will side with another horse who fell in that race, Champagne Mystery 10/1. An emphatic winner on chase debut in November 2019, Champagne Mystery hasn’t kicked on over fences, but connections feel he’s a horse who goes well when fresh. Taking a tumble at the fifth fence at Cheltenham in December, Champagne Mystery does come here nice and fresh and his back form would suggest he is more than capable of defying a mark of 139. He was placed a few lengths behind Dashel Drasher giving him weight and the smart Greaneteen, so should he put that jumping error behind him, I would be hopeful of a good run.
The penultimate race at Sandown is a 3-mile handicap chase and I think the progressive Ask Me Early 5/2 will take some beating. He looks the form horse in the race with plenty of his rivals coming here with some considerable questions to answer. We know Ask Me Early will handle the testing conditions having recorded his two chase wins to date on soft and heavy ground. Put up 7lbs for his latest win, I am inclined to think this could be a lenient rise considering he and Hold That Taught pulled 27 lengths clear of the third placed horse and neither were stopping at the line. 5/2 may not be to everyone’s liking in a race like this but I could see him going off a fair bit shorter.
Just the 5 runners go to post for the lucky last and you can make case for all 5 runners. I like the chances of Dostal Phil 5/4 who impressed on chase debut after 9 months off the track. Running keenly through the early stages, Dostal Phil seemed to power through the heavy Newbury ground and eased to victory in the style of a pretty good horse. I like the runner up Funamble Sivola who had impressed on his previous start, so I am inclined to think Dostal Phil has run to a fair level first time out. He’s entitled to come on for the run and an 8lb rise looks well within his reach. Gary Moore’s progressive chaser, High Up In The Air, looks his main danger on the hunt for 4 wins in a row.
Itchy feet to strike for in form Murphy
The rearranged Grade 2 Cleeve Hurdle features on what promises to be an informative Wetherby card. On The Blind Side comes into this in terrific form and looks sure to run his race whilst Main Fact looks to get back on the winning thread after a slightly disappointing run the Grade 1 Long Walk just before Christmas. I will take the pair on with Olly Murphy’s Itchy Feet 7/2 who reverts to hurdles after a couple of iffy rounds of jumping. Sent off as short as 7/2 for last season’s Marsh Novices Chase at the Cheltenham festival, Itchy Feet unseated his rider and hasn’t quite come back the same this season. In all three starts this season over the intermediate trip, Itchy Feet has stayed on strongly late on, especially last time when he came from miles back to fly past Caribean Boy and nearly chase down the now 158 rated Dashel Drasher. The return to hurdles will hopefully give him a confidence boost and hopefully irradicate the odd jumping error putting him on the back foot. He looks to be crying out for this step up to three miles and I’m excited to see how he gets on. His trainer Olly Murphy is in fine form boasting a strike rate of 22% and Jonjo Junior takes the ride on the back of a few winners this week. One area of concern would be the fact he burst blood vessels last time out which is never nice for a horse but it would also highlight the guts and talent Itchy Feet posses to still finish as strongly as he did.
Aloomomo can go well in Musselburgh Veterans Handicap Chase
These veteran races are not for everyone, but I love to see the old boys enjoying themselves and thriving off their racing. It’s also part of the magic of jump racing that fan favourites can continue to come back time after time and subsequently build a connection with the racing public. Aloomomo 3/1 illustrates this for me as I backed him on course at Newbury to win a handicap chase the same day Smad Place won the Hennessy back in 2015! Since then, Aloomomo has had a fair few setbacks and spent plenty of time on the side-lines but returned to action in November with a gutsy win over hurdles. The form of that hurdles race would look fairly decent too. Lord Du Mesnil was back in fourth off less weight and has some classy Cheltenham Festival form in the book and the third placed horse Erne River beat Minella Drama in a point to point and he is now rated 142! Aloomomo comes here fresh and the return to fences should squeeze out a bit more improvement. Sandy Thompson is
a master with these older horses and has secured gun claimer Kevin Brogan to do the steering which should give Aloomomo an edge in a conditional jockey race.
Christopher Wood can deliver more Saturday success for team Ditcheat
Christopher Wood 9/2 heads the betting for the Bet365 Scottish County Hurdle and I must say I quite like his chances. Both he and chief market rival Torigni ran in a hot looking Kempton handicap last time out where they finished second and third behind the progressive Cadzand. I think Cadzand is still comfortably ahead of his current mark, so the fact Christopher Wood got to within 4 lengths giving him 12lbs suggested a big performance to me. Good claimer Angus Cheleda takes off 7lbs and subsequently means he meets Torigni 6lbs better off. A strongly run two miles on soft ground should really suit Christopher Wood and I am hoping he lands another valuable Saturday handicap for Nicholls and the team.
The Bet365 Scottish Champion Chase follows on the card and I really like the profile of Dr Richard Newland’s Rikoboy 4/1 who sauntered to victory at Market Rasen last time out. It was hard not be seriously impressed by the manor in which this fella travelled and jumped, pulling miles clear of his opposition. The official racing post write up for the race uses the phrase “canter” and it really was. Rikoboy has a 13lb rise to deal with in a hotter race but conditional jockey Charlie Hammond takes a handy 3lb off and there is every chance this 4-year-old is rapidly improving. The form of his win last time out is yet to be tested with just the third placed horse Cherokee Bill having run since to finish fourth in a similar sort of contest. I think there is every chance Rikoboy is still ahead of his mark and 4/1 looks a nice price.
Top Weight Le Breuil will love every inch of the 4-mile trip
I’m sure many a punter has given up on Le Breuil 4/1 by now but despite being off top weight this race looks sure to suit. He hasn’t run over 4 miles since his win in the National Hunt Chase (now 3 miles 6 furlongs) and on many an occasion since, extended three miles and three and a half miles just hasn’t seemed long enough! This could not have been more apparent last time out at Warwick over 3 miles and 5 furlongs. Le Breuil seemed to be outpaced after the 19th fence but flew up the home straight to finishing an eye catching third. He really will love every inch of the 4 miles and connections are desperate to have a crack at The Aintree Grand National with him. He still sits on a mark of 140 so isn’t guaranteed to get into the race and subsequently a big performance is needed here. C’mon Le Breuil!
Best of Luck if you’re having a bet this weekend.
By Sam Rideout – Follow me on Twitter @TheTr17pleP