Friday, April 24, 2009

Final showdown at Sandown

Traditionally Saturday's mixed card at Sandown brings down the curtain on the National Hunt season. Given the quick underfoot conditions, it's not surprising that a number of the top jumpers have been re-routed to the Punchestown Festival which starts next Tuesday, leaving this card a little short of top quality. The highlight is the Bet365 Gold Cup at 3.10, with the Celebration Chase, the Bet365 mile and the Flat v jump jockeys' handicap providing decent support. The withdrawal of Roll Along leaves Darkness set to carry top weight in the feature, although at this stage he's not a definite runner. Paul Nicholls' Hoo La Baloo has been trained with this race in mind all season, having finished third in the same event last year when he carried six pounds less. The trainer has indicated he may put five pound claimer Harry Skelton up on Hoo La Baloo and switch Ruby (Walsh) to New Little Bric. Oliver Brett of BBC Sport asks whether a five pound advantage over three and a half miles is preferable to the nous and skill of Ruby Walsh; given that Harry Skelton rode Niche Market to win the Irish National last week, on balance I'd take the five pounds... Venetia Williams' Zacharova catches the eye at the bottom of the handicap; the horse won at Cheltenham just over a week ago but didn't look the most straightforward ride on that occasion, running in snatches and, at the age of six, is probably a little inexperienced for this. Kilbeggan Blade loves Sandown but won't like quick ground while Always Waining may not quite last the trip. I've looked for something that should stay and handle the quicker going; two that fit the bill are Bowleaze and Church Island. The worry with Church Island is this may come a little quick after his second in the Irish National where the blinkers appeared to help but the 12/1 offered by Betfred seems reasonable - I'll have an each-way interest in Church Island.

It would be unwise to discount the top-rated Twist Magic in the Celebration Chase as he appears to have run his best races at Sandown; having said that, he is not one to trust - likely favourite Kalahari King is the safer option, although it's worth noting the jolly has obliged only once in the last eight runnings. American Trilogy appears the one to beat in the listed hurdle but this looks trappy and is a race I'll watch from the sidelines. In the Bet365 mile Paco Boy could be worth opposing after his run in Dubai at the end of March. Connections reported he returned tired but is better now. He has to carry a penalty here - I'll use the market as a guide to the chance of John Gosden's Virtual and Walter Swinburn's Stotsfold who has done most of his racing over ten and twelve furlongs. The favourite has won five of the last ten renewals.

Over at Leicester Winker Watson is the top-rated animal in the 3.40 and would take this if at his best but he disappointed last time out. Joint owner Andrew 'Bert' Black has indicated since that nothing came to light - I would be prepared to forgive that run and will back the horse if he's priced up around 9/4 as the Sporting Life tissue predicts.

1 comment:

GeeDee said...

A thrilling finish to the Bet365 Chase with Tony McCoy performing another of his miracles to get Hennessy (13/2) up in the shadow of the post to deny Briery Fox (11/1) by a neck with Lacdoudal holding the brave Church Island (9/1) half a length for third. Church Island established a sizeable lead early on and still looked full of running four out. His stride shortened as they came to the Pond Fence but there was no way I would have thought he would fail to make a place. That's exactly what happened however as he was made to pay the price for the early pace set.
Twist Magic was on his best behaviour today and won the Celebration Chase comfortably at 7/2. Kalahari King (5/4f) never travelled and was slow at several obstacles; I thought Graham Lee did well to get the horse home in second.
On the back of John Gosden's comments about Paco Boy and the quickish ground, I decided not to get involved in the Sandown mile. Several bookmakers were keen to get the jolly, a 15/8 shot at the off, but in the race itself the class shone through as he easily held Virtual (third @ 11/4) and the staying on Dream Eater (second @ 7/1) who didn't look to do himself any favours by failing to settle in the early stages. I was impressed with Paco Boy here carrying his Group One penalty - he will merit serious consideration in one mile races this season. Stotsfold was fourth and is proably best over ten furlongs.
Winker Watson was a non-runner at Leicester.