Friday, April 22, 2011

Final curtain call at Sandown

The curtain comes down on another jumps season at Sandown tomorrow. Public reaction to the fatalities in the National and the use of the whip currently dominate the sport's agenda but champion trainer Paul Nicholls asserts 'jumping is in great heart' in today's Times.That view isn't shared by two Northern-based stalwarts, Ferdy Murphy and Harvey Smith (former showjumper extraordinaire and husband of trainer Sue Smith), who shared some outspoken opinions about life up North with Alan Lee in yesterday's edition of the same paper. A couple of quotes...

Murphy: 'The North has been raped. Jump racing here is being turned into glorified point-to-pointing.'
Smith: 'You can't get sense out of London [the BHA]. After all these years and all the calls I've made, I've never found where the buck stops.'
Murphy: 'I would only give myself another three years if nothing changes.'
Steve Charlton [senior valet for jumps jockeys in the North]: 'Prize money up here is derisory now... Anyone trying to run a business in northern jump racing is pushing water uphill.'
Murphy: 'Wetherby is a disgrace these days. They claim they have no money and all they are putting on is rubbish.'

The 2011 Cheltenham Festival, regarded as vintage by many observers, seems light years away. Towcester racecourse, one of the first, if not the first, to experiment with free admission, has once again shown itself to be at the forefront of change by requesting permission to run all races next season with whip use prohibited.

The feature on Sandown's mixed card is the bet365 Gold Cup Chase, still referred to as the Whitbread by old-timers such as myself. 18 will face the starter this year; the official going is described as good, good to firm in places. No favourite has obliged in the past decade and in the same timeframe only two horses have won carrying more than 11 stones (Puntal 2004 and Lacdoudal 2006). Seven of the last ten winners have been priced 10/1 or bigger - Puntal was a 25/1 chance in 2004. Last year's winner Church Island heads the weights and is likely to race prominently, a comment that applies to Baby Run who made amends for unseating young Willie Twiston-Davies at Cheltenham by winning the Aintree Fox Hunters' Chase for the same rider. Elder brother Sam takes over tomorrow. A case can be made for several of these in what appears a run-of-the-mill renewal; I've looked for something at a price. David Pipe's ten-year-old Faasel catches the eye with five pound claimer Conor O'Farrell in the plate - totesport offer 20/1 at the time of writing. William Hill go 33/1 Major Malarkey who has the assistance of top jock Aidan Coleman. The latter has tended to show his better form with cut while Faasel's second to Ballabriggs at last year's Festival reads well now; I'll take an each-way interest in Faasel at 20/1.

Paul Nicholls' Sanctuaire is likely to be odds-on in the opener after a facile victory in the Scottish Champion Hurdle last week. I will oppose with Clerk's Choice provided he's priced up around 2/1 (as he is in the tissue). He'll appreciate quick ground; connections deliberately missed Aintree after the gelding ran a stormer in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham.

The Celebration Chase doesn't make much appeal as a betting medium. French Opera would have been of interest but has had two hard races in the past five weeks and the same comment applies to ColinTizzard's Oiseau de Nuit. Cornas has tended to show his best form on soft ground while Chaninbar has refused to race on his last three 'starts'. It all seems to point to Tataniano but the Andy Stewart owned gelding disappointed on his seasonal debut, missed Cheltenham with a muscle problem and is another who has better form to his name when there's cut underfoot. I'll watch with interest.

And that's it for another jumps season.  Of course, it all starts again with almost indecent haste - at Plumpton on Sunday...   

1 comment:

GeeDee said...

As Faasel (14/1) came to the last in front I dared to think he could go on and win but the selection was reeled in by Timmy Murphy and Poker De Sivola (11/1) up the Sandown hill; the distance at the post was two and a quarter lengths. Major Malarkey (16/1) looked a live threat but ran out of petrol after the last to finish fifth.

The books priced up Clerk's Choice the odds-on favourite in the opener with Sanctuaire 15/8; I didn't play. In the event Clerk's Choice (4/6f) was not slick at the obstacles and never looked like getting to long-time leader The Jigsaw Man (15/2) after the last.

In the Celebration Chase Tataniano (6/4f) didn't help his chance by racing keenly early doors. French Opera (2/1) tended to jump left at the fences but showed plenty of grit and determination to score by two lengths from Chaninbar (33/1).