Steve Hughes sticks with the principal meeting at Sandown for Saturday’s selections
Just the two jumps fixtures on Saturday and the spotlight is on Sandown where there is a Grade 1 novices hurdle. However it is the handicaps on the card which offer plenty of betting opportunities.
Sandown 1.15: Fairy Rath
The winner of this very race on last year’s card, Fairy Rath’s main strength is his jumping which is fast and very fluent. As such a first return to Esher since that win can bring the best out of the 10yo today.
He confirmed his prowess over the jumps with a brave second in the Topham Trophy over the National fences at Aintree in the spring. The Nick Gifford stable has made a very slow start to this campaign and Fairy Rath was well beaten on his return at Stratford in the autumn.
However he has run two fine races since, finishing third at Ascot, where he got very tired late on – the stable was still struggling at the time. He came home much more strongly at Doncaster last time when second to the well handicapped Javert and with the yard starting to get winners now, Fairy Rath looks to be coming to hand at the right time to repeat last year’s success.
Sandown 1.50: Barrakilla
Trainer Evan Williams in evidently unsure of Barrakilla’s best trip – he ran at the Cheltenham Festival over 3m1f in the spring, but is back down to the minimum 2m trip today. However when he has raced over 2m4f and below, he has rarely struggled to keep up so looks worth a try at 2m given both the slow nature of the going and the likely furious pace.
With Just Cameron, Pearls Legend and Arthurs Oak in the field, they won’t be hanging around today and if Barrakilla can stick within 10l of them turning out of the back, his natural stamina will surely come into play as the leaders tire on the run for home.
The selection made a more than satisfactory return over 2m2f at Taunton last time when second to Balgarry, looking just in need of the run late on. He has good form on very soft ground including a win over fences at Warwick and over hurdles at Uttoxeter and I definitely think he is more comfortable going right-handed over fences so Sandown looks an ideal venue – he was a fine third to Sound Investment here last season.
Sandown 3.00: Soll & Renard
The inaugural running of the Veterans chase final, the culmination of a series of races for 10yo and upwards has produced an excellent field. Two horses that looked to have been laid out for this as a prime target are favoured.
Soll was a course and distance winner on heavy ground a couple of seasons ago, but improved greatly in the spring on moving to David Pipe. He won his first two starts at Exeter and Newbury (both qualifiers for this race), taking advantage of a handy mark and winning despite ground arguably faster than ideal. For the second time he didn’t quite get home in the Grand National having travellend and jumped superbly. Badly in need of the run at Cheltenham in November, he showed up much better back at Aintree last time, but his best form has been going right-handed so with the track and ground in his favour he will be at his peak today.
Despite finishing last of five in the final qualifier at Carlisle, that race will have served perfectly as a preparation for Renard as it was his seasonal debut. Given a positive ride from the front Renard looked in command when kicking for home into the straight but soon got very tired. However whilst several of his rivals have seen their handicap mark seriously raised for winning qualifiers, Renard looks just about the best handicapped horse in the field, being 2lbs lower than his last winning mark and 8lbs lower than when second at Chepstow last Christmas. Yet to win over as far as 3m, he does look to possess more stamina these days and a more patient ride can pay dividends here.
Sandown 3.35: Ebony Express & Lochnagar
As usual the hurdles track at Sandown will be very testing and it can be very difficult for horses to make up ground from the rear. As such two horses that like to be prominent are favoured.
Ebony Express was the winner of a high quality Imperial Cup here in March – Thistlecrack and Camping Ground were amongst those in behind and won having never been out of the first two throughout. He has been well beaten in two starts this term, but the stable did go through a quiet spell at the time of those runs and have been in better form of late. Only 4lbs higher than for that famous win he has no problems with heavy going having won easily in such conditions at Carlisle last year. Very comfortable racing up with the pace he could prove tough to pass.
Of interest at big odds is Lochnagar who is highly tried on his first appearance for just over a year. Useful enough on the flat, he had only seemed moderate on his first few attempts over hurdles. However a change of tactics to front-running paid handsome dividends at Uttoxeter last December, drawing 9l clear for an ultimately easy win. Attempting to follow up under a penalty at Exeter the following week, he fell early on and presumably picked up an injury in the process as this is his first run since. This race represents a massive step up in grade, but he could be well ahead of the handicapper if he is improving for new tactics as much as I think.
1pt each-way – Fairy Rath – 1.15 Sandown – 13/2 Coral
1pt each-way – Barrakilla – 1.50 Sandown – 6/1 general
1pt win – Soll – 3.00 Sandown – 8/1 general
1pt win – Renard – 3.00 Sandown – 14/1 general
0.5pts win – Ebony Express – 3.35 Sandown – 14/1 general
0.5pts each-way – Lochnagar – 3.35 Sandown – 28/1 general