Steve Hughes previews Saturday’s main fixture at Sandown
A card with a great mix of races, Sandown’s Saturday meeting is highlighted by a Grade 1 novice hurdle and the final of the Veteran Chasers series. I have selections for four races although I wait until the last race for the nap. Summerville Boy gave us a New Year winner at Cheltenham (SP 10/1).
Sandown 1.20: Cap Du Nord
A horse who tends to need a few races to reach his peak, Cap Du Nord looks to be getting to top fitness in time for this contest.
Having gone novice chasing last season, he was beaten on his first six starts, only to then land a spring hat-trick at Sedgefield (twice) and Fakenham. That said he did run some good races in defeat including a narrow New Years Day defeat at Exeter.
This season seems to be following a similar pattern, finishing last at Hereford on his return, then a respectable mid-division placing in a better race at Newbury. However his fourth to Espoir de Guye in an ultra competitive Ascot handicap a couple of weeks ago signalled a real return to form. Considering that was on unsuitable heavy going that rates an even better effort. Drying ground today at Sandown will be in his favour.
Sandown 2.25: Hang in There
Arguably the best form line coming into this Grade 1 contest comes from Hang in There with his Grade 2 win at Cheltenham last time. He can confirm himself as the leading 2m novice hurdler so far in Britain with victory today.
An enthusiastic front-runner who proved himself on soft ground that day, he should be suited by the demands of Sandown. He made most of the running to win at Cheltenham, but was going away from them up the hill and this stiff 2m should also be ideal today.
He had already won his maiden with the minimum of fuss at Exeter and having also had a hurdle at Fairyhouse before joining Emma Lavelle, it will probably help him to have got plenty of experience behind him against this level of opposition.
Sandown 3.00: Jepeck & Dark Flame
These veteran chases are often quiet unpredictable given it often depends which horses fancy giving their all on the day. However I think the betting has got this about right and I have two win bets against the field.
Jepeck improved dramatically for a switch to Anthony Honeyball last season, but has to go right-handed over fences as he has a marked tendency to jump out that way. He won at Ffos Las despite giving away lengths at many of the fences on that left-handed track and qualified for the final here with a second place at Carlisle. I suspect this race has been the target since from his fair rating of 132 as he has notably been kept to hurdling this season to protect his mark. That said he has been impressive over the smaller obstacles too, culminating in a win at Chepstow last time out. Ideally he would want softer going, but I expect Rex Dingle to try and get them stretched from an early stage.
Dark Flame has to come into calculations too as he is surely the best handicapped horse in the field. He was an excellent second here in the London National last time, only for that race to be declared void. As a result the handicapper could not move him up the ratings. He had already made a fine return from injury when second here after a two year absence in November. The handicapper had dropped him 9lbs for that race since a decent fourth at Ascot so he remains potentially well below his natural rating.
Sandown 3.35: Smarty Wild
A very strong traveller through his races, Smarty Wild will surely be aided by the presence of two fancied tearaways in the field in Gunnery and Totterdown who should ensure a strong gallop throughout. That in turn will help my selection settle, whilst potentially neutralising the chances of those two fancied rivals.
Smarty Wild was fourth over this course and distance last month having tanked into contention turning for home. He probably over-raced that day, but his energy might be better conserved with a faster pace here.
A stiff 2m is what he needs as exemplified by a good win at Exeter the previous month. Indeed all four of his wins have been gained on right-handed tracks so he really should be well suited by this track.
0.75pts each-way – Cap du Nord – 1.20 Sandown – 7/1 general
1pt win – Hang in There – 2.25 Sandown – 7/2 general
1pt win – Jepeck – 3.00 Sandown – 4/1 general
1pt win – Dark Flame – 3.00 Sandown – 5/1 general
1pt each-way – Smarty Wild – 3.35 Sandown – 13/2 general