From the sublime to the ridiculous and I thought last week was bad. Didn’t do as well as I would have liked to start the year and it’s what’s called a slow day today with only a veterans’ chase worth looking at, and I use ‘worth’ in the most expansive of forms! No point in pushing for what’s not there though and I didn’t like the look of the hurdle as there are too many just starting to make their way and whose chances can’t realistically be assessed. So just the one for today and hope for better fortune to come.
Sandown 15.00 Cl 2 Hcap Chase 619 (134.2) 24f sf – 14 Run
Last year – 619 (134.2) gd/sf – 17 ran
Houblon Des Obeaux 7/1 12-11-3 (135) by 15l from Theatre Guide 14/1 12-11-5 (137)
On Tour 12/1 11-10-9 (135) was 19.5l 3rd
On Tour 12-10-10 (128) (146.6)
27 Oct Cl 2 HCh (188/135.1) 25f sf Aint 3/1 F 10-12 18l 5/7 off 130 – 120.1
on and off the bridle in rear, pecked 15th, never on terms
11 Oct Cl 2 HCh (188/136.0) 23.5f sf Chep 5/1 10-8 0.25l 2/9 off 127 – 128.6
held up in last pair, headway 5 out, driven to chase leaders next, ridden and one pace after 2 out, rallied towards finish, just held
Runs off a 7lbs lower mark than when 3rd in last year’s renewal when his rider left him with far too much to do; sound effort on return at Chepstow in October when running Vieux Lion Rouge (+15) to a nk, with Theatre Guide (+12) further down the field; never looked happy on subsequent start at Aintree when 5/7 to Burtons Well (+3) and suspect the race came too soon; has not been seen since, so should be well rested; interesting with a first-time visor fitted and rare jockey booking, plus is only 1lb higher than at Chepstow and has won off much higher in the past.
Plus: class (W); going (W); distance (F); course (F); down 2lbs (wt); down 2lbs (OR);
Minus: 69-day break;
Verdict: not without a chance and a valid contender.
Smooth Stepper 11-11-3 (135) (142.8)
20 Nov Cl 2 HCh (188/134.3) 24f sf Warw 8/1 11-5 0.5l 2/6 off 132 – 131.8
held up in touch in rear on inside, headway before 12th, challenged3 out, 3rd and looking held 2 out, stayed on and went 2nd flat, held by winner towards finish
Didn’t have a great first season after moving from the Sue Smith yard, being PU in the Midlands National and at Aintree on his final 2 starts; far better effort on his return at Warwick in November though when only7 failing by 0.5l to peg back King’s Odyssey (+7) with Regal Flow (-8) a further 1.75l back in 3rd clear of Wild West Wind (+3) and Theatre Guide (+7); a repeat of that form should put him in the picture as he has won off a higher mark.
Plus: class (W); going (W); distance (W); form run lto (45 days); down 2lbs (wt);
Minus: course (?); up 3lbs (OR);
Verdict: looks as if a win is not beyond the realms of possibility and a contender.
Burtons Well 11-11-6 (138) (141.9)
23 Nov Cl 2 HCh (313/138.1) 25.5f gd/sf Hayd 7/2 F 11-5 36l 7/10 off 138 –
held up behind, blundered 5 out, soon outpaced, never a threat
27 Oct Cl 2 HCh (188/135.1) 25f sf Aint 11/2 11-1 4.5l 1.7 off 133 – 133.9
waited with in 5th, headway on outside before 3 out, went 2nd 2out, soon switched right, led before last, driven clear
Just the 8 starts over fences, but set a career best when coming back from a 22-month break to win a veterans’ at Aintree in October when Theatre Guide (+7) was 11.5l back in 3rd and On Tour (-3) a further 6.5l back in 5th; made favourite at Haydock the following month, but unable to compete with his younger adversaries and finished down the field; has had sufficient rest since and could bounce back to form against veteran opposition again, although will need a career best off this mark.
Plus: class (W); going (W); distance (W); recent outing (42 days);
Minus: course (?); up 1lb (wt);
Verdict: in with a chance on Aintree running back among veterans and a possible contender.
Dark Flame 11-10-7 (125) (141.5)
10 Nov Cl 2 HCh (188/132.6) 24f sf Sand 6/1 10-5 3l 2/7 off 124 – 120.5
held up in rear, mistake 3rd, headway approaching omitted 3 out, kept on under pressure, no chance with winner
Winner here back in November 2016, but was coming back from over 2 years off when runner-up to Houblon Des Obeaux, in whose memory the race is held, here in November; Abolitionist (+21) was a long way back in 6th; subsequently was second past the post in the void London National; runs off 1lb higher mark than in November, but looks to hold a chance if repeating that running in first-time cheekpieces.
Plus: class (F); going (F); distance (F); course (W); form run lto (28 days);
Minus: up 1lb (OR); up 2lbs (wt);
Verdict: looks to have retained his ability and a contender.
Jepeck 11-11-0 (132) (137.4)
Has found a new lease of life since moving to his new yard, winning a Cl 4 chase on his debut in November 2018 and finishing runner-up to the subsequent Scottish National winner in a veterans’ at Carlisle on his final start last March; has been kept to hurdles this term, winning 2 of 3 novice events, in an effort to protect his mark one presumes, although runs off a 5lbs higher mark than at Carlisle; has scope to make his mark here possibly.
Plus: class (F); going (Wh); distance (W); form run lto (Hd-28 days);
Minus: up 5lbs (OR); up 7lbs (wt);
Verdict: chance on his Carlisle run last March, although needs to improve on that, a contender.
Never easy this veteran affairs as it’s often hard to work out which will be on a going day. Going through some of the others that didn’t make my shortlist: King’s Odyssey would need a career best to win off this mark and could well have problems confirming Warwick running with Smooth Stepper; Vieux Lion Rouge looked the part on his return at Chepstow, but rather less so over hurdles at Cheltenham and the National fences at Aintree and while he might bounce back that looks unlikely in this field; Carole’s Destrier might well prefer better ground, and I can’t fancy last year’s runner-up, Theatre Guide off the same mark; Horatio Hornblower has won his last 2 starts, but had a tough battle lto and now steps up in class again and will need a career best here.
From my shortlist, I think I can pass on Burtons Well who will need a career best as an 11yo, while the same could be said for Jepeck, although his hurdle wins this term show that he’s fit and well. I’m also tempted to include Smooth Stepper who looks as if he’s returning to some sort of form. However, the pair that interests me most is Dark Flame nestling near the bottom of the handicap and last year’s 3rd, On Tour. Difficult to even choose two from this lot, but I’m going with On Tour from Dark Flame and Smooth Stepper.
Any comments on today's racing. Please don't just put in selections ... please add some reason why you think a runner will win
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