Sandown, 6/1/18

A very decent crowd arrived at Sandown considering the card was highlighted only by the Tolworth Hurdle and the Veterans’ Chase final. It may be just a coincidence that the sponsors had arranged an offer whereby advance tickets were available for only £3.20 a pop. This blows away the myth that people are obsessed by freebies. People are actually very responsive to hefty discounts as well. That said, there were some well known bargain hounds that were not spotted there. Probably at home sulking over their dreadful oversight, ruining 2018 already.

After timing moment: The Monday Forum in the Racing Post was broadly in favour of having the final of the veteran’s series, or something like it, at the Cheltenham Festival, but as you would expect UK-Jumping agrees with Dave Bass, in that you cannot have every big race of the season at Cheltenham, and the profile of the race benefits by being on a card like this rather than being lost in the supporting acts at the Festival. Simon Clare also made a good point regarding the series revolving around three mile chases allowing an opening for veterans’ races at shorter distances.

Going: Heavy, Soft in places

Race 1: 32Red Casino Juvenile Hurdle [2m]

1: Crucial Moment     2: Mister Chow     3: Glorvina

Winner owned: EA Brook, trained: Bill Turner, ridden: Sean Houlihan

Firstly a note on the going. The race finished with three of the five horses adopting a galloping motion whilst covering the ground at walking pace. This however was not reflective of the racing as a whole, and the conditions were not as desperate as would have been feared a few days ahead of the fixture. The probable cause of this race unfolding so turgidly is that it was a very weak event for this time of the season at Sandown, and the horses with hurdling experience had been given it at a time of year when bad opponents and decent-to-fast ground was being sought out. The betting market therefore sided with Echo Watt (won a small field heavy ground newcomers’ bumper easily) and Mister Chow (hurdles debut, gained first flat win at the start of December). The market was wrong, as Crucial Moment adapted to the heavy going perfectly well – Sean Houlihan’s seven pound claim proving quite handy in the circumstances. Also helpful was Mister Chow being able to run a decent race but not the great one necessary to win. The last three were miles back.

x   Echo Watt (4th): What could be taken from his unproven Ffos Las bumper form was that the ground would not stop him. After the race, we are not even sure that slim fact can be verified, although a blunder two out perhaps prevented him filling the void between second and third.

Race 2: Mares’ Hurdle, Lusted [2m 4f]

1: Poppy Kay     2: Midnight Jazz     3: Hitherjacques Lady

Winner owned: Aiden Murphy & Allen Peterson, trained: Philip Hobbs, ridden: Richard Johnson

Until New Year’s Day Philip Hobbs had been slowly edging up the cold list, but the roundabout had spun 180 degrees by now, and this result initiated a day where he ended up played three, won three. Poppy Kay had proven herself up to 2m 3f furlongs before and whilst her best runs were not on Sandown-like tracks with heavy ground, there was no reason to predict it to be a problem. What was less expected was for Midnight Jazz to run really well after a disappointing seasonal reappearance, as she usually goes well fresh. She returned to her tip top form of last season, which still led to four second places in six runs. At least she won the other two. Jumping the second last, Poppy Kay was cruising along more comfortably than Midnight Jazz, but when she had to work, the runner-up gave her no peace and quiet. This pair sailed clear from pace setting Hitherjacques Lady from two out, having dismissed Angels Antics earlier.

+   Poppy Kay (1st): Seems to be very flexible regarding course and going, and edged her distance repertoire up a bit here as well – recent evidence is that she is fine with two miles still. Not brushing the second horse aside could be seen as inadequate given where the race lay with a quarter of a mile to go, but she did not seem to mind it turning into a tough task.

x   Midnight Jazz (2nd): The relatively late addition of cheekpieces to her kit seemed to do the trick, but at the level she is competing in now, last season tells us that she is more likely to end up placed than winning.

x   Angels Antics (4th): As foreseen she battled away throughout the race, but less predictable was that she would jump with the panache of a walrus. This meant that she was holding her own on the level bits and losing more and more at the hurdles. Disappointing, and not what had been seen of her in lower levels.

Race 3: 32Red Handicap Chase [2m 4f]

1: Chef D’Equipe     2: Masterplan     3: Never Up

Winner owned & ridden: David Maxwell, trained: Philip Hobbs

A very competitive handicap chase that would take a lot of winning, so what was bound to happen? A serious market surge in favour of a horse from an out of form stable. Ask what could go wrong, and the answer was “just about everything” as Perfect Pirate showed little interest and jumped poorly. He was soon in the rear with Theo’s Charm, who at least had the excuse of a GBH incident that brought him down in his last race at Ascot. Also not on the agenda for races like this is success for spirited veteran amateur riders but David Maxwell was able to manage it. At the second last fence he and Chef D’Equipe were likely doomed to second place, but Masterplan made a critical error at the final obstacle, costing him more than the neck that he was beaten by. After a quiet spell Masterplan has run well in his last three races – cheekpieces on for the first time today – and should still be on a competitive, although not a gift, rating after this. Never Up set a fast pace and fatigue meant that he struggled to keep a straight line on the run-in, but the more patiently delivered Amber Gambler and Little Jon still could not find a way to make the places, despite it looking certain at the third last that one of the would do so. Amber Gambler has oddly finished first or seventh in eleven of his fifteen races, and had a pair each of sixths and pulled ups in the rest. Let us hope that this fourth place does not utterly confuse him.

+   Masterplan (2nd): There is the chance that the cheekpieces allow him to progress on past peaks, as after the handicapper has a look at this race he is likely to be back on the sort of rating that was the highest winning one in times past. Do not be deceived by his chase win coming on good to firm – it was only a three runner race and his actual master plan is to get the mud flying.

+   Never Up (3rd): Although he did manage to win a ten horse race at Carlisle in the autumn, and does not always blaze off in front as per here, his best comes more often when bashing away from the head of affairs in smaller fields.

x   Little Jon (5th): The desire is to not come across as too harsh on a horse that was four lengths back in fifth when the race was so competitive. However, it really did seem at the Pond Fence that he was a massive danger and the failure to even get ahead of Never Up was a bit of a woeful way to unwind the race.

x   Theo’s Charm (9th): Looked a lot like he had the Ascot misfortune at the front of his mind, and whilst he may be coaxed back to confidence at any time, caution is recommended.

Race 4: 32Red Casino Handicap Chase [1m 7.5f]

1: Speredek     2: Gino Trail     3: Overtown Express

Winner owned: Kapinhand, trained: Nigel Hawke, ridden: Sean Bowen

The pre-race talk (or more likely writing) was of an event in which too many front-runners would want to knock heads at the fore. With the conditions clearly less testing than expected and Rock On Rocky going to his first choice race at Chepstow, that concern was greatly reduced. Gino Trail and Speredek did take each other on and had a go in front, but not doing anything they could not cope with – when the lead changed hands it was generally because one of them had majestically outjumped the other. With the second last approaching, the call on a probable winner was Gino Trail, only for him to make a mistake and concede for good to Speredek. Mindful of the way his jumping tends to go to pieces after an error, Noel Fehily had nursed Overtown Express through the race with a fine touch, and the horse had been safe throughout – although that risk aversion was costing him ground against the first two. However, when the time to play his hand came, Overtown Express had nothing to give.

+   Speredek (1st): By now we may think that he has done enough to be forced out of the level of race at which he can win, but as he has only just turned seven, there is every possibility that he is still improving as a horse. The ability to go fast in front and jump well is quite a handy tool to have at your disposal.

x   Overtown Express (3rd): Not really a chaser mentally. He had a hurdle entry on this card, and the negative is withdrawn should this outcome convince connections to head down that route.

Race 5: 32Red Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle, Grade 1 [2m]

1: Summerville Boy     2: Kalashnikov     3: Mont Des Avaloirs

Winner owned: RS Brookhouse, trained: Tom George, ridden: Noel Fehily

Unlike some top novice races, the field had not prepared for this by carefully avoiding each other in the past, and the results suggested that it would be a good spectacle. Western Ryder was favourite, after having ground out a couple of wins in the mud despite a question mark over his jumping skills. In one of them he beat Summerville Boy by a nice, but not unassailable six lengths, although he was better off at the weight here. As the result shows, Summerville Boy got his revenge, and decisively. With Mont Des Avaloirs ensuring that there was no silly dawdling along, the winner was the horse that adapted best to the pressure enforced upon him - the defeat of Summerville Boy by Western Ryder, who ended up fourth, was in a notably slowly run event. The threat came from Kalashnikov, who was beaten for the first time in his career, but without reason to despair. It was nice to have a Grade 1 novice hurdle where all the runners had graduated through the bumper route rather than being flat converts.

+   Kalashnikov (2nd): From his name he is destined to spread destruction with brutal efficiency, no matter how extreme the conditions may be. It seems to be appropriate, and getting back onto good to soft ground will suit him.

Race 6: 32Red Veterans Handicap Chase [3m]

1: Buywise     2: Pete The Feat     3: Gas Line Boy

Winner owned: T Hywel Jones, trained: Evan Williams, ridden: Leighton Aspell

Another triumphant culmination of the veterans’ series, especially for the very long suffering fans of Buywise. He was a good eight to ten lengths behind at the second last, but flew home from there to deprive Pete The Feat a repeat feat of his 2017 win in this race. Not only did the race have a spectacular sprint (really) to the line from Buywise, but those each-way backers interested in third place saw Gas Line Boy nick it from Cloudy Too by a short head. Even those who are intrigued by the etymology of surnames had a treat, as the first six contained three horses fielded by different Williams’ – Buywise (Evan) in first, Gas Line Boy (Ian) in third and Houblon Des Obeaux (Venetia) in sixth place. The latter is a rare horse from his stable that is not overly in love with very testing going.

+   Gas Line Boy (3rd): He is not often required to race on right-handed tracks, but this result took his record on them to 1241143, with the latest pair being the last couple of renewals of this race. It might be worth being a bit less fussy about what race it is as long as the track fits the bill – he does win left-handed, just not nearly as often.

+   Cloudy Too (4th): Before this he had raced on heavy ground seven times, getting four wins and three places. There is still time for a last fling or two for him in the worst of conditions.

+   Fox Appeal (Fell): Seemed unlikely to worry the judge when he came down at the twelfth, but it is worth noting that although able to win on soft, he had not tried heavy ground at all in a forty-five race build up to this. The right race on the wrong ground, and he can do better.

+   Third Intention (Pulled Up): This is a run to forgive. The yard is in weak form and the horse really does not go right-handed at all – his second to Houblon Des Obeaux here in November said more about the oppo than him, but it does suggest that a revival on a left-handed course could be just around the corner.

x   Buywise (1st): The eye catching charge to win remains, but it has to be noted that he was not looking overly interested in a big effort until the winning post became visible and his slick jumps at the last two are known not to be something he makes a habit of.

Race 7: Handicap Hurdle [2m]

1: Call Me Lord     2: Our Merlin     3: Gassin Golf

Winner owned: Simon Munir & Isaac Souede, trained: Nicky Henderson, ridden: Nico de Boinville

This seemed like a low key ending to the meeting after the big races before, but it is a class 2, 0-145 race, so far from inconsequential. The result saw an impressive win for Call Me Lord, who shrugged off top weight to brush aside Our Merlin’s attempt to win his fourth race on the bounce. The two of them sat smugly on the heels of the leaders throughout and then pounced with two flights to jump. Our Merlin was carrying 27 pounds less than Call Me Lord, but could do nothing about the winner at all. Gassin Golf was also patiently ridden and receiving plenty of weight, yet unable to get a look in.

+ +   Call Me Lord (1st): Picked up first prize in the style of a horse who is capable of success above handicap level. Being in a yard packed with quality two milers, it would be a shame if all that can be found for him is lugging top weight in major handicaps through the spring. At some point he will make a nice two mile chaser as well.

+   Clayton (7th): Excels as conditions get tougher and tougher but has so far seemed much, much happier going left-handed. Another runner for whom the right race was in the wrong place, and the defeat is easy to excuse.

UK-Jumping Selections: Drops Of Jupitor (6th): Went round at the back and was only nudged to try and close on the final bend. She could not do that and was eased down quite quickly. This company was almost certainly too speedy for her over two miles.
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