Happy New Year everyone! As you're probably aware, I've been off duty for a couple of weeks enjoying the sunshine in the Canaries and it's something I'd definitely recommend. That said, as a travel agent away from Geegeez, I'm a little biased!
Many, many thanks to two of my Team Geegeez colleagues, Matt & Sam, for stepping into the breach and ensuring continuity of service and Sam's preview of today's 1.15 race at Southwell was very interesting.
Aside from the favourite not running well at all, he did highlight the eventual 2/1 winner, whilst his comments about the runner-up were spot on "...Teston is likely to try to burn them off with his customary running style but he’s going to have to go very fast to lead..."
Teston was sent off at 10/1 and was only overhauled by the winner with a furlong to run and had you put both horses together, an 18/1 forecast was there for the taking.
But I'm back in the hotseat now for the foreseeable future, starting with Saturday's racing where the free feature of the day is the superb Trainer/Jockey Combo report whilst we offer full free racecards for the following contests...
- 1.38 Cork
- 2.25 Sandown
- 3.23 Cork
And I'm going to ease myself back in with a look at the 2.25 Sandown, the 7-runner, Grade 1, Unibet Tolworth Novices Hurdle for 4yo+ over 2m on heavy ground worth almost £20k to the winner (£19,932.50 to be more precise). I don't normally look at the market before previewing a race, but I have already seen that the bookies suggest a 2-horse race here with 5 of the 7 runners priced at 6/1 or bigger, but shorties don't always win, do they?
We start, as ever with the racecard itself...
...that tells us that six of the seven have won at least one of their last two races (Tile Tapper won three starts ago), we have two LTO winners and three have already won twice this season.
Metier, Shakem Up'Arry and Tile Tapper all step up one class from LTO, whilst Smurphy Enki won a Class 4 LTO and this represents a big hike in quality for him. He's also entered in a Class 4 at Plumpton on Sunday and I wouldn't be surprised if he bypasses this one for the less challenging option.
All seven have won at least one contest at or around the 2m trip and all have raced in the last four to seven weeks or so, whilst Galice Macalo's 7lb mares' allowance makes her marginally best in at the weights, narrowly ahead of current favourite Metier.
Not much to discuss regarding trainer form, but Oliver Sherwood's (Grandeur D'Ame) jumpers are 7 from 42 (16.7% SR, A/E 1.22) here at Sandown over the last six years, whilst the trainer of Metier, Harry Fry, is 8 from 19 (42.1% SR, A/E 1.81) in Novice contests over the last seven weeks and is also 5 from 21 (23.8% SR, A/E 1.22) with hurdlers here at Sandown since 2015.
From a jockey perspective, the riders of Do Your Job, Smurphy Enki and Tile Tapper have struggled of late, which isn't the case for Aidan Coleman and Sean Bowen on the two horses highlighted by the trainer form above. Sean also rides this track well, As does Shakem Up'Arry's Daryl Jacob.
Despite both yard and jockey being out of form, Do Your Job isn't written off here, as he clearly tops the Geegeez Speed ratings ahead of a rather clustered pack behind him. Grandeur D'Ame is unrated, as his two career runs have both been in bumpers and although second in Listed company last time out, may find this a tough introduction to hurdling.
Still too early for me to make a decision, but it's not difficult to see why Metier is such a warm favourite. Perhaps Instant Expert will help me one one to beat him? That said, with just 38 races between the seven of them, I'm guessing I'll glean more from the place settings...
...than I will from the wins...
Essentially, all those who've tried heavy ground have made the frame once, but only Do Your Job, Grandeur D'Ame and Metier have won in the mud. The first two of that trio have also been placed in a Class 1 contest previously, as has Galice Macalo who is also the only one to have been to Sandown before when second a in 2m Listed handicap on heavy ground LTO.
The pace make-up of the race is interesting, as I think it might well be falsely run here, as the pace tab says...
...that hold up horses have won 6 of 14 (42.9% SR) of similar previous races and have taken 15 of the 35 (also 42.9%) places on offer, yet at least five of this seven runner field look like they'll want to take it on. Our pace prediction says possible contested speed and I've a feeling the jockeys will be wary of doing too much too soon. This'll mean no runaway leader(s) and the so-called hold-up horses won't be that far away either, so I'm sensing a more tactical affair that might not resemble our heat map too much in the end.
So, where am I on this one?
Well, Metier certainly looks a worthy favourite, but is he a 5/4 or 6/5 clear fav here? I'm not sure, I'll need a closer look at the others first.
Do Your Job has two wins and two runner-up finishes from five efforts over hurdles and despite going down by four lengths in a Listed contest LTO, I feel there's still more to come from this half-brother to three winners and the ground shouldn't pose too much of an issue to a horse who won on heavy at Ffos Las in October, whilst stamina shouldn't be a problem either for a former winner of a soft ground 3m PTP race.
Grandeur D'Ame looks up against it here and is likely to be the rank outsider. Ran well in a Listed Bumper LTO at HQ, but this is (a) a big step up in quality and (b) the first time he'll have been hurdling competitively. I'm sure he'll have a decent career, but his success story won't start here.
Metier was a modest Flat horse in Ireland, winning just one £8k maiden from eight starts, but then had a year off and a wind operation, was sent to the UK to Harry Fry and is now 2 from 2 for his new handler and beat the re-opposing Tile Tapper by 5.5 lengths despite conceding 5lbs in weight LTO. Hard to see TT overturning that on equal weights today and Metier looks a prime contender here.
Shakem Up'Arry is just one from six over hurdles, but was deemed worthy of a run in the Grade 1 Ballymore Novices Hurdle at this year's Cheltenham Festival. Only ten of the twelve starters finished and he was sadly last of the ten home, some 56 lengths off the pace and I'm not sure that augurs well for this contest. On a more positive note, he was a heavy ground runner up at Newbury almost a year ago and has won a 2m contest on soft this season, but this is too big a step up in quality for my liking.
Smurphy Enki is lightly raced over hurdles but has made the frame both times. A runner-up beaten by just a neck on heavy ground at Chepstow in early November ahead of a win by seven lengths at Plumpton almost four weeks ago. This is much more difficult and I wouldn't be surprised if he pulls out to return to Plumpton on Sunday instead. If he does run here, he could well put in a decent performance at a big price, but would need some luck from somewhere.
Tile Tapper ran well to be a runner-up on his hurdling debut LTO, but now meets the winner, Metier, on 5lb worse terms and although he has every right/chance to improve for having had the run, I just don't see him overturning the favourite here. He could well threaten the place position(s). Breeding suggests he'll stay further than this in time, but if showing any improvement here, could run a big race at a silly price.
Galice Macalo is the only mare in the race and as such receives a 7lb allowance effectively making her best in at the weights. She was only caught and headed late on last time out when beaten by just a length and a half in a Listed contest here over course and distance four weeks ago on similarly heavy ground. This is, of course, a tougher ask but she looks more than capable of improving here.
I don't like Grandeur D'Ame nor Shakem Up'Arry for this one and I expect Smurphy Enki to swerve this race (if he does run here, that might suggest his yard rate him highly, so keep an eye on him).
Of the other four, you'd have to expect Metier to be the one to beat, based on everything above and I'd have the mare, Galice Macalo, as the one most likely to challenge him, but at prices as low as 6/5 and 9/4 respectively, I'm not too keen on backing either (even the forecast won't pay much).
So, although I'm fairly confident that I've found the first two home, there's always scope for a decent priced E/W surprise in these type of races and I'd not deter you from a small (very small) punt on Tile Tapper at 33/1. I was half interested in Do Your Job, but 6/1 is far too skinny for my liking.