It's tough right now and Thursday's race kind of fell apart for us as the overnight Soft (Gd to Soft in places) ground became Heavy and that, as we know, changes the whole complexion of the race. Trans Express became a non-runner, changing the pace make-up of the race and Gortroe Joe ended up leading, but fell at the last. My third shortlisted horse and second rated did eventually finish as a runner-up, beaten by half a length behind one I'd never have picked out in a month of Sundays.
And so to Friday, where the Horses For Courses report is open to everyone as are the cards for the following races...
- 2.05 Exeter
- 3.25 Sedgefield
- 3.35 Sandown
- 4.00 Dundalk
- 4.15 Newcastle
And it's the middle race of the five that appeals to me most from a preview perspective. The others have too many runners, too few runners, too many runners and a bumper! Which leaves me with the 3.35 Sandown, a 9-runner, Class 3, Mares Handicap Hurdle for 3yo+ over 2m4f on Soft ground for a top prize of £9,747 and here's the card...
Whitehotchillifili returned from 233 days off the track to finish fifth in Listed contest on soft ground almost five weeks ago. She was beaten by less than 12 lengths that day and the third placed horse who beat her by five lengths has since won a Class 3 hurdle. This 6 yr old now drops down two classes to run here on handicap debut for Harry Fry whose hurdlers are 5 from 19 (26.3% SR) here at Sandown since 2015, whilst jockey Richard Johnson is 10 from 37 (27%) over the last fortnight and has a 20% record over hurdles her at Sandown since 2013.
Vegas Blue has has two runs this season, winning a Class 4 over this 2m4f trip after a break of 292 days and then finishing third at Kempton last time out, getting turned over at very short odds. She steps up in class for her handicap debut for trainer Nicky Henderson, who not only has a 24% strike rate over the last month, but also has a near-30% strike rate with hurdlers at this track since 2014 whilst jockey Nico de Boinville has a 1-in-4 record over the past month and is 17 from 44 (38.6% SR) here at Sandown over the last three years.
Kentford Heiress is a daughter of my favourite sire, but at 10 yrs of age she's not getting any younger/better (I share her pain) and although she's 10 from 59 (16.95% SR) as a career-stat, the fact is that she hasn't won any of her 11 starts since completing a hat-trick 18 months ago. Despite that losing run, she's still only 2lbs lower than that last win and her yard is on a run of 35 losers in the past five weeks. As much I'd love the old girl to win here, I can't see it happening and I'm crossing her off at this point.
Bit On The Side is an interesting 5yr old mare, who has certainly been kept busy by "Team Twister". She's actually had five runs since the end of lockdown 1 back in July, finishing 113 in novice hurdles , winning over 2m4.5f and 2m5.5f and then finishing second (beat by less than 4 lengths) in a handicap chase and then 4th of 6 in a Listed chase. She's back down at Class 3 now for a second handicap run (but the first over hurdles) for trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies whose hurdlers are 6 from 20 (30% SR) here in handicaps at Sandown since 2016 (inc 2/3 at C3).
Miss Honey Rider also makes a second handicap start today, but she'll need to fare much better than she did on debut last time out in this grade. She weakened out of contention and was eventually pulled up before 2 out, making that two PU's in four runs. She did however finish second and then first in the two of those four that she did complete, albeit in a lower grade. Her previous runs suggest more rain would be welcome as she tends to go best on soft or worse. She scores well o the Geegeez Ratings in third place with a rating of 9.4% of the leader, but her yard is out of touch right now with no winners from 48 over the last six weeks. She's also a no from me at this stage.
Misty Bloom won a Class 2 over 2m5.5f on good to soft ground almost 11 months ago, but at 12th, 5th, 13th, 6th, PU and 8th since, has disappointed at both Class 2 and 3. Now back at Class 3 and eased another couple of pounds in the weights, she's really going to have to improve to get anything here. Her yard is just 8 from 94 (8.5% SR) over the last nine weeks including 5 from 58 (8.6%) over hurdles. Misty Bloom might well top our rankings, but it's the only thing I see her winning here and it's a no from me.
Penny Mallow, on the other hand, is a different propostion. Ignoring her last two runs (a 3m soft ground hurdle and a handicap chase after nine months off), her other most recent runs were two wins and a defeat by a neck, all over hurdles over 2m3.5f to 2m5f on soft / heavy ground which is more like today's conditions. Trainer Venetia Williams is hitting form as she invariably does in mid-winter and her runners are 8 from 26 (30.8% SR) over the last fortnight, whilst her Class 3&4 handicappers are 17 from 53 (32.1% SR) in the Decembers of 2018/19/20 so far.
Ruby Yeats is an other interesting case, she struggled last season over fences where here form looked more like a game of scrabble than actual race form (BU3UP) before she ended the season with two efforts over hurdles at Class 4. She won both, firstly over 2m6f on soft ground and then over 2m5f on heavy after a 6lb rise in weight. She's up another 7lbs and her fitness will need to be taken on trust, as she hasn't been seen for nine months since that 6 lengths win at Plumpton, but if ready for it will relish conditions. She's trained by Gary Moore whose Class 3/4 handicap hurdlers sent off at 8/1 and shorter are 6 from 15 (40%) here at Sandown since 2015, so keep an eye on the market.
Emmpressive Lady, like Ruby Yeats above sits at the bottom of the handicap here receiving weight all round. She won by just under four lengths last time out in a scrappy race that threatened to fall apart at any time and she's now up in both class and trip for her handicap debut, whilst the runner-up from last time out has been beaten again.
And now to assess suitability under today's expected conditions, we turn to Instant Expert...
...which tells us that we've three dual winners in the mud, three dual-winners over this kind of trip, all ahve won in fields of 8-11 runners and Bit On The Side is running off a lower mark than her last win.
The place element of Instant Expert...
...reiterates the above, but turns Whitehotchillifil green for going and distance.
Two and a half miles in difficult conditions on a stiff trip with an uphill finish might take some getting, so the race positioning could be more important than ever and that's where the Pace tab can help us...
...where prominent racers have won 12 of 24 (50%) similar contests, favouring the top four on that graphic.
So, where are we at? Well, we've still got six runners in contention and I need to start whittling away. First to go will be Emmpressive Lady, even though she's bottom weight and an LTO winner. I'm not convinced that the race she won was any good and she's up in both class and trip here. Add in the fact that her yard is only 23 from 348 (6.6% SR) since the start of 2018, I'm not persuaded easily to back her.
Next to go will be Penny Mallow. She was interesting based on past form and her yard is bang amongst the winners again, but she hasn't jumped a hurdle competitively for almost ten months and her only run this season was over fences, so I'd be inclined to give her a watching brief with a view to backing her next time out, provided she isn't dreadful here, of course.
Summary time, Chris?
You've still four runners, despite just writing off the top two in the betting, Chris!
Yes, still four at play and here's why. The one I like the most is the Harry Fry horse, Whitehotchillifil, who at 13/2 would appear to be an excellent price, win or lose. It then becomes difficult, because I've very little on my figures/reasoning between Bit On The Side, Vegas Blue & Ruby Yeats just about in that order. I can't back four in a race and I wouldn't advise you to, either. So I suppose, we let the market decide for us.
Bit On The Side is currently 15/2, so has good possibilities as an E/W bet here, so she'd be my second option. I wouldn't put you off the other two at 11/2 and 13/2 respectively, but I can't be backing all four!