Of the three I felt most likely to win Saturday's featured race, my pick Shan Blue did indeed come out best, but sadly had to settle for second place behind the unfancied Sporting John, who outstayed our runner to land Richard Johnson the first leg of an unlikely 1068/1 treble on the Sandown card.
And so to Monday, where we make the PACE tab freely available to all users for all races, including the featured 'free races of the day', which are...
- 12.25 Newcastle
- 12.30 Carlisle
- 1.20 Fairyhouse
- 3.20 Plumpton
- 3.30 Fairyhouse
and it's the fourth on that list that I'm looking at today : the 3.20 Plumpton, a Class 4 handicap hurdle for 4yo+ runners over 3m 1.5f on heavy ground and the £3,964 top prize will go to one of these alphabetically arranged horses...
Abbey Street was a runner-up in back to back handicap hurdles over similar trips to this one in May 2018, but was then off the track for 30 months. He hasn't been the same since and was fairly well beaten (13L) when 4th of 14 here over C&D last time out. His yard are just 1 from 22 over hurdles here at Plumpton since the start of 2018 and I'd be inclined to look elsewhere, despite his third place on the Geegeez Speed Rating.
Black Centaur is currently with a third trainer, despite only making seven career starts, but his run for Chris Gordon LTO was easily his best effort to date, when a runner-up just three lengths off the pace at Hereford almost two months ago, where he was some 16 lengths clear of the third placed horse and looks well set for another placed finish if not more.
Trainer Chris Gordon is 30 from 125 (24%) over hurdles here since 2016, whilst overall his heavy ground hurdlers are 15 from 75 (20%) since 2017. Jockey Tom Cannon also has a good record over hurdles here, winning 26 of 128 (20.3%) since 2016, including 22 of 72 (30.6%) for Chris Gordon.
Call Off The Dogs was a winner two starts ago over 2m6f on soft ground at Fontwell and was then only beaten by a little more than two lengths over a similar trip here at Plumpton last time out, despite being raised 5lbs. He does look like one of the more likely contenders here but another 2lb rise, an extra half mile and a step up in class make this far from a simple task.
His yard, however, are in good nick with 5 winners from 25 (20%) over the last fortnight and are 13 from 57 (22.8%) in Class 3&4 handicap hurdles here at Plumpton since 2016.
Crown Hill is 11 yrs old now but is by no means here to make up numbers. He's had a stop start time of it over the last three years or so, but looked back in form last time out. He won over 3m2f at Warwick in mid-May 2018 and was then off the track for almost 18 months. On his return he was pulled up twice on the bounce inside 8 weeks and then went back in the box for over ten months, where he was then pulled up again at Ffos Las (8th Nov).
A drop down two grades to C5 did the trick in early December, when only beaten by four lengths and then last time pout, he was back at this Class 4 grade to be beaten by just a nose over 3m1f on soft ground at Huntingdon, where he was unlucky to be carried left at the last hurdle and then got caught on the line. His yard are 5/21 (23.8%) in handicap hurdles here and more generally their hcp hurdlers are 13 from 60 (21.7%) over 3m to 3m3f during September to February.
Get An Oscar is another who looks to have a chance here based on her last effort over hurdles and ignoring her LTO run over fences where she was pulled up at Ffos Las. Prior to that, she was third of eight on heavy ground and has proved she stays beyond this trip. She needs to bounce back from that recent disappointment, though.
Jockey Sean Bowen is 33/117 (28.2%) in heavy ground hurdles contests since 2017, including 20 from 63 (31.75%) at Class 4.
Jungle Prose is a 6yr old mare who has made the frame in each of her three efforts over hurdles since winning a bumper in September of last year. She has finished 323 in those contests and was then a runner-up in another bumper a week ago (A/W jumpers bumper to give her a run after 11 weeks off). Having had that run, I'd expect another strong effort here, but more will be needed, as this is five furlongs further than her last race over hurdles, although that too was on heavy ground.
Stat-wise, it isn't great, her yard is shy of winners lately with just 1 winner from 34 over the last 11 weeks and just 2 winners from 38 in all Plumpton handicap hurdles.
Lugg River was reasonable in bumpers but hasn't really done anything over hurdles if truth be told and was beaten by 48 lengths when fourth of eight last time ouit on her first effort beyond 2m6.5f. Yet to even make the frame in four efforts over hurdles so far, she was some 45 lengths behind the re-opposing Back Centaur LTO, so I can't see her overturning that form when only 3lbs better off.
Her yard, however, was 14 from 49 (28.6%) in handicap hurdles in 2020, including 10 from 28 (35.7%) at Class 4, 7 from 22 (31.8%) at 3 miles and beyond and 4 from 12 (33.3%) at C4 over 3m and further.
Robsam is an unexposed 6 yr old who looks an improving type. A ruuner-up last time out when beaten by just over two lengths at Hexham in mid-September, but will now have to overcome the effects of a 21-week break and he has also to prove himself on heavy ground and at this trip. He wa beaten by 37 lengths over 2m7f (soft) and by 127 lengths over 3m (heavy) on his two runs prior to LTO, so he has work to do here.
He does, however, get to call upon Richard Johnson's services in the saddle and Dicky is on fire right now, making the frame in 9 of his last 13 rides, winning five of them.
Tzar de l'Elfe is an 11yr old gelding who has only won 2 of 21 starts split across both jumps codes. He is though, the only runner here with a course victory and a distance victory to his name, achieved when winning here over course and distance three starts ago. However, that was over fences and more than 14 months ago.
He hasn't tackled a hurdle since being beaten by 23 lengths over 2m7f in mid-November 2018 and was disappointing LTO when coming off a 9-month break to be beaten by 50 lengths at Fontwell. One to avoid here, I'd say. Jockey Niall Houlihan has 3 wins and 3 runner-up finishes from his last nine rides but I'm struggling for any other positives about this one.
Woulduadamandeveit makes up our field here and although placed on three of his four bumper outings, has failed to make the frame in any of seven starts over hurdles. The closest he has been to a winner was a 12 lengths defeat over 2m3f two starts ago and I don't see him being anywhere near here, especially coming off an absence just a few days shy of a year (Valentines Day 2020 was his last run). Perhaps a change of jockey for the first time might work? I doubt it, but let's wait and see.
From a field that has only won 7.6% of 131 previous outings (10/131), but has made the frame on 47 occasions (38.9%), I expect we'll learn far more from the place element of Instant Expert than we will from the win side of things...
From the place perspective, it's good to see four horses with some heavy ground form and Crown Hill/Jungle Prose are the standouts on the place graphic with honourable mentions going to Get An Oscar and Tzar de l'Elfe, but only Crown Hill emerges from the win side of things with any real credit.
From a pace perspective, mid-division runners tend to win more than other running styles with horses racing prominently filling the frame. Based on how these horses have run in the past, here's how we expect them to break out...
To be honest, this race has proved tougher to work out than I thought/hoped it would, but here goes.
Alphabetically, I definitely don't like Abbey Street, Lugg River, Robsam, Tzar de l'Elfe and Woulduadamandevit for reasons that should be fairly obvious from my write-ups. This removes half of the field and I now need to get rid of two more so that I've got my three against the field as I like to do.
Conversely, I do like Call Off the Dogs and Crown Hill, so I suppose that takes me to a 1 from 3 position for my final pick and I think that based on the evidence I've presented above that I'd have to plump for Black Centaur marginally ahead of Jungle Prose.
Of the two I liked most, I think it might be tight, but I'm going to side with the old boy Crown Hill who currently trades at 11/2. Call Off The Dogs is up in trip, weight and class, so seems riskier to me.
Lots of names bandied about, so for clarity, I'm calling it as Crown Hill - Call Off The Dogs - Black Centaur.