A good result for the column at lunchtime with us getting the first three home and correctly identifying the 6/1 winner as our preferred option. Well done to those who got on, especially on the forecast/tricast etc, but no time to rest upon our laurels as Saturday will soon be upon us.
The feature of the day is the wonderful Trainer/Jockey Combo Stats report, whilst our free races of the day are...
- 1.05 Leopardstown
- 1.29 Musselburgh
- 1.50 Sandown
- 2.30 Wetherby
- 4.15 Kempton
- 4.55 Kempton
And although I think the TJ Combo report is brilliant, it's not often that a Grade 1 is one of our free races of the day, so I can't really pass up the chance to look at the 1.50 Sandown. It's a Grade 1 Novice Chase over 2m4f on heavy ground, it's for 5yo+ runners, of which there'll be seven aiming for a prize just shy of £20k.
As it's a top quality race and just seven run, I'm expecting a competitive affair with the odds compacted to reflect that, but fingers crossed we can find the winner or even first two or three home again. Our starting point has to be the card itself. No bias here, so alphabetically, they line up as follows...
Shan Blue tops our ratings and is widely regarded as one of (if not the) the best novice chasers around right now, so he's likely to be popular, but Hitman isn't far off on our ratings, so maybe the youngest of the field might be the biggest danger. As for the other end of the scale, my initial thoughts are that Paint The Dream, Sporting John and Up The Straight are here to make the numbers up, but let's have a look at all of them to see if the picture becomes any clearer.
Dame de Compagnie is second oldest here at 8 and she's the only mare in the contest and receives 7lbs from most of the field (bar Hitman) making her best in at the weights and she comes here having won each of her last three outings. She scored in back to back big field hurdles contests at Cheltenham in the winter/spring of 2019/20 over similar trips to day including the Gr3 Coral Cup at last year's Festival and has won on heavy ground before today.
She made a chase bow at Ayr almost three weeks ago, winning a two horse, Class 4 contest by nine lengths at Ayr over 2m0.5f on her return from over 10 months off the track. The step back up in trip shouldn't be an issue here, but the actual quality of opponent might! Messrs Henderson & de Boinville are well known in their own rights and as a partnership and have some excellent stats to back them up here, including...
Hitman concedes 4lbs to the mare above, but does receive 3lbs from the rest of the field, enabling the 5 yr old gelding to carry just 11st 1lb here. This will be just his third UK start, but he was a smart hurdler in his native France and seeks to be the Nicholls yard's latest imported superstar. He won a Class 3 chase at Ffos Las by some 30 lengths on his UK debut and wasn't disgraced as a runner-up behind Allmankind in the Gr 1 Henry VIII Chase here over 1m7.5f last time out.
Neither the going nor the quality should be his undoing, but this is 2.5 furlongs further than he's ever run before and on treacherous ground, that might be a problem. Stat-wise, plenty to go at again...
Messire des Obeaux is the oldest here at 9yrs old and comes here with plenty of experience gained from 11 previous career starts. He was more than useful over hurdles, finishing third in back to back Gr1 contests in the space of 24 days at the Cheltenham & Aintree Festivals of 2017. That might now be a long time ago and in actual days, it certainly is, but in terms of mileage on his clock, it's only three races. He was beaten by 24 lengths in a Class 2 hurdle some 1034 days after that Aintree run and was then rested for another 313 days ahead of starting his chasing career at Wincanton in mid-December 2020, where he won by just over 2 lengths in a soft ground 2m4.5f contest.
Admittedly, it was only a Class 3 affair, but to win on his chasing bow in only his second start in over 32 months took some doing. He then followed that up with a 5-length success at Grade 2 over the same course and distance 25 days later to allow him to come here defending a 2 from 2 record over fences. He's probably got the ability to win this, but might it be too much too soon? Time will tell. And some numbers?
Paint The Dream was a winner last time out, but steps up from Class 3 to Gr 1 here and is up in trip by 4.5f, which makes it difficult to expect him to improve upon a record of 1 win from 9 over fences. He has won over this trip, but that was a Class 4 novice handicap hurdle and has also made the frame here when a runner-up at Class 3 back in December 2019, but I can't see him in the first four here.
Shan Blue represents Team Skelton and is regarded as one of the best Novice chasers around at present and his jumping has been a joy to watch at times. Decent if unspectacular over hurdles, he has been a revelation over fences with three wins from three to date. He kicked off with a couple of simple back to back Class 4 wins at Wetherby last October, clear by 14 lengths over 2m3.5f and then by 16 lengths over a 3m0.5f trip.
His third and final effort was a much tougher affair, but he was up tot he task and landed the Gr 1 Kauto Star Novice Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day, winning by the best part of four lengths and has been well rested since. That run has to be the pick of the LTO form on offer here and just one reason why he'll be popular here, as might some of these figures be...
Sporting John looks to be well up against it and if he's not the worst here, he's not far off. That doesn't mean he's a bad horse, but this race just looks out of his depth. He won a 3m soft ground point to point (so he can jump) and then kicked off his career under Rules with three straight wins over hurdles, culminating in a career-best Class 2 win over 2m3.5f.
His final run over hurdles came at last year's Cheltenham Festival when he finished in a distressed state when beaten by 30 lengths in the Gr 1 Ballymore Novice hurdle and he was disappointing on his sole effort over fences to date, beaten by 33 lengths in a Class 3 contest at Exeter. 6th place here is where I'd put him and even the best of the relevant stats don't make too much of a compelling case for him...
And finally (most likely) we have Up The Straight, who'll be last home in my opinion if he finishes. His chase form of 2U2 actually flatters him. He was second of three at Class 3 over 2m3f, beaten by some 26 lengths and that was only because the leader fell three out. He then unseated at Plumpton before finishing second of four at Fontwell when not seeing today's trip out on heavy ground in a Class 4 contest. The rise is class/quality here looks impossible for him and there's nothing in the stats to support him. In fact, they're further proof if anything that he should be swerved here...
That makes pretty dismal reading, doesn't it?
Let's find some more positivity now, shall we? OK, this field have raced 61 times in total, making the frame on 36 (59%) occasions and going on to win 22 (36%) of them across all codes, so Instant Expert will tell us how much of that form is actually relevant to the task ahead...
ALL NH FORM
Paint The Dream's lack of quality is apparent above and Hitman's inexperience is also highlighted, whilst the likes of Messire des Obeaux and Shan Blue come out very favourably and at this stage, it still looks a close contest to call. Race tactics might be the key here...
I increased the field parameters to 5-10 runners to get a bigger sample size, as 6-9 runners only had three races to show, all won by front runners. Even expanding that parameter says you really want to be up with the pace here and that's the first negative I've really found about Messire des Obeaux. If he runs like he normally does, then he'll find it hard to win here, whereas Shan Blue looks ideally positioned.
I'm more than happy to instantly write Paint The Dream, Sporting John and Up The Straight off as also-rans. Of the other four, any of them could go on to win if truth be told, but I'm against Dame de Compagnie most, I think. She's well up in both class and trip and hasn't enough chasing experience for me.
That leaves three against the field : Hitman, Messire des Obeaux and Shan Blue and there was no surprise when I looked at the market for the first time at 6pm to see them heading the market at a general 9/4, 4/1 and 11/4 respectively.
The one I prefer of the three is Shan Blue. 11/4 looks a fair price and he's been there and done it already. Hitman lacks experience and Messire will find it hard to win from the back.
Who'll finish second? I'm really not sure, I've very little between them, but if pushed I'd side with Hitman if Messire is held up. If Messire doesn't hang back, it'll be a different story, but we'll not know that until it's too late to do anything about it!