Close but no cigar at Warwick today, as two of my three against the field were the first two home, but the one I thought might win was disappointing. The main thing is that we identified the first two home via the Geegeez toolbox and it was only my own 'gut feeling' that let us down!
Friday's fabulous free feature is the Horses for Courses report, showing runners who have excelled at a given track in the past and our free races of the day are as follows...
- 1.05 Doncaster
- 1.50 Sandown
- 2.25 Sandown
- 2.30 Cork
- 3.15 Perth
- 7.35 Chepstow
The second of our Sandown offerings looks an interesting, top quality race, so my focus today is going to be on the 2.25 Sandown, a 7-runner, Group 3 contest for 4yo+ over 1m2f on good ground (firmer in places) worth a decent £25,520 to one of these...
As you'd expect for a Group 3 contest, plenty of 1's in the runners' form lines, but only Waldkonig has had a UK run this season. The others are coming off UK breaks of six months or more. Class-wise, Waldkonig's seasonal reappearance was a Class 2 handicap, whilst Winter Reprise has only made two Class 5 Novice starts to date, so this is a big step up.
Desert Encounter ran creditably last season despite not managing to win a race, but he did win three Group 3 races in a row in Autumn 2019. I wouldn't want to totally write him off, but at 9yrs old, it's likely his best form is now behind him and he's likely to be swamped by the young guns here.
Extra Elusive won back to back group 3 1m2f contests last August and ended his last campaign with a 9 length defeat in the Qipco Champions Stakes. Has made one appearance on the dirt in Riyadh since, but was beaten by some 31 lengths two months ago. He's better than that for sure, but probably not good enough to land this.
Highest Ground will be well liked here, as many sons of Frankel are. He beat the re-opposing Waldkonig by 2.5 lengths in a Class 5 novice race at Haydock last June off equal weights, but went down by a neck to Thunderous (who also runs here) in the Dante at York on ground that might have been a little soft for his liking that day, a theory backed up by the way he floundered on soft ground last time out. Big chances here on quicker ground, though, as his trainer looks to win this race for a fourth successive year.
Hukum has progressed nicely since finishing third on debut nineteen months ago, winning a Class 4, 1m novice race in his only other race as a 2 yr old. He opened up last season's campaign with back to back wins (C2, 1m4f & Gr3, 1m5.5f) before fading in the final furlong to a four length defeat in the St Leger. On paper, this is an easier task and he's technically best in at the weights, but I'm concerned the trip might be a little sharp/short.
Thunderous has four wins and a runner-up finish from his five career starts to date, having been beaten by 1.75 lengths in a Listed contest on last season's first run, but he bounced back well to land the Gr 2 Dante at York twelve days later. If ready to fire first up, he'll have a serious chance here and he's be unfazed by the ground as he has won on good to firm and soft ground!
Waldkonig (Forest King in German) has only raced four times to date, making the frame each time and winning twice. This will be tougher than his seasonal pipe-opener where he coated to a Class 2 handicap win at Pontefract earlier this month blowing away the cobwebs of a 41-week absence. This is by far the toughest race he's had so far, but he will be aided by the presence of a certain Mr Dettori in the saddle who shows no sign of easing up and who has won 88 of 308 (28.6% SR, A/E 1.11) Class 1 races over the last three seasons, including 8 from 18 (44.4% SR, A/E 1.33) here at Sandown.
Winter Reprise completes the line-up and probably will do so when the results are published. Just two UK runs to date, both Class 5 Novice contests where he was beaten by 18 lengths and 5.25 lengths before finishing second in a maiden in France at Clairefontaine, beaten by just half a length. Since then he was been gelded ahead of winning a 1m2f maiden Chantilly, but was last of six in a Listed race at the same track/trip 24 days later. He ended his season with a short neck defeat on the A/W at Deauville. I think this race is too good for him and on a surface too quick for him.
At this point, I'm least keen on Winter Reprise with doubts about Extra Elusive and Desert Encounter.
Next up is composite form analysis / race suitability via Instant Expert...
...which actually springs very few surprises. Desert Encounter, Extra Elusive and Winter Reprise once again don't look as good as their rivals. Highest Ground and Waldkonig lack a Class 1 win, but the former was runner-up in the Dante and the latter was third in a Listed race. Little previous track form to consider and most have a least one win at similar trips.
Despite the upward rise of the blue line, I'm not convinced there's a massive individual stall draw bias here. Stall 2's figures look anomalously low, a thought counter-balanced by the 11 wins from stall 7. You could, of course argue that stalls 5 to 7 however do represent a bias towards a high draw and it's certain the best three-stall grouping to find yourself in, but in races like this, it's often the race tactics/positioning/pace that decides the outcome.
And there's also not a massive importance about where you choose to sit during the race, aside from not wanting to be in mid-division, although that is a fairly small sample size. Leaders and prominent runners win marginally more often than you'd expect, whilst holds up horses almost hit par at IV 0.97.
I said the mid-div numbers were based on a small sample size, but they're not even hitting the places as often as the other three style either, so it's not a case of just falling short of winning.
So, if we've no real bias on pace or draw, I wonder if there's a sweet spot where a certain draw meets a certain running style or conversely where do you not want to be from a certain stall? We can show this very quickly and easily, via...
Pace & Draw...
...which is pretty self explanatory. You can win from any draw and with any running style, but certain combinations will make life easier/harder depending on where you are. What we need to do is look at how we've seen these horses run in the past.
Most of them don't have many UK runs to their names (69 UK races between them, but Desert Encounter's 33 and Extra Elusive's 16 account for 49 of the 69), so I'm just going to look at how they've raced in their last two outing sand I'll overlay it upon that heat map as follows...
I've done that in draw order, so we can see where on track (if anywhere) the pace is going to come from and it looks like Waldkonig and Thunderous might attempt to set the fractions here.
I think the middle of the stalls is where the winner comes from today. Waldkonig and Thunderous look set to make the pace with Highest Ground biding his time. They're my favoured three here and it's probably just going to be a case of when Highest Ground makes his move and how many he can pass. You can guarantee the pace will be spot on here from that front two, both jockeys are excellent at reading the pace and despite my fondness for Frankie and his brilliant Class 1 record, I think Thunderous beats Waldkonig here.
The question then, is does Highest Ground beat them both and he certainly could, but I fancy him to fall narrowly short, but to split the front runners and grab second. I'm happy with the three that I see contesting it, it's just a case of whether I've got the order right.
OK, bookies time...as expected Highest ground is fancied and has been installed as the 9/4 fav, whilst my preference for Thunderous hasn't been shared elsewhere and Hills are offering me 11/2 as fourth favourite just behind Waldkonig's 4/1. Hukum s 2nd fav, but as much as he has ability, this looks too short a trip for him.