There’s a little bit of something for everyone today, in what is seen as one of the quieter Saturday in the racing calendar. Sandown’s feature card has the first Grade 1 of the New Year and the Tolworth Hurdle (2.25) is always worth watching for future successes. Two of the last four winners went onto success at the Cheltenham Festival in the shape of Yorkhill and Summerville Boy whilst Finan’s Oscar and L’Ami Serge, also winners of this race in the last five years, went onto further Grade 1 successes.
Evidently similar things are expected of Rathill, who was well backed to make a winning debut at Newbury and devliered in style with a sharp turn of foot. That was a taking performance and it says a lot that he’s made it here out of several entries, but that might explain why he’s such a short price and substance of the race – the favourite, who ended up fourth, was rated just 136 – doesn’t match up to the price.
Elixir De Nutz’s form has been rock solid by this standard all season, with his Supreme Novices’ Trial producing a subsequent winner before he beat a subsequent wide margin Listed winner at the same course carrying a massive penalty in December. He will be a very sound benchmarker for the field here.
Paul Nicholls has had a magnificent December and whilst he normally has a quiet January to prepare for the Spring festivals, it is interesting that he runs two horses here. Many will find it doubly interesting that dual Taunton winner Southfield Stone is the mount of Harry Cobden, but even more interesting is Grand Sancy.
With nine hurdles starts he’s hardly unexposed, but his last run, when fourth in the Betfair Exchange Trophy, was arguably some of the best form in the field when beaten but a County Hurdle winner, a 140 rated and progressing handicapper, and Western Ryder, who was sixth in a Supreme. He closed well on what was really testing ground that day, a good sign given that the covers have been on, and there’s a good case to make for him being overpriced.
It’s interesting that Idee De Garde is stepped up after his second to a highly promising subsequent winner on his hurdles debut at Newcastle, and Mercy Mercy Me might be helped by a drop back in trip although he might want better ground.
45 minutes later we will see the older heroes of the game take to the field in the Unibet Veterans’ Handicap Chase (otherwise known as The Final Of The 2018 Veterans’ Chase Series).
Picking between a whole host of potentially well handicapped horses is a tremendous challenge but if Le Reve retains his ability – and that appeared to be the case when he made a satisfactory return from a 571-day absence at Warwick in December – then he looks as good a contender as any.
That was a three runner race with the useful Beat That and Exitas first and second and he now arrives here 2lbs lower with a solid gallop likely to be guaranteed today, and his mark of 135 is very fair given that at his peak he won from marks of 128, 139 and 144.
There are many other tempting contenders including Rock Gone and Rathlin Rose, who ran really well in a qualifier for this back in November, but Cultram Abbey won a competitive veterans’ handicap when back from a break in December at Kelso, and the form of that before and after (second since won well over hurdles) reads well here.
Henllan Harri would make more appeal if the ground is shown to be decent on the chase course earlier during the card.
We won’t learn anything about Laurina in the Unibet Mares’ Hurdle (1.50), as it’s a match against Sensulano that she she should win by well over ten lengths, frustratingly. Kudos to Noel Williams for picking up some easy money.
No horse makes enough appeal to put up in the 32Red Handicap Chase (1.20) nor the Unibet Handicap Chase (12.45), but the opening Unibet Juvenile Hurdle, albeit a watching brief, is much more interesting.
As far as I can see, a favourite hasn't won the first race at Sandown tomorrow since it's inception:
2011 Comedy Act evens 6/10
2012 Soliwery 11-10 2/6
2013 For Two 1-3 2/7
2015 Classical Act 9-4 5/5
2016 Master Of Speed 11-10 3/4
2017 Coeur De Lion 1-3 2/7
2018 Echo Watt 6-4 4/5
— Maddy Playle (@mp_horseracing) January 4, 2019
Maddy Playle of the Racing Post has gone through the records to find that no favorite has ever won this race, but many can’t see past defeat for Torpillo, a winner at Nancy in April who cantered all over his rivals when making a winning debut by 23 lenghts here. This is tougher with a double penalty, so it will be interesting to see how he does, with fellow French import Fukuto here after winning at Argentan.
In the closing 32Red.com Handicap Hurdle (3.35) both Moinesur Lecoq and Thistimenextyear have promising profiles and a confirmed ability to handle deep ground, but if Court Royale can handle this surface then he’s very interesting following his ninth in a major Ascot Handicap Hurdle and he’s worth chancing off that.
Dempolis, who ran into a very bright prospect on his UK debut at Haydock last time, is also if interest on his first handicap start.
1 pt each/way Grand Sancy, 2.25 Sandown (8/1 Bet365, 15/2 Paddy Power)
1 pt each/way Le Reve, 3.00 Sandown (15/2 general)
1 pt each/way Cultram Abbey, 3.00 Sandown (11/1 general)
1 pt win Court Royale, 3.35 Sandown (9/2 general)