The exciting Bristol De Mai puts his Triumph Hurdle credentials on the line in a Sandown card full of tricky handicaps while there is a cracking card at Musselburgh on Sunday. Stephen Loftus previews the weekend racing.
After making a winning introduction at Chepstow, Bristol De Mai is sure to be a short price favourite for the Contenders Hurdle at Sandown. The form of the French recruit’s win is working out well with Karezak, who finished second, running nicely behind Peace and Co at Cheltenham last week. The Nigel Twiston Davies charge does face stiffer opposition this time though, in the shape of experienced handicapper Garde La Victoire and the improving Jollyallan. The latter put in an impressive performance to win at Kempton back in December but does not possess the potential of Bristol De Mai. This race really should be a formality for the favourite given his prohibitive odds. There are better betting opportunities to be found elsewhere on the Sandown card.
The feature on the card is the Scilly Isles Novices Chase featuring five promising chasers including Gitane Du Berlais, who travels over from the in form Willie Mullins stable. We are yet to see if she actually stays this 2m4f trip however and preference is for Irish Saint, from the Paul Nicholls yard. After a promising chasing debut when he easily dispatched Chris Pea Green, he disappointed behind stablemate Vibrato Valtat after being well punted before the off. He justified the market support next time out when stepped up in trip to win at Ascot and his jumping has been near foot perfect on all three outings. He is the definitely the most solid option in the field with his course experience standing him in good stead.
The main danger is likely to be Champagne West who was runner up Nicholls’ unbeaten Novice chaser Ptit Zig at Cheltenham, the track where his last four runs have come from. This apparent love for Cheltenham would be my main concern for Saturday, given the fact that Sandown and Cheltenham are two very different tracks. I am willing to oppose the Phillip Hobbs horse on this occasion but he is definitely a horse to keep an eye on for the festival in March. Grumeti and Splash of Ginge complete the quintet but they are slightly off the level required to win a race of this nature.
The Betfred Masters Handicap Chase looks like a minefield on paper but Le Reve is an interesting contender for Daryl Jacob and Lucy Wadham. He will definitely go on the soft ground and after a creditable third behind The Young Master last time out, his mark was left unchanged. The application of cheekpieces is a welcome return considering his first and second placing in them over this course and distance in two runs last year. The rest of the field look exposed to the handicapper, particularly Theatrical Star and Ardkilly Witness who has gone up seven pounds for a very fortuitous win over Masters Hill at Kempton. Just A Par could be thrown in if rediscovering his old form but he has become very hard to trust and while Bertie Boru ran a nice race behind Unioniste last time, I fear he may be given too much to do from the rear again, especially with the abundance of front runners in this race.
The continuing theme of great Sunday racing is evident this weekend with Musselburgh staging their biggest day of the year with the Scottish equivalents of the Triumph Hurdle, Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle and Champion Chase on show. The best betting race seems to be the ever-competitive Scottish County Hurdle where Sea Lord is the class act at the top of the handicap. Tony McCoy’s mount has been contesting much better races than this after bumping into Irving in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle. He has been given plenty of time to recover from that race and looks to have been plotted up for this tight 2 mile handicap. I would prefer to looks further down the weights for a selection although I do think that Sea Lord should be in the shake up.
Retrieve runs for the same trainer as Sea Lord (John Ferguson) at the bottom of the handicap and any money for the eight year old should be noted. Brain Ellison has five entries who all could be well handicapped and of those, Zaidiyn is interesting if the reason as to why he was pulled up last time has been corrected. He had looked progressive prior to that run and Danny Cook returns to the saddle after his injury. My selection in a wide open race is A Boy Named Suzi for the Aspell-Wadham combination who is in receipt of 17 lbs from Sea Lord. The seven year old drops back in trip after disappointing over 2m4f last time out. This will only be his fourth run over hurdles and I can see him resuming his progression at Musselburgh.
Punchestown also hosts a competitive card with the Pertemps Qualifier the big betting race and the Tied Cottage Chase over 2 miles featuring Twinlight and Hidden Cyclone. In the Pertemps, Tony Martin’s Mydor is sure to be popular with punters after two consecutive easy wins but I believe this is where the winning streak ends even with Ruby Walsh on board. Robert Tyner’s Sir Abbot has also looked progressive but his form is not working out well. Lie Duties for Davy Russell is definitely not worth a mark of 131 so it is towards the bigger prices that I have looked. Lord Scoundrel will require a very patient ride from Davy Condon as he tends to pull himself up once he hits the front but he is definitely worth a shot at a big price. Gordon Elliott is sure to have him primed for this handicap and he is the tentative selection.
The Tied Cottage Chase looks a three horse race between Twinlight, Bright New Dawn and Hidden Cyclone. This race may have come too soon for the unreliable Twinlight after his poor run behind Dodging Bullets and Sprinter Sacre even though if he on a going day, he could put this field away with ease. Hidden Cyclone’s front running tactics might set this up for Bright New Dawn, who is running over two miles after being brushed aside by Mallowney over 2m1f last time out. Bryan Cooper will hopefully settle the Gigginstown inmate behind the pace and allow Bright New Dawn to get past Hidden Cyclone late on.
A quick selection at the only all-weather meeting on Sunday at Chelmsford is Salvado for Luke Morris and Tony Carroll who will get the pace he craves with Ecliptic Sunrise and Kodafine in the field. He will be held up for a late run given his best form is over a shorter distance but you cannot go wrong backing everything that Luke Morris rides at the moment.
Irish Saint 2:25 Sandown 2/1
Le Reve 3:35 Sandown 5/1
Salvado 3:20 Chelmsford 5/1
A Boy Named Suzi 3:00 Musselburgh 9/1
Bright New Dawn 3:40 Punchestown 9/2
Lord Scoundrel 3:10 Punchestown 16/1