Our racing expert is attempting to unravel the two big handicap hurdles at Sandown on Saturday.
Even some of the Festival handicaps will have a less daunting look than the EBF Final (due off 1:50pm) as they at least contain exposed types, whereas we have 18 novices, the majority of whom boast strong recent form and are still improving, to sift through here.
That’s no easy task and we also have to take into account the weather forecast which is for rain, and plenty of it. The ground is already soft so it’s not inconceivable that we could be looking at heavy ground on the day. Clearly then we are looking for something proven on that sort of surface as well as having displayed plenty of staying power as it will ride more like a 2m5f+ race in the conditions.
Some of these have something to prove in that respect but one horse who ticks those boxes is Jennie Candlish’s QUICK PICK. A point winner over 3m, he has been making hay in novice hurdles up north, winning his last two starts, both at Sedgefield over 2m4f on soft ground. On each occasion, he was strong at the finish and appears to be ready for further, which is no surprise as he’s a son of Irish St Leger winner Vinnie Roe.
He found 2m on the sharp side when second, a little over two lengths, behind Better Getalong at Ayr on his seasonal reappearance. When you consider that horse was getting 3lb and is now rated 138, the selection looks very well treated on a mark of 122, meaning he gets in off bottom weight under his regular pilot Sean Quinlan.
There is a danger this test might be too much for him at this stage of his career and it might go to a more streetwise contender, but he’s more mature than most of these as a seven-year-old and we don’t have to have much on each-way at the available 20/1 to find out.
It’s been a season of slim pickings for David Pipe so far, but that could all change over the course of the next seven days and the Imperial Cup (due off 2.25pm), which he has already won three times, to go with his father Martin’s six victories, could start the ball rolling.
That’s because his representative FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHT looks to have all the required credentials, having shown progressive form over hurdles and coped well with a rise in grade when second in a competitive handicap hurdle at Ascot on his most recent outing. After travelling oh so strongly throughout, he couldn’t quite match the winner, Le Patriote, close home and he’s entitled to turn the tables on that horse on today’s terms.
Proven on very deep ground and a strong stayer at this trip, no bad thing given the likely testing conditions, I fancy he can give his stable a timely boost and provide Tom Scudamore, who is riding near his minimum on 10st 2lb, with his second victory after Baltimore Rock in 2014. The 9/1 on offer with Hills for that to happen seems very fair.
The dangers are too numerous to mention them all here, but if I was having a saver I’d want to be on the Nicky Henderson-trained novice Whatswrongwithyou, who is chasing a hat-trick after a brace of Newbury novice hurdle wins. This is tougher of course but he’s still unexposed and it’s worth noting that 13 of the last 17 winners were novices. He’s also carrying less than 11st, which has proved a barrier to all the most recent winners, other than the sorely missed London Prize 12 months ago.
Indeed, it’s Henderson who is controlling the weights here as he is also running Call Me Lord off top weight. That’s a big ask for the five-year-old, although he’s going to appreciate dropping back into handicap company after coming up short behind Elgin in the Kingwell Hurdle and is unbeaten in two starts at this track. But Nico de Boinville prefers his better fancied stablemate Whatswrongwithyou.
All odds were correct at time of posting.