Our racing expert gives his verdict on the four Sandown races being shown live on ITV4, including the feature Tolworth Hurdle.
1:50 1m7½f (1m7f119y) 32Red Casino Handicap Chase (Class 2) (5yo+)
Just the five runners and it looks a good opportunity for GINO TRAIL to jump his rivals silly from the front and bring up his hat-trick after wins at Wetherby and Cheltenham. His performance last time was particularly pleasing as he looked vulnerable off the final bend in what was a very competitive race, but he stuck on gamely when strongly challenged from three out and a couple of bold jumps at the last two fences gave him the momentum to go on and win. The handicapper has only raised him 3lb for that success and while he’s 11 now, he’s lightly-raced and is effectively a second-season chaser. With his stable continuing in grand form and reunited with Harry Skelton, he’ll do for me at bet365’s 100/30. Speredek has been in good form over hurdles this season but he seems equally effective over fences and rates the main danger ahead of Overtown Express, who looks on a stiffish mark now and is prone to mistakes.
2:25 2m (1m7f216y) 32Red Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1) (Class 1) (4yo+)
WESTERN RYDER is a worthy favourite (15/8 best with Hills) having won his last two starts over hurdles in good style, most recently at Cheltenham in December (2m1f, soft) when his superior speed came into play to deny Aintree bumper winner Lalor in what was a slowly run race. He’s going to need 2m4f sooner rather than later and is probably going to be seen to best effect in a fast-run race, but his stamina will be a big help in the forecast testing conditions and he can start living up to his big home reputation with a Grade 1 win here. The unbeaten Kalashnikov rates the main threat, although he’s only just turned five and he can’t match the selection’s greater experience and maturity could prove decisive. The only four-year-old runner Sussex Ranger looks up against it for the same reason, albeit he was very impressive over course and distance last time.
3:00 3m (3m37y) 32Red Veterans’ Handicap Chase (The Final Of The 2017 Veterans’ Chase Series) (Class 2) (10yo+)
Plenty of familiar names in this veterans’ chase, which is why they are so popular, and it’s a highly competitive final of the series with 15 runners set to go to post and the vast majority are priced at 20/1 or less. Ian Williams’ Gas Line Boy has been put in as favourite and that’s understandable as he’s coming off a career-best victory in the 2m5f Grand Sefton Chase at Aintree, where his extra stamina was a huge asset in the testing conditions. Unlucky not to win on the Mildmay Course previously, so well was he travelling in the lead when falling he three out, he looks sure to make a bold bid before another crack at the Grand National, in which he finished fifth last season.
However, his odds of 5/1 in a race of this nature don’t really excite and I’d rather have a few quid each-way on Charlie Longsdon’s LOOSE CHIPS at the 20/1 on offer at Betfair, who are paying out on four places. He has never run a bad race at this track in five visits – he has achieved form figures of 21323 – and that includes a third in last year’s race behind stablemate Pete The Feat, who is now bidding to follow up as a 14-year-old. Having dropped down the weights a bit and with his trainer giving him a helping hand by putting up talented 5lb claimer Paul O’Brien, he has every chance of reversing that form and a tenth career win is certainly not beyond him, although we’re assured of a nice profit if he can find the frame.
3:35 2m (1m7f216y) 32Red.com Handicap Hurdle (Class 2) (4yo+ 0-145)
Nicky Henderson fields the likely favourite in Call Me Lord who won a juvenile handicap over course and distance in April and should come on for his reappearance third at Huntingdon. He makes more appeal than Our Merlin who is a whopping 23lb higher than for the last of his three wins around smaller tracks, but I’m going to suggest backing Charlie Longsdon’s MONTY’S AWARD as he’s far too big a price at bet365’s 25/1, despite being 5lb wrong at the weights.
An impressive winner of a hot Worcester bumper last season, he has produced a couple of encouraging efforts over hurdles this season and was reported to be “not quite right” according to his trainer after disappointing on his latest start at Kempton in December. He has the EBF Final back here in March as his main objective and is a full brother to last year’s winner of that race, Minella Awards. However, his trainer was sounding keen in a recent Stable Tour on his chances of picking up a handicap or two en route and considers him to be on a winnable mark. A first-time hood is being applied to help him settle better and that he is carrying the minimum weight of 10st is another plus given the testing conditions.
Sandown 1.50, Gino Trail @ 100/30 bet365
Sandown 2.25, Western Ryder @ 15/8 Hills
Sandown 3.00, Loose Chips each-way @ 20/1 Betfair (1/5 odds, 220.127.116.11)
Sandown 3.35, Minella Award, each-way @ 25/1 bet365 (1/4 odds, 1.2.3)
All odds were correct at time of posting.