Timeform Preview: Heroes Handicap Hurdle

Paul Nicholls
The Heroes Handicap Hurdle takes place at Sandown on Saturday

Timeform preview the Heroes Handicap Hurdle that takes place at Sandown on Saturday and pick out their best bet.

"That form is working out well, with the fourth and fifth both winning next time..."

Timeform on Casko d'Airy

Organisers of the Heroes Handicap at Sandown on Saturday reaped the benefits of doubling the prize money 12 months ago, with a maximum field declared and an unexposed winner in the shape of Topofthegame. That horse went on to finish runner-up in the Coral Cup at the Cheltenham Festival the following month and, with several types with similar profiles among the 29-strong entries at the five-day stage, it looks set to be another fiercely competitive renewal.

Bookmakers are going 7/1 the field at the time of writing, and it is the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained Ballymoy who heads the market. A winner of three of his four starts this season, Ballymoy is progressing at a rate of knots, turning in another career-best performance when winning the 10-runner Holloway's Handicap Hurdle at Ascot (by one and three quarter lengths from Colonial Dreams) last time, leading on the bridle before three out and finding extra when required. Another 5 lb rise in the weights makes life harder, but he looks a graded performer in the making and it's easy to see why he's been installed as favourite; he should have no problems staying three miles.

Not far behind him in the betting is Lord Napier, who was last seen finishing third to Big Time Dancer in the Lanzarote Hurdle at Kempton in early-January. Lord Napier won three times as a novice last season, including a handicap from a 13 lb lower mark, and his performances this time around suggest he is up to winning races from his current mark, too. He left the impression he would be suited by a greater emphasis on stamina at Kempton last time, so the move up to three miles for the first time here may well unlock further improvement, and he is definitely one to consider for a yard that are starting to fire in the winners.

Keeper Hill has benefited from the return to hurdles this season, having been let down by his jumping on more than one occasion in 2017/18. He still managed to win a Grade 2 Novices' Chase, which pays testament to the talent he possesses, and he produced a career best when resuming winning ways in a handicap hurdle at Warwick last time. A subsequent 5 lb rise in the weights will make life tougher, but it will be interesting to see if connections opt to employ a claimer to offset some of that weight (ridden by a good-value 5 lb claimer last time); he will be no forlorn hope either way.

Another interesting type who has been switched back to hurdles following an unconvincing spell over fences is Thomas Campbell. He ran a very respectable race returned to this sphere in the Relkeel Hurdle at Cheltenham last time over a trip short of his optimum and, from a handicapping perspective, he makes a fair bit of appeal, now 1 lb lower than for his last hurdles win which came in a listed handicap at Cheltenham last season. At 16/1 the market appears to have overlooked him, and given the form of the Nicky Henderson yard of late he isn't one to underestimate, but he could head for a Pertemps qualifier at Musselburgh a day later.

Paul Nicholls has a good record in this race and all three of his entries are upwardly-mobile types. Brio Conti hasn't been seen since winning a novice chase at Carlisle in November 2017, but Nicholls won this with a similar type 12 months ago. On the pick of his hurdling form - he won a handicap convincingly from a 9 lb lower mark in 2016/17 - he doesn't look harshly treated, and his good record when fresh means an absence of 446 days isn't a concern.

On the face of it, handicap hurdling debutant Kapcorse looks harshly treated from a mark 8 lb higher than for his latest win over fences, given his form over hurdles so far is nowhere near the level that he has reached over fences. However, it would be no surprise if this has been a long-term plan given connections and he could take a big step forward now; it would be folly to ignore his claims.

Nicholls' third representative Casko d'Airy will need five horses to come out if he's to get a run, but he looks most interesting, having shown much improved form upped to three miles for the first time (and in a first-time tongue tie, reportedly had a breathing problem the time before) when winning a handicap at Ascot by seven lengths. That form is working out well, with the fourth and fifth both winning next time, and the manner of his victory suggests he has even more to offer. The handicapper has hit him with a 14 lb rise in the weights, and this will be a much sterner test, but nevertheless he will be of interest if getting a run.

Eminent Poet and Paddleyourowncanoe are a couple of other last-time-out winners who also need mentioning. The first-named is something of a law unto himself, but he had his optimum conditions when winning a heavy-ground handicap over C&D after eight months off last time, producing a clear career best. However, he's been well placed to win eight races - seven of them on heavy going - and has largely avoided competitive affairs, which tempers enthusiasm here.

Paddleyourowncanoe is one of the more unexposed runners, still only a five-year-old, but he showed near-smart form when winning a handicap at Wincanton recently, helped by the emphasis on stamina at the trip (just short of two and three quarter miles). His stamina for three miles isn't assured - Flat bred and not much stamina on the dam's side - but he shapes as though worth a try at this sort of distance and he may not have stopped improving.

In summary, the one the market seems to be undervaluing at the time of writing is Thomas Campbell, but he holds multiple entries this weekend, so with that in mind, it could be worth taking a chance on Casko d'Airy getting a run. He was much improved at Ascot last time and, though he may lack the experience of some of these, the upside is he is still potentially ahead of his mark.


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