Sight the Gun to go one better
January is a quiet month for racing every year and in complete honesty, we could all do with a slight lull after the plethora of top-quality action over the Christmas period. We do of course, have the Grade 1 Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown to keep up tied over this weekend.
However, there are some further betting heats I'm interested in in the supporting handicaps on Sandown's card. The first being a 0-145 Handicap Chase over 1m7f199y at 13:50 where we have seven declared runners.
After going back through the trends for this race, there were two standout contenders. The first was Numitor who is an eight-year-old with a slightly less than ideal rating for this contest.
Recent renewals of this race suggest siding with a seven or an eight-year-old, rated 134-140 however, that trend hasn't been seen to such a strong effect. A horse who is ridden up with the pace and has at least two runs this season is also favoured. Ideally, that horse ran well last time out and has had at least a three week break since their last run. Hence why Numitor fits almost all these trends perfectly and makes him a tentative omission from my bets.
Instead, I'm siding with a very similarly profiled horse in Gunsight Ridge who is a seven-year-old, rated 130- so 2lb less than Numitor.
However, for all this horse is also not ideally high enough rated for this contest, he ran to an RPR of 137 last time out which certainly puts him in the reckoning for this race.
I'm hoping he'll be ridden prominently here and he has a very consistent profile to put to good use. His second last time out behind L'Homme Presse doesn't look too shabby at all now. L'Homme Presse won his next two starts including his ultra-impressive win on New Year's Day at Cheltenham in the Grade 2 Dipper Novices' Chase.
Gunsight Ridge was 10 lengths clear of the third horse which makes this 3lb rise more than feasible for him to overcome. He's had a good recovery time since that latest outing so should have all variables in his favour to get the job done in handicap company, finally. He's a marginal selection over Numitor.
Each-way play in the Veterans' Finale
One of my favourite races of the entire national hunt season is the Veterans' Handicap Chase series final at Sandown at 15:00. Officially this race is for 10yo+ however, in order to get into this race you must have run in one of the qualifying races earlier in the season meaning that the youngest horse is always an 11-year-old.
That generally means a different approach must be taken when assessing this final as opposed to the usual, just side with the youngest horse in the race mantra. Of course, the 11-year-olds do take a prominence when looking through the field however, this race doesn't simply lend itself to that trend. Last year for example, the race was won by Seeyouatmidnight as a 13-year-old which was also the age of the 2017 winner, Pete The Feat.
The trends do suggest that looking at the 11-year-olds firstly, is good practise however. It's then worth siding with a horse rated in the 130s who has had two runs already this season. The horse didn't have to run well last time out but it helps if that run came one month ago.
Now, there is usually a lot of pace in this race which is understandable as most of these veterans are pretty wise to the game by now.
They are therefore, sent forwards to try and avoid demoralising them by being in behind runners and sulking. Yet again, there looks to be plenty of pace on in this year's renewal.
It's understandable to think that a selection should be one of those ridden prominently. However, the only doubt about a hold-up performer really in this race, is their attitude if taking a lead. If a horse can be found without such temperament queries, then that makes them very likeable to pick up the pieces if the pace collapses.
I'm hoping the horse who will come from off the pace and win is Gwencily Berbas for the David Pipe team. He's one of the youngest horses in the race being an 11-year-old with an ideal mark of 132. He won last time out by coming from off the pace to romp home by 9 ½ lengths at Exeter.
That was his second run of this season after qualifying for the final when third on his reappearance start over this course and distance. That run looked a perfect sighter for the final and also kept his handicap mark in an ideal range.
He's had one month to recover from his latest outing and this certainly looks to have been the target for him. He's available at an each-way price still at 12.011/1 and should have every chance.
Time to deliver for Hermes Boy
Sandown's final race on Saturday is a fascinating contest in the form of a 0-145 Handicap Hurdle over 1m7f216y at 15:35. I've been backwards and forwards with this race, toying between three runners who all have huge chances.
Those three are, Hermes Boy, Mack The Man and Volkovka. Splitting them has been a bit of a nightmare if I'm being totally honest. This trio all possess the perfect criteria needed for this contest on recent renewals.
Horses aged five or eight have won the last five runnings with each performing well on their latest starts. An official rating of 122-134 is optimal for the race and ideally, the horse has had at least one run already that season.
It's difficult to know exactly which running style is most favoured but it's very difficult to either make all or to completely drop out. A break of at least three weeks since a horse's latest outing is another positive. Unfortunately for me, all three aforementioned horses fit each of these trends which has meant I've had to delve deeper.
Mack The Man is a very likeable horse but he is difficult to catch right. We do know though that he's a listed handicap hurdle course and distance winner where he beat Protektorat in December 2019. He looked likely to go close in the Betfair Hurdle on his next start but for being brought down. He didn't look the same force subsequently, even when winning at Wincanton.
However, he won again last time out at Exeter in a race he really should have won much easier if back to his best. Those slight doubts I have about the horse he is nowadays leads me to tentatively side against him for all the variables are in his favour.
The other runner who fits the trends is Volkovka who ran a fantastic race last time out under a quite inspired ride by Peter Kavanagh. Not all brilliant rides end in victory unfortunately and this was certainly one of those. Kavanagh had Volkovka held up in rear behind the strong pace in the Mares' Handicap Hurdle over 2m3f173y and left his challenge as late as possible.
He took the 'Paddy Brennan route' of coming wide into the home straight which again, was a good ploy to stay off the inside rail. Unfortunately for Kavanagh and Volkovka, they bumped into a very well handicapped and still potentially smart mare.
That running style, if implemented again under Brennan who takes over, will likely be seen to good effect. My main concern about this mare's chances is the trip against some very speedy types. She certainly stayed the 2m4f last time out as she wasn't cutting out at the line but as stated, she happened to bump into a very well handicapped rival. She has a 5lb rise to overcome as well but is still a very likeable proposition.
That leaves one horse to side with for a win only bet. That horse is Hermes Boy who is bidding to emulate his stablemate, Monsieur Lecoq who won this race so impressively in 2019.
Hermes Boy has been a fascinating character to follow in his short career so far. He was third on debut in a Bangor bumper which was unusual to see from a Jane Williams runner. Williams usually likes to send her horses straight over obstacles so they can do their learning on the job that way. So straight away he stood out as something a little different.
He made his hurdle debut at Worcester where he finished second after hanging and looking very awkward in the hands of Chester Williams who essentially, had to strangle him in the finish to keep him straight. He was certainly eye-catching though and straight away it was apparent what ability lay under the bonnet to be unleashed at some point.
That hanging was again apparent at Bangor though on his second hurdle start where the horse showed his quirks once more and he was overturned as the odds-on favourite to finish second.
Everything came together for him last time out at Exeter where he was a cosy winner of a Novices' Hurdle over 2m161y. He looked far straighter and like he was finally maturing. The form of that contest looked slightly suspect at the time as Dubrovnik Harry was far too green to do himself any justice when finishing third.
That horse has since bolted up by 25 lengths though from the second, American Gerry who also finished second in the Hermes Boy Exeter race.
That form looks strong and this race seems to have been the plan for Hermes Boy for a team continuing to have a very good season. I think he's a much better horse than a mark of 124 suggests and he can land this prize for the Williams team once more.