Tony Calvin: Rifleman is worthy Esher Cup favourite but hold fire

Sandown Racecourse
It's Esher Cup day at Sandown on Friday

Tony Calvin offers a typically frank assessment of the antepost betting for this Friday at Sandown and recommends waiting before wagering. Find out why...

Friday’s card looks one to hold fire on until we get Wednesday’s final decs. I will be back on Tuesday with another ante-post column, with a good look at Saturday’s ITV cards (Sandown and Leicester) and hopefully a bet or two.

The National Hunt season officially draws to a close at Sandown this weekend when Betfair ambassador Paul Nicholls formally regains his champion trainers title for the 12th time - though we only have to wait three days for Punchestown to put the jumps firmly back on the agenda once again next week - and the two-day April fixture there has long been one of my favourites.

I was always a bit of a precocious type when it came to betting and I was not long into my teens when I joined the coach party from the local Highwayman pub in Watford for Esher Cup day.

In fact, I was probably just into double-figures when I first got on board the bus.

A brave new world.

There were some tasty scenes on those trips, I can tell you - even before we left the pub car park after a few early-morning liveners - and I think I must have been the only one who didn't back Filthy Luca's good thing Raykour in 1988.

No, 13/8 winners were not good enough for me back then, just value losers, and little has changed in 23 years, it seems.

Rifleman takes aim at Esher Cup

We have three Group races on Sandown's Friday Flat card and there are 15 runners in this year's Esher Cup renewal (13:50), in which the Betfair Sportsbook make Rifleman their early 3/1 favourite.

These 3yo handicaps are notoriously tricky at this time of the year - or any time, really - as you don't really know what you are dealing with (Raykour was second in the Group 1 St James' Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot less than two months after winning this handicap).

We know that Naamoos is fit and in-form after winning in a good time at Musselburgh on his return but he could have showed his hand a touch too early there as he went up 7lb for it, and he has lightly-raced bluebloods and inmates from the Gosden, Stoute, Haggas etc camps ranged against him now.

With running plans up in the air, and the race priced up defensively as a result, it looks one to revisit on Wednesday morning.

Impressive Khuzamm can upset Palace Pier

It looks like Sandown on Friday could be hosting one of last year's star turns as the 125-rated Palace Pier is entered in the bet365 Mile at 15:00, and little wonder the Sportsbook has put him in as the 8/13 favourite as the conditions of the race means he doesn't carry any penalty for his two Group 1 wins (penalties only kick in after August 31, and he netted his brace before then).

So if the dual course winner is anywhere near straight (and he won on his debut in 2019, and first time up in 2020), then something will have to improve markedly to down him.

Khuzaam could be such a horse after a ridiculously impressive win on Good Friday but everyone knows that, including the market, which has him as the 9/4 second favourite.

Only nine are entered in the Gordon Richards Stakes (14:25) on the card, but eight are already jocked up (recent Kempton winner Al Zaraqaan being the exception), and Waldkonig just shades Highest Ground in the early betting at 5/2.

It looks a very tricky one to call to me at the moment.

I should mention the going and weather forecast. It is currently good (good to firm) on the Flat track, with watering taking place on Monday, and the same on the jumps track, which has been getting 10mm daily.

Whether that continues all week, we shall see, but the dry, sunny weather seems set in.

Wise to wait until Wednesday

The other ITV race is the 1m2f Classic Trial (15:35), which has a attracted a bumper field of 20 entries but it obviously remains to be seen how many stand their ground with the going riding on the quick side.

It must have been a nightmare to price up but the layers have come up with course winner Yibir as their surprisingly warm favourite, and he is a 2/1 chance with the Sportsbook.

Given the manner in which the Charlie Appleby string is going and the way Yibir's Newbury defeat of Megallan has been franked since, that is understandable enough I guess, but this half-brother to the stable's Prix de L'Opera winner Wild Illusion looks no bargain to me against this field.

In summary, Friday's card looks one to hold fire on until we get Wednesday's final decs.

I will definitely be back on Tuesday with another ante-post column, with a good look at Saturday's ITV cards (Sandown and Leicester) and hopefully a bet or two.

Tony's P&L

2021 FLAT SEASON (started April 14):

Staked: 15pts

Returns: 2.7pts

P/L -12.3pts

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