EVEN though we are less than a month away from the start of spring, the wet winter weather shows no sign of relenting and Sandown’s card tomorrow will again be run on near enough heavy ground.
The main betting race of the day is the Betfred Heroes Handicap Hurdle (3.00pm), which will be a real slog over the best part of three miles.
When the entries first came out at the beginning of the week, my eyes were immediately drawn to the three oldest runners.
Gary Moore’s Ubak runs off the same mark from which he won a valuable handicap at Aintree a couple of years ago and is proven on soft ground.
The concern is that he may not be the horse he was, although it would be no surprise to see him run well at a huge price.
Every drop of rain that falls will help Irish raider Folsom Blue, who is a year older than Ubak but potentially still well-handicapped over hurdles.
Then there is the other 11-year-old Buywise who bounced back to form under similar conditions over fences here last month,
My concern with him is that his hurdling form is nothing to write home about and it’s been a long time since he put two good runs together.
The more I look at the race, the more my head is turned by the three six-year-olds with my slight preference for Harry Fry’s MELROSE BOY over Golan Fortune and Topofthegame.
The manner of his seasonal reappearance win at Cheltenham on soft ground suggested that he would be ideally suited by a step up to this sort of distance, so it was no surprise to see him beaten at Newbury when dropped back in trip just before Christmas.
He won a moderate race at Fontwell by 50 lengths a fortnight ago which proved very little other than the fact that he handles heavy ground and is in rude health.
There is no getting away from the fact that he is still a well-handicapped horse off a mark of 135 and at 11/2 with Coral I expect him to take plenty of beating.
His biggest threat looks to be Topofthegame who ran extremely well when fourth in the Lanzarote last month.
He has gone up 3lbs for that effort but shaped as if well worth a try at this trip.
Finally, I have to mention Golan Fortune who seems to be improving at a rate of knots having bolted up at both Ascot and Kempton last December.
The trip should be no problem for him too and it’s just a question of whether the handicapper has finally caught up with him.
We won’t know the final runners for the Grade One Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase (2.25pm) until later this morning, but I’m very keen on the chances of Gary Moore’s BENATAR.
He rounded off his solid novice hurdling career with a decent fourth to Finian’s Oscar in the Grade One Mersey Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree, with a promise from his trainer that he would vastly improve when switched to fences.
That very much seems to be the case as the six-year-old has won all three starts over the larger obstacles, twice at Ascot and also at Plumpton.
He handles soft ground and his trainer has made noises about stepping him up in trip, so he has the necessary stamina.
Nicky Henderson’s Terrefort looked impressive on his debut for his new yard at Huntingdon last month, but meets a good one here in Benatar.
Finally, I’m going to have a few quid each-way on Charlie Longsdon’s LOOSE CHIPS at around 14/1 in the Betfred Mobile Masters Handicap (3.35pm).
The race is ultra-competitive with the likes of Final Nudge and Sametegal in opposition, but he jumped so well at the track last time and has been dropped another pound since.
Benatar 2.25pm Sandown
Melrose Boy 3.00pm Sandown
Loose Chips e/w 3.35pm Sandown