Race Time: 2.00pm Meeting: Sandown
Distance: 2m 211 yards
Full Race Name: bet365 Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (Class 2)
The original 21 declared with the all powerful yards holding multiple entries have been cut down to just the eleven for race day but Champion trainer Paul Nicholls has decided to rely on Old Guard (6/1) alone which may be a point worth taking on board. We thought he was the least likely to run to be fair but he does have some decent form that includes a win at Newbury and a ninth when last seen in the Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival but overall, we are not convinced he is good enough to give weight away to the rest of them this afternoon.
Only two horses showing up this afternoon won last time out, and as Lil Rockerfeller (11/2) is also a distance winner he deserves first mention of the pair. Neil King’s gelding was pretty impressive at Ascot last time out when running on well under pressure (so the uphill fish here should hold no fears), but he didn’t have that change of gear the top hurdlers have in their armoury and a place may be the best he can hope for. Alzammar (5/1) is the other recent winner but that was over further and he has failed to score in four attempts at this two miles or so which surely has to rank as some concern to his backers? He is stupidly consistent with places in every single race he has ever attempted over obstacles, but whether that is enough to see him rewarded here seems pretty doubtful.
Dr Richard Newland is a name we all know since his Grand National victory with Pineau De Re but he has always been more than capable given the tools to do the job, and he has a decent juvenile in his care in Vosne Romanee (14/1). He is better off at the weights with Lil Rockerfeller and Sternrubin on Ascot form, and may get a lot closer to that pair this afternoon though Unanimite was eight lengths in front of him that day – and only a pound worse off here. Better ground may suit the son of Arakan, which could change things around a bit, and he may well be one we consider very seriously for exotics and forecasts.
David Pipe rounds off our look at this particularly competitive race and has one entry left with Unanimite (6/1). One we have looked out for all season, he won easily enough at Market Rasen on his return to action back in September but has failed to trouble the judge since in five more races, though he has placed in the front four in four of those five contests. Sadly (for his connections), that has seen him sneak up the weights all be it by just the four pounds, which may be why they have struggled to add another win to his small collection. Better ground is expected this weekend (if we believe a word the forecasters tell us), which will suit him admirably, and he could yet pull off a bit of a shock with Tom Scudamore the likely jockey.