Race Time: 2.25pm Meeting: Sandown Day: Saturday 5th December Full Race Name: Jumeirah Hotels And Resorts December Handicap Hurdle (Listed Race) Class One
For an ultra competitive handicap we were surprised to see that 12/1 was the biggest priced winner in the past ten years when the Gary Moore trained Verasi scored way back in 2009, so it may be worthwhile keeping a close eye on the market here today. Nicky Henderson has won three of the last ten renewals including last year with 3/1 favourite Snake Eyes, and he has decided to rely on Nesterenko (7/1) which caught us a bit off guard as he had better fancied horses in the original declarations. Connections must be getting a little fed up with being put up in the weights for picking up the runners up money at both Worcester and Stratford before unseating at Ascot, a run that has seen the handicappers leave him on exactly the same mark. We cant say we feel he is necessarily well in at the weights by any stretch but he is the choice of his powerful stable, so we do think a big run is anticipated.
Dr Richard Newland loves it round here and is showing a profit to level stakes over the last five years, and does remarkably well with his few horses leaving Ebony Express (10/1) as our idea of the value call each way. He is a course and distance winner after scoring here last March off a rating of 131 and although five pounds higher today, claiming jockey Charlie Hammond takes ten off his back so he is effectively five pounds lower. His jockey has won a couple of races so is perhaps a bit better than it looks at first glance, and if he gets to the front the horse is pretty tough and will take some passing.
John Ferguson has decided that he will rely on Devilment (13/2) today from his early entries and as the yard are back in among the winners, he could be an interesting option despite the small matter of having to carry top weight. His sixth place in the Greatwood Hurdle when the stable were out of sorts wasn’t as bad as it looks at first glance as he tried to give weight to the entire field, and he was only beaten less than ten lengths at the line, leaving the son of Cape Cross on the same mark of 147 today and in with an each way chance. Three hurdling wins at Wetherby, Doncaster, and Cheltenham show he has plenty of ability, though once again a drying wind may be helpful as he looks at his best on a decent surface.
Looking for a dark horse next and how about the Paul Nicholls trained Some Plan (5/1), who is incredibly lightly raced for a seven year old with just the six races on the clock. Two novice hurdle wins at Southwell and Musselburgh sandwiched a second place to Seedling at Cheltenham after which he was sent to the Festival to compete in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle where he was tenth of the eleven finishers. Having got him that far, trainer Tom George saw his owners decided he needed a change of scenery and moved him to the Nicholls yard, where they presumably feel he can improve even further, and it will be interesting to see if they correct or not. If they are, then by definition he will be ahead of the handicapper this afternoon, and as he is clearly a late maturing sort we will be watching his price with a great deal of interest.
Trying to find a horse who has won off of a higher rating has proved difficult, unless you count Savello (6/1) who has won off of much higher marks and recently as well – but over fences not hurdles. He did run a huge race at Cheltenham over the smaller obstacles off the same mark when pulling too hard for his own good before finishing fourth in October, but if he settles better here there are far worse outsiders here who ought to finish behind him. Wins over fences in his native Ireland prove he has plenty of ability, and with trainer Dan Skelton learning more about him every day, if there is an upset he may well be the one.