One winning favourite plus a joint favourite in the last ten years, but interestingly not one winner at a double figure price, so not a race for big surprises as yet and one that historically seems to favour the punter. Paul Nicholls has won three of the last ten renewals but as he doesn’t even have an entry that information is superfluous, and it may be best to start this race preview with Shanroe Santos (7/2) who looks to have a superb chance. Statistics are always tough to interpret when there are only small numbers to play with, and Newmarket trainer Lucy Wadham fits that description with her small string, and one winner from her last seven runners for a 17% strike rate. Her last winner was Shanroe Santos on the 24th of February and he is set to be back in action here as he looks to follow up. His jumping left a lot to be desired last time out at Warwick when he won despite it and not because of it, losing a shoe in the process, suggesting he would have been an even easier winner had he got it right at a few more fences. A four-pound rise seems sensible enough in the circumstances and he could be well in here if he puts in a clear round, and after extensive schooling at home he looks outstanding value here.
Anyone following the Alan King yard this season has never been too far away from their next winner and he will be hoping that Willoughby Hedge (4/1) can keep that run going and follow up his course and distance victory just over three weeks ago. That was in a very similar race where he wore a visor for the first time and jumped superbly throughout with assistant trainer Dan Horsford reporting after that win that “Willoughby Hedge jumped well and got into a nice rhythm. The visor has woken him up. I thought he had got there too soon, but he just kept rolling and galloping. This time last year we were looking at Cheltenham with him….” suggesting they have always though a fair bit of the son of King’s Theatre. If the visor works its magic a second time then he should go well even off his eight pounds higher mark and seems extremely likely to get involved in the finish.
As we all know by now, trainer Colin Tizzard is near to the top of the training tree with his top-class string that includes Cue Card and Native River as well as the currently side-lined Thistlecrack, but he has a pretty decent record with his handicappers as well and Masters Hill (6/1) will no doubt make a bold bid at carrying top weight to success here. He is inclined to mix hurdles and fences recently with a second to Tornado In Milan at Wincanton over the smaller obstacles in early February, and a five length third to Perfect Candidate at Exeter over fences later the same month. He hasn’t won a race in thirteen starts now, a run stretching back to February 2015, and runs off the same rating today of 137, but there is a fear he has lost the winning habit, and others may well have better claims today.
Umberto D’Olivate (11/1) is an interesting runner for trainer Robert Walford who is going though a lean spell with no winers from just the seven runners in the last two weeks. as for the horse, he has already win two races this season, both over this three miles but both at Exeter, and it will be interesting to see how he handles the Sandown fences. Put up thirteen pounds for his last victory he was already struggling in rear before unseating behind Shanroe Santos at Warwick last time out and has been left on exactly the same handicaps rating here, suggesting he will struggle again until the handicapper relents and puts him down a few pounds.
To end with, the Jonjo O’Neill yard have to hit top gear some time this season, and when they do, they have a stable full of well handicapped horses. Upswing (5/1) would be a good example running off a mark of 129 today, having finished second to Sausalito Sunrise at Cheltenham in November 2015 off of ten pounds higher. A third place to Blameitalonmyroots last time out at Kempton was his first place since and he has been dropped another three pounds now, and if he can get back to his best for a stable improving slowly with a 17% strike rate, he is undoubtedly well handicapped and could have got in under the radar.