Race Time: 3.30pm Meeting: Sandown Day: Saturday 6th February 2016 Full Race Name: Betfred Masters Handicap Chase Class Two
Half of the horses already mentioned for the 3.15pm at Ffos Las were also entered here though we suspect Paul Nicholls may hold the key either Unioniste (7/1) or Black Thunder. Neither have exactly been at their beat this season and have failed to muster a win between them, but both are course and distance winners with a narrow preference for the youngest of the pair. His third to Gold Cup winner Coneygree at Newbury in the Denman Chase a year ago is his stand out form in our view, but after that he fell in the Grand National and has struggled ever since. Whether that is down to a loss of confidence or other reasons we can’t really second guess, but we do know he is slowly slipping down the weights and is nine pounds lower here than when facing Coneygree which suggests that if they can get him right (might never happen), then he is certainly pretty well handicapped.
Interestingly, Black Thunder (6/1) is the mount of stable jockey Sam Twiston-Davies which came as a bit of a surprise, and could yet tell its own story. He has won off a mark of 155 so todays 149 is hardly punitive, but then again he has been sadly out of sorts in his last four races so we need to see a bit of a sign of a comeback before we would be willing to part with any of our hard earned money.
Back to Venetia Williams next and he will hopefully send Saroque (7/1) here as the nine year old has won here over shorter, and at Exeter over this trip. He is pretty consistent over fences with three wins four seconds and a third from fourteen starts over the larger obstacles, which is encouraging for the each way thieves, and ran a blinder when fourth to Mountainous in the Welsh Grand National when last seen in action, yet has somehow been put down a pound? At his very best he would arrive with a decent enough chance (this is one tough race), and with his consistency he may yet end up as our each way option – we shall see once the final runners are known and the prices are out.
Mick Channon expected a bit more from Knock House (7/1) last time out when the seven year old was fourth to Aachen at Cheltenham, but he stumbled badly and lost his rhythm that day and we think we can forgive him. Prior to that he had beaten Heronry at Huntingdon and Foxbridge at Cheltenham as well as a second to Open Hearted at Fakenham and although he has been gradually going up in the weights, he is one of the babies of the field, and may well have a lot more improvement to offer than his elder rivals.
Our last horse for the day (on Channel 4 at least) will be our old friend Le Reve (5/1), yet another who flatters to deceive and is due a big race win this season. Lucy Wadham trains the eight year old who looked as if his turn was near when second to Kruzhlinin at Kempton but failed to build on that next time out when only sixth to Ziga Boy at Doncaster last weekend. He hasn’t won in six races and almost exactly a year, but comes good at this part of the season and is within a few pounds of the major contenders in our view in what is rapidly looking like the hardest race of the day.