Sandown hosts its traditional pre-Cheltenham meeting on Saturday. As ever, the Imperial Cup is the main draw on a card full of competitive races. Big-name trainers have supported the meeting as they always do, with some of the best horses not heading to Cheltenham locking horns at Sandown with the ITV Racing cameras in tow.
Saturday is also a big day for Wolverhampton. The Lady Wulfruna Stakes and Lincoln Trial are the biggest races of the year for Wolverhampton and both races will be covered by ITV Racing in addition to the jumps action from Sandown. That gives us a nice mix of action this weekend, so, whilst all thoughts might just be drifting to the Festival, let’s not get ahead of ourselves and enjoy this Saturday’s televised racing first. As usual, we’ve gone through the big races from both courses in this week’s Saturday Racing Tips.
1:31 Betway Handicap
Class 2, 6f
Wolverhampton stages a huge number of meetings all year round but few get the sort of attention that Saturday’s will. Every race on the card features some decent prize money and owners have responded by providing strong, competitive looking fields. That is very much the case with the opener, as cases can be made for most of the nine runners.
There is an obvious class angle in the race with the top three in the weights also filling the top three in the betting market. However, the value lies a little bit lower with Asadjumeirah catching the eye at the very nice price of 13/2. Anthony Brittain’s four-year-old has been kept busy all winter and has secured some strong results with hold-up tactics working a charm. If he breaks well and gets into a rhythm, Asadjumeirah can let the pace setters do their thing before striking for home powerfully in the latter stages.
1:50 European Breeders’ Fund Paddy Power ‘National Hunt’ Novices’ Handicap Hurdle Final
Grade 3, 2m4f
The first ITV Race of the day from Sandown has a very competitive look to it. A quick scan down the race card shows that several powerful yards have entered horses about whom they have high hopes. Moreover, the race has nearly a full complement of runners, with 17 making it through the final declaration stage.
It’s going to take a big run and no shortage of fortune for any horse to win this. From a betting perspective then, it’s all about trying to find the best value and that could lie with the 9/1 available about Dubrovnik Harry’s chances. Hary Fry’s six-year-old had the look of a horse who would step up for more experience on his debut. He’s subsequently gone off as the odds-on favourite twice, with mixed results. There were excuses for failing to win when a 1/3 favourite last time out and he just didn’t get the trip on testing ground. The good to soft conditions at Sandown will be much more suitable and he can utilise his undoubted class to win at a generous price.
2:05 MansionBet Lincoln Trial Handicap
Class 2, 1m½f
The Lincoln fires the starting pistol on the Flat season in some regards. We’re only three weeks away from the big race at Doncaster but the prep for the Lincoln steps up a notch with the MansionBet Lincoln Trial Handicap at Wolverhampton. Of all 12 runners, it’s bookies’ favourite La Tihaty who features most prominently in the betting for the Lincoln at a best price of 14/1. It would take a very impressive win at Wolverhampton for La Tihaty’s price to shorten too much given the calibre of horses in the ante post betting but there could be significant movement in the price of United Front.
The Michael Appleby inmate is as big as 50/1 for the Lincoln but an impressive run at Wolverhampton would put a dent in those odds. United Front didn’t run in the Lincoln last year, despite having an entry, because Appleby didn’t believe he’d be well suited by what he called “a cavalry charge”. With one more – very busy – year of experience under his belt, United Front looks better suited to a battling away in a big-field, highly competitive contest. He can prove that at Wolverhampton by winning the Lincoln Trial at the generous looking price of 9/1.
2:25 Paddy Power Imperial Cup Handicap Hurdle
Grade 3, 2m
Horses who don’t go well at Cheltenham aren’t spoken about very much at this time of year but the Paddy Power Imperial Cup provides a cracking opportunity for horses who won’t be making the trip to Prestbury Park this year. Samarrive is one of those who hasn’t shone previously at Cheltenham so it’s little surprise that connections have avoided the draw of the Festival and instead sent him to Sandown on Saturday.
The odds of 14/1 suggest that Samarrive is up against it with the market favouring Balco Coastal (7/2) but should Paul Nicholls’ five-year-old return to the sort of form that saw him win a Listed race over course and distance in early December, he can outrun those odds with ease. His handicap mark was too high last time out so don’t put too much stock into the fact he was pulled up at Ascot and instead back Samarrive each way for the big race of the day.
2:40 MansionBet Lady Wulfruna Stakes
Racing prominently is often the best way to approach a 7f race on the all-weather here at Wolverhampton. Those were the tactics employed by Richard Kingscote when he partnered Misty Grey to success here on Boxing Day. That win made it four from four for the five-year-old at Wolverhampton and he is being well backed to further improve on that record in the Lady Wulfruna Stakes.
To win, Misty Grey will have to overcome a tough draw in stall nine. Usually, horses drawn eight or higher would be avoided by punters but there is justifiable hope that assertive tactics will limit the impact of the draw. Misty Grey certainly has the pace to get to the front early and the stamina to hold on so he looks the horse to beat at 3/1.
3:00 British Stallion Studs EBF Mares’ Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race
Willie Mullins has an incredible record in the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham – although you could say that at many of the key races there in truth. He will once again arrive with a very strong team for next week’s contest but before then he has a very interesting runner in Sandown’s bumper in the shape of Eabha Grace.
While the five-year-old is not one of the most promising horses from the Mullins yard, she showed enough on debut to suggest that she is much better than average. She was able to overcome signs of greenness to win on debut and was not the only fancied horse not to fire last time out at Leopardstown where the first three home were priced 40/1, 33/1 and 14/1 respectively. She’s still very much learning the game but Eabha Grace’s natural ability could be enough to see her secure a second win here at 15/2.
3:35 Paddy Power Novices’ Handicap Chase
Paul Nicholls and Harry Cobden could well be looking to end a strong day on a high by the time the Paddy Power Novices’ Handicap Chase comes round. The trainer/jockey partnership have some strong chances throughout the card but could Danny Kirwan be their best chance of all of earning a win? The nine-year-old is the bookies’ favourite for the final race of the day at Sandown but still makes plenty of appeal at 5/2, a price we believe is too big.
Danny Kirwan did not put a foot wrong when winning at Wincanton last time out. It may have been a case of third time lucky over fences for him with the fitting of cheekpieces and a drop down to calmer waters obviously helping, but Danny Kirwan looks ready to kick on with his chasing career and can bag this Listed race to the delight of Nicholls and Cobden … and us!