Sandown 3.00: Runner by runner
Matt Brocklebank provides a horse-by-horse guide to the 15 runners in Saturday's £50,000 three-mile handicap hurdle at Sandown.
El Terremoto: Lots in his favour at Sandown and looks dangerously weighted
There are Grade Three honours up for grabs once more in the third running of the Betfred Mobile Heroes Handicap Hurdle at Sandown, won last season by 5/1 chance Saddlers Encore from the Philip Hobbs yard.
The inaugural running went to Invicta Lake (25/1) from the Sussex stable of Suzy Smith and both Smith and Hobbs are represented again, with bottom-weight Little Boy Boru and Sky Bet's market leader Rolling Dylan respectively.
Champion trainer Paul Nicholls saddles the top two on the card in Mr Mix and Connetable, who are both owned by Dan MacDonald and Chris Giles, while the in-form Harry Fry is responsible for the JP McManus-owned Behind Time under Barry Geraghty.
Here is a thorough run through each horse's credentials for the race, which is run over a trip fractionally short of three miles.
Trainer Paul Nicholls
The first thing to note is that he is fitted with cheekpieces for the first time in his career and will also be ridden by a new jockey in 5lb-claimer Stan Sheppard. The headgear could just eke out a little more improvement as he has a 6lb higher mark to overcome as he steps up another couple of furlongs following his win at Wincanton on Boxing Day. Not a cast-iron stayer on pedigree (half-brother Royale Flag won a Grade One chase at Auteuil over two miles and six furlongs) but he ticks plenty of other boxes being a lightly-raced, progressive six-year-old from one of the best stables in the country. There are sure to be other improvers a little further down the weights, though.
Trainer Paul Nicholls
One of many nice juveniles from the Nicholls yard last term, though he did come unstuck in the Triumph Hurdle and also well beaten in handicaps off marks not too much higher the one off which he competes here. Obvious highlight this season was his chase win at Wincanton in December but no denying he was more than a shade fortunate to score that day (several fallers when in contention) and his return to the handicap ranks yielded a well-held eighth in a Newbury chase last time out. Reverts to hurdles now in a bid to restore some confidence but his mark looks too high on what we've seen so far and he's going to need significant improvement for the move up to three miles.
Trainer Tim Vaughan
It's been a very good season for jockey Alan Johns, who continues to look excellent value for his 3lb claim, and he was on board Tim Vaughan's charge when beaten narrowly by the reopposing Mr Mix at Wincanton. He's 4lb better off with that one for a three-quarter length defeat but the top horse now has a useful claimer in the saddle so there's theoretically very little between them once more. The obvious negative is that he's a bit more exposed after 21 starts over hurdles and his strike-rate isn't brilliant.
Trainer Colin Tizzard
Fascinating booking of a jockey with only a handful of rides to his credit but already three wins on the board and surely more around the corner given he's still able to claim the maximum 10lb. His mount certainly looks capable of taking a hand in the finish, despite finding this career-high handicap mark a little beyond him when ridden by Paddy Brennan at Chepstow over Christmas. Rolling Dylan and Desert Sensation were both ahead of him at the line there but the form looks strong with the winner subsequently showing up well when fifth in last weekend's Cleeve Hurdle. He certainly wouldn't be the first Tizzard horse to pop up with a personal best in a big Saturday handicap.
"Back to square one a little now and the temptation is to give up on him but he's no longer going off favourite and odds around the 20/1 look fractionally big all things considered."
Matt's take on Colin Tizzard's Valhalla
Trainer Tom George
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Hit hard by the handicapper by way of a full 14lb rise for dotting up at Wincanton when last seen but hard not to be impressed by the manner of that smooth come-from-behind victory and it wouldn't be a surprise to see him tanking into the straight here provided they go a decent gallop. Impossible to know for sure whether or not he'll fully see out the trip but he's bred to be a staying chaser in time and looks quite an exciting prospect. One note of caution is that he used to hang to his left slightly in his younger days so supporters wouldn't want a re-emergence of that on this right-handed circuit, where it can often pay to stick to the inside rail towards the finish.
Trainer Colin Tizzard
Current campaign clearly not gone completely to plan but there's a sense that he remains a very fairly handicapped animal. Shaped well on his first two starts before a slightly-disappointing fourth (beaten 13 lengths when joint-favourite) at Cheltenham in November. Far from disgraced back there the following month but decision to go chasing backfired when well-held on his fencing bow in a novices' handicap at Newbury. Back to square one a little now and the temptation is to give up on him but he's no longer going off favourite and odds around the 20/1 mark look fractionally big, all things considered. Has the potential to be a springer in the market.
Trainer Philip Hobbs
Market leader in many books and not hard to see why considering he's building up a nicely progressive profile. Also represents last year's winning team of Hobbs and Johnson. Second-season novice, having come up just short in three hurdle outings after winning his bumper but off the mark at the second time of asking this term with impressive display at Uttoxeter and heavily punted for return to handicap company at Chepstow, where he just missed out behind Shantou Bob, the form of which we've touched upon above. An 8lb rise following defeat always looks harsh but there was only a neck in it at the line and if Johnson had his time again he probably wouldn't have allowed his mount to take it up two out. Showed his inexperience when seemingly getting a little lonely approaching the line but fought on well enough and basically looks capable of taking higher rank as he gets more races under his belt and no issues over stamina for the trip.
Trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies
Interesting French recruit whose hat-trick attempt came unstuck when third in that race at Haydock run in blanket fog in December. Impossible to know what happened there (no official distances recorded) but we know he was third past the post and the winner Clyne has since gone on to bustle up The New One in the Champion Hurdle Trial and the second Le Rocher subsequently won from a 1lb higher mark at Uttoxeter. So leaving El Terremoto on the same mark could be a slightly dangerous game being played by the assessor and every chance the return to a longer trip and Daryl Jacob back in the plate (won on the five-year-old at Stratford in October) will result in a positive outcome. Certainly has a great deal to recommend him and prices around the 8/1 mark seem to underestimate his credentials for this event.
Trainer Anthony Honeyball
Gained a deserved first hurdling victory in a maiden event at Fontwell last May but the nature of that victory (17 lengths, barely came off the bridle) might have flattered him slightly and consequently found life tough from this mark on his seasonal bow when thrown in at the deep end in Kempton's Lanzarote Hurdle. Clearly entitled to be a bit sharper physically for that run, which was hardly a disgrace, but jury still out over his ability to win from a mark of 130 and others look far more solid and/or better treated.
Trainer Fergal O'Brien
Stable enjoying its best-ever season and following them all would have produced a very healthy level-stakes profit. This lad has contributed his share with a handicap win at Towcester and a decent third behind Modus in the Lanzarote last time out. No change in his mark means he needs to find more but the extra couple of furlongs on offer here looks sure to suit given how well he stuck to the task at Kempton and he's a very realistic each-way alternative to those a little closer to the top of the betting market.
Trainer Harry Fry
Failed to land a monster gamble when officially 13lb ahead of the handicapper following his Cheltenham (conditional jockeys') win at Newbury last time, sent off at odds-on as punters clearly expected him to complete the same double as stablemate Unowhatimeanharry the previous year. The step up to three miles for the first time there didn't appear to be the problem, he simply didn't hurdle fluently enough and only really found his stride late in the piece. The 'bounce' may have been a factor but it was also a very strong race which has worked out well since. New mark has kicked in now and fascinating to see how the market reacts this time but there must be a chance he is going to be over-bet once more, given his connections, and he'll need to brush up his act on the jumping front if he's to get back on the winning trail in a race as competitive as this. Overall he's probably opposable on balance.
Trainer Warren Greatrex
Outsider of the pack here having pulled-up in the North Yorkshire Grand National at Catterick last month. Potentially well handicapped back over hurdles having struggled in chases for the past couple of years, having won from a 2lb lower mark back in 2013, but far too much has to be taken on trust and presumably needs a deluge of rain to blunt the speed of some of the classier horses in opposition.
Trainer Emma Lavelle
Seems to be steadily coming to hand this term having ended last season with a victory at Wincanton in April. Finished 10 lengths behind Kk Lexion in second back there last month and obviously has some ground to make up on that running, for all that he's 13lb better off with the winner at the revised weights. Can be relied upon to help set the early fractions but the fear in this sort of company is that he might tee it up for one of the well-treated closers. Still task to make all here and doesn't look too big as a 16/1 chance.
Trainer Richard Newland
Another one representing the Shantou Bob form from Chepstow in December, having finished five lengths behind runner-up Rolling Dylan in third. Was attempting to defy another 7lb rise there having already won twice earlier in the season and chances are he might just about have found his level from a handicapping perspective. As such, a place might be the best he can hope for in a race possessing this kind of depth.
Trainer Suzy Smith
Stable landed this prize with a lightly-weighted runner a couple of years ago so not dismissed out of hand, though his chances do appear remote. The positives we can cling to are that he's a previous course winner, with loads of experience at the track, while he has slipped to a mark 10lb below his career-high of 131. Not beaten far by a well-treated Splash Of Ginge at Haydock last time but over two years since he last tasted success and he's going to need most of the flashy, unexposed types to come up well short of expectations.
CONCLUSION: Rolling Dylan is a perfectly reasonable starting point as he's obviously on a fair mark but it's slightly concerning he's still a little inexperienced and the fitting of first-time cheekpieces suggest his focus has come under the microscope. It's hard to know exactly what to make of Behind Time's Newbury effort but his jumping is an obvious flaw and he has questions to answer off his new mark, a comment that also applies to Kk Lexion, who has shot up the ratings for what was an admittedly hugely promising display. However, EL TERREMOTO looks the one to be on after his third under the cover of fog off exactly the same mark at Haydock, form which seemingly gives him a big chance if he is able to repeat it here. As a lightly-raced five-year-old from the Twiston-Davies yard, we could even expect to see more than just a repeat of that effort and he'll hopefully be suited by just about every element of this test.
Posted at 1520 on 02/02/2017
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