In a week of extreme precipitation across the land, our attention turns to the racing action from Sandown in an attempt to ensure your punting isn’t a complete washout. Punchestown has taken centre stage over the past few days, but, the Esher course is host to some high quality jumps and flat racing on Friday and Saturday. Alan Hughes casts his eye over a few of the contests on a decent day’s racing…
1.15 Bet365 Handicap (Class 2) 5f6y
As the early betting indicates, this race revolves around the Hamdan Al Maktoum colt Rafeej. Paul Hanagan takes the ride for his new employer and looks to be on one that could go on to bigger and better things this season (Diamond Jubilee Stakes entry at Royal Ascot). The son of Iffraaj, who incidentally has had a great start at stud, has won 2 of 2 so far, first a maiden at Bath over the minimum distance, followed by a wide margin win in nursery company at Ffos Llas on heavy ground. He beat some half decent horses on his second start and proved his liking for the conditions which is a huge positive. Iffraaj doesn’t have a great record with his progeny on soft/heavy ground so far, but this lad cut through it without much fuss, something can’t be said about most of today’s rivals. This is a race that often goes to a lightly raced individual, Night Carnation and Corrybrough to name a few, and, it is one that the favourites have a good record in, winning 4 of the last 6. This trend is likely to continue. Ballesteros has a fair amount of ability and will go on the ground, whilst the Tom Dascombe-trained Bear Behind accounted for some nice horse’s last time out when beating Hamish McGonagall (placed 2nd after stewards). He ran off 97 that day and received lumps of weight from the rest of the field – I’m not sure he can carry top weight after being raised 2lbs following that run. The Mark Johnston-trained Rafeej is a confident selection in the first at 11/10 with Boylesports. Get on now as he is likely to trade odds-on very soon.
Selection: Rafeej WIN @ 11/10 with Boylesports
1.50 Esher Cup Handicap (Class 2) 1m14y
Another small field line up for the Esher Cup, but one that is not short on a bit of quality. Six lightly raced 3 year olds go to post, but, in all honesty it is hard to be confident about any of their chances on this ground and as such I wouldn’t recommend this being a big betting race or one to include in your multiples. Grey Mirage’s form is enough to discount him, whilst Trader Jack and Grandeur both look short enough at around 5/2 the pair. The former has form on this surface and would be the more likely to handle the underfoot conditions, but, I would be willing to take them both on with a small each-way alternative. I couldn’t quite work out Graphic last season, despite the Richard Hannon-trained son of Excellent Art having a lofty reputation at home. He never looked the easiest horse to train or steer, but, he ran some nice races at the back end of last season once he got the hang of things. His penultimate run saw him finish 2nd to Kinglet at Kempton, who has subsequently gone out to Meydan and ran very nicely. He was way behind that day and took a while to arrange himself before giving chase. A tilt at a Group 3 at Newbury was a race too far for him in October, and the 7f may have been too sharp. I’m inclined to think he will be suited by a step up in distance this season (buoyed by his Tatts Millions entry over 1m2f) and I really think after strengthening and growing up mentally over the winter he will relish this. The ground is an obvious worry despite his runs at Kempton which for a synthetic surface is pretty quick. If he handles the ground then 12/1 with BetVictor is worth a small play each-way.
Selection: Graphic EW @ 12/1 with BetVictor
This is the main event as far as Friday’s racing goes, and a race I am really looking forward to watching, albeit on this testing ground. The highly tried Dubawi Gold is back after an unsuccessful stint in Dubai, whilst Famous Name finally makes it across the channel for a shot at an English Group race! The Khalid Abdulla-owned 7 year old has been mopping up weak group races in Ireland for years but takes his chance here, a choice that is attributed to the ground. Trained by Dermot Weld, he has form in behind some top horses such as So You Think, Byword and Vision D’Etat and is a force to be reckoned with today. At 7/4 (William Hill and Ladbrokes), the market has responded already, but, at that price I can’t really justify getting stuck in. If he won, it would be Dermot Weld’s only 2nd flat winner this side of the Irish Sea in the past 5 years. The aforementioned Dubawi Gold looks much more like the betting angle here and can be backed at 3/1 with Stan James. Close-up defeats from Frankel, Excelebration and Able One in the Hong Kong Mile are not to be sniffed at and he goes into this with a big chance. He seemed to cope with very soft ground at Longchamp last season, whilst is also 2/2 on anything worse than good ground which fuels a bit of optimism as far as I’m concerned. His pipe opener in Dubai won’t have done any harm and Jonny Murtagh is booked which again is a definite positive. I am not very keen on Libranno up to a mile again on this ground, whilst Questioning is a bit flattered to have beaten Twice Over in the Earl Of Sefton just a week ago but may have the beating of the rest of these, including his Doncaster conqurer Penitent, who himself won’t have any issues on the ground.
Selection: Dubawi Gold WIN @ 3/1 with Stan James