Saturday 5th January
Sandown 3.00: 8 ROCK GONE @ 7/1 / 6 KINGS LAD @ 16/1 / 16 RATHLIN ROSE @ 8/1 - all 1 point e/w
Paddy Power and Skybet paying 6 places. Many others paying 5 places
The biggest field of the day sees 17 set to line up for this Veterans Chase. This is the final of a series of races for 10 year-olds and upwards with the qualifiers taking place through the autumn and early winter. There is a £100K prize-fund for the race and I, for one, think it's an excellent initiative, not least because it's gives us the chance to watch many 'old friends' compete against each other through the season. It's sure to be a good spectacle and it looks a very competitive renewal.
Charlie Longsdon runs two of the oldest runners in the field here and one of those, the 13 year-old, LOOSE CHIPS is one of my favourite horses in training. His trainer describes him as "a bit of a rogue" but he is a real trier and this front-runner rarely goes down without a fight. He absolutely loves going right-handed and his record over course-and-distance is excellent, with 3 wins and 6 places from 10 runs. The only time he has finished outside the first 3 over this track and trip was in last year's race where, in his usual front-running style, he still ran very creditably to finish 5th which, of course, with enhanced places widely available, would be good enough for an each-way return here. He is 1lb lower than last year and 2lbs lower than 2 years ago, when he finished 3rd in this race, but, whist I can see him running really well again, I'm letting my head rule my heart and can't see him quite having enough to win this.
The other Longsdon inmate is another teenager and, at 15 years old, is the oldest horse in the race. That horse is PETE THE FEAT and he is another who goes well at this track. He won this contest 2 years ago and finished a game 2nd last year. He is another who loves it here and has, also, run 10 times over course-and-diatnce. His record, at 3 wins and 3 places, is not quite as impressive as that of his stable-mate but it is very good nonetheless. Whilst he is 2lbs higher than last year, and 8lbs higher than when winning the race, he is 1lb lower than when winning over the trip here in March and if he were to win this there would not be a dry eye in the house. Like Loose Chips, however, whilst he may run another good race here, he may just find a few too good for him.
Another course specialist is LE REVE and he, too, has won 3 times at this track over this distance. Those 3 wins have come from just 4 runs and he came 2nd in the other outing. He has had a few injury issues and returned from 18 months off the track with his seasonal debut, in November, where he finished 3rd (of only 3 runners) in a qualifier for this race. This, like many others in here, will have been the target and, whilst the trainer has stated that she would have liked to have got another run into him, he could go well here off a very favourable mark.
Yet another with good form at this venue is RATHLIN ROSE. He, too, can boast 3 wins over course-and-distance, although they all came in lower class amateur military riders' races. He did, however, run respectably here when 4th, behind Loose Chips, on seasonal reappearance in November. He caught my eye with how well he seemed to travel for much of the race that day and only tired late on up the hill. Connections would have been encouraged by that and he looks to have been kept for this race since then. He has been dropped 2lbs for that run and, whilst he would probably prefer softer ground than he is likely to get here has to be one of the main contenders. David Pipe won the inaugural running of this race, in 2016, with Soll, and his horses have been in decent form in recent weeks.
Ahead of Rathlin Rose in that race over course-and-distance, and second behind Loose Chips, was ROCK GONE for Dr Richard Newland. He is very lightly raced for a horse now at the veteran stage and has, clearly, been very difficult to train. That November race was his comeback run after an absence of just over a year. He should come on for that run and is a horse that has often run better second time back after a break. He has only run 6 times over fences but has kept some good company in some of those races and, even at the age of 11, could still have improvement in him. The trainer is a shrewd operator and will have aimed him at this nice pot. Sam Twiston-Davies is on board and he seems to be the 'go to' jockey when the stable fancy one. Although the trainer states that he would prefer soft ground, the horse ran well in the 2 class 1 races he has contested on good ground, at Ascot and at the Cheltenham Festival, so the likely drying ground should not be an excuse.
The lack of any recent significant rain means that the ground is currently Good To Soft, Soft in places and even some Good patches down the back straight. The ground may ride a little 'dead' but it certainly won't play into the hands of those who would like the genuinely soft ground normally prevalent at this time of the year. On the basis of that, I would have to rule out the likes of BISHOPS ROAD, BAND OF BLOOD and, despite the fine current form of the trainer, TENOR NIVERNAIS.
Amongst those who will be suited by the drying ground are HENLLAN HARRI, whose best performance came at this track when winning the Bet365 Chase in April 2017, THEATRE GUIDE, who has some impressive back-form and is now looking exceedingly well-handicapped if able to rediscover any of his old sparkle, and EXITAS, who, after suffering bleeding issues earlier in his career, has actually been in the best form of his career this past year.
EXITAS is one who interested me greatly but I actually preferred the chances of one who got the better of him at Chepstow in October and that is KINGS LAD. He is a horse who does not seem to be too ground dependent, having won on ground ranging from good to heavy, but he did show some excellent form in late Spring and early Autumn when the underfoot conditions were not too testing. The race he won in October was a qualifier and he had 4 of today's opponents in behind, including Exitas. He seemed to out-stay Exitas on that occasion and is now, actually, 6lbs better off than the runner-up here.
After that win, he was pitched into a deeper race in early November, at Ascot, where he finished 5th before pulling up just a week later in The Badger Ales Chase at Wincanton. He, possibly, found that race coming too soon after his previous exertions at Ascot and has been kept fresh since then.
Harry Cobden takes the ride and, interestingly, he is 2/2 when riding the horse, including in that Chepstow contest. He, also, has a very good record riding for the Tizzard stable. With 6 places on offer, this one offers some good each-way value in my opinion.
There was talk of possible retirement for last year's winner BUYWISE after his run over hurdles last month but he lines up here looking for a repeat of the same mark as 12 months ago. He has been a real character over the years, whose jumping has often let him down but he was given an outstanding ride by Leighton Aspell last year and, if his jumping holds up, he may be staying up the hill as well as anything at the end. It is just a question as to whether he will be close enough to challenge for a repeat victory.