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SANDOWN, 6th November 2016
Going: GOOD (Good to Soft in places)


A little rain finally fell on a jump racecourse somewhere during November when Sandown received a few drops midweek, enough to force the appearance of 'good to soft in places' in the going description for their opening meeting of the jumps season, but it didn't prevent small fields throughout the card.

Race one was a conditional jockeys' 0-130 handicap hurdle over 2m3f173y and the most interesting horse for the future is the winner Red Infantry, a tall, workmanlike gelding who'll jump a fence. He'd jumped left when running second to Beware The Bear at Southwell in May on his most recent outing and was running right-handed for the first time here - something which presumably he won't do again soon, as after he was ridden to led approaching the second last he went badly left, effectively taking out Clemency, and he stayed on well to repel the rallying Vedani (smallish, leggy), who pinched a race from the front at Bangor the last time he was over hurdles and tried to make all on this occasion, sticking to his task when the winner went on.

Earthmoves, who'd been off for over a year, looked fit enough but lost his place at the third last, ending up in rear before keeping on in the straight to get back in contention, but the damage had been done. He's well made, and presumably goes chasing next.

Clemency (close-coupled, leggy) came off the bridle after the third last, but held her place and was staying on, holding a winning chance, when Red Infantry went left and took her ground at the second last - to her credit Clemency stuck to her task before the last, but could make no further impression on the run-in.

The fences were in action for the first time in a 2m4f10y novices' limited handicap chase. Don't knock those ten yards, by the way - as a kid my first swimming certificate was for ten metres. Meanwhile back at the racetrack, the race was won by a promising sort in Dark Flame, while the faller Sugar Baron also shaped well.

Dark Flame, who I'd liked at Kempton a year previously, is a well made chasing type in appearance and realised some of the potential he has at the first time of asking, despite looking in need of the run; held up, he made a good move to chase the pace-setting More Buck's going to the Railway Fences for the second time, was left second when Sugar Baron went at the second last and found more between the last two fences, staying on well up the hill.

More Buck's had more to do here than when winning at Fontwell on his chasing debut and was made a lot of use of; someone was going to beat him from after the Pond Fence three out, and Sugar Baron had taken his measure when he fell at the second last, left back in front but soon collared by Dark Flame. He's a tallish, workmanlike Presenting gelding who has the ability to win again over fences, but he put up little fight when headed here and isn't one to take short odds about.

Wilberdragon was gambled on for his chasing debut, but extended his run of below-par efforts, not seeing the race out (as has become usual with him over hurdles), having moved well and jumped soundly to the 12th. Of more interest going forward is the faller Sugar Baron, a well made gelding who looks the part: he shaped as if he needed all of the 3m1f trip to beat Present Man at Wincanton in May on his chasing debut and wasn't suited by this step down in trip, the first off the bridle and struggling from the ninth to the Railway Fences second time, at which point he found more, and he was responding under a ride when falling at the second last. He'd have gone close, but needs to go back to 3m and further - he'd have no problem staying extreme trips.

Adonis Hurdle-third Khezerabad was expected to break his duck over hurdles in the following 1m7f216y maiden hurdle and did so, chased home by a promising type in Crystal Lad.

The four year-old Khezerabad has some size about him, being a deep-girthed type, and connections might have it in mind to go novice chasing with him to take advantage of the age allowance. He did this in workmanlike style, going best approaching the second last but needing stronger handling to put it to bed after the last.

Crystal Lad is the one to take out of the race. Not expected to split Khezerabad and Azzerti beforehand, he shaped with tremendous promise not just for the season ahead, but for next term as well as he's tallish and workmanlike, and likely to take to fences: he tried to make all, and the writing was on the wall approaching the second last, but to his credit he stuck to his task before and after the last. A novice hurdle-win should be his for the taking, but chasing will be his game ultimately.

No Coneygree in this year's Future Stars Chase over 3m37y; Vivaldi Collonges was a disappointment and it won by a revelation over the trip in Amore Alato.

Amore Alato (well made) was unlucky not to get a chase win last season as he would have won the Noel Novices' Chase at Ascot last December but for unseating at the last, and here he jumped soundly throughout, leading from the second, and outbattling Ballybolley from the second last. He'll be eight on New Year's Day and likely to improve, and remains eligible for novice chases as this was his first win over fences.

Ballybolley, who's below average height for a chaser, was stepping up to 3m for the first time and stayed the trip, but didn't find as much as it looked as though he would approaching the second last, when he moved upsides Amore Alato and was travelling the better - he made no impression and was held the instant he was shaken up nearing the last. Perhaps early keenness contributed to his not quite lasting the trip, but on this evidence I'm not sure he's one to take short odds about.

Vivaldi Collonges (medium height) had the winning of this on ratings - both mine and the official - but was in no fit state to do himself justice, looking in need of the run and sweating between his hind legs. Having chased Amore Alato closest, the writing was on the wall the instant he made mistakes and lost his place on the back straight on the second circuit. It's nowhere near his true running, but his 150s-mark might make winning a handicap difficult.

Voix D'Eau (tall, workmanlike, along with Amore Alato the pick of the paddock here) has completely fallen off the map due to his poor jumping, but his weakening markedly this time might have been down to a quick turnaround, running only eight days after he ran midfield behind Antony at Ascot - that said, he's best watched for me on account of his jumping.

Some exposed horses had a chance in the 1m7f216y 0-130 handicap hurdle and one of those, Poker School, went in from another in Prairie Town, but the one to take out of the race is the maiden Beallandendall, who had nothing left after chasing leader Royal Irish Hussar closest throughout.

Poker School (leggy) won over hurdles at somewhere other than Kempton for the first time; as he'd done there back in February he came with a sweeping run round the field to lead at the second last, and regular pilot Toby Wheeler - claiming a valuable 7 lbs - shook him up between the last two, Poker School finding plenty. A rise in the weights will make things harder next time.

Prairie Town (tall, leggy) couldn't have gone closer in his bid to win this race for the second year running, but was ridden and struggling from the third last, only picking up approaching two out but sticking to his task before and after a mistake at the last, while Paddys Runner's jumping is holding him back, mistakes at the last two costly this time. The same for Royal Irish Hussar, who made a bad mistake at the third, but on this occasion his forcing the pace at a good gallop proved a bigger issue.

Beallandendall (medium, deep girthed), carrying a healthy amount of condition just 17 days after his previous outing at Ludlow, ran better than his fifth-placing would suggest. He chased Royal Irish Hussar closest throughout, that one setting a good gallop, and after he'd looked to be moving strongly on the home turn, he was ridden and faded on the uphill run from the second last. More patient tactics and/or an easier track will see him break his maiden before long.

Next a veterans' handicap chase over 3m37y, a qualifier for the final of the veterans' chase series at Sandown on the first Saturday in January. These popular old stagers served up a good race and the winner Loose Chips got the biggest cheer of the day.

If you'd never seen Loose Chips in the paddock before, you'd think 'how the hell can he jump those big fences', because there's next to nothing of him - he's small, close-coupled and leggy. That hasn't stopped him winning five of his 22 chases, and he got this fifth victory over fences in tenacious fashion, pressing on in front from the 15th, not going best from the third last as Court By Surprise was all over him, but, having been headed, finding much more from the last as he rallied, going half a length up by the post.

Court By Surprise, fit enough, returned to form after a poor effort at Chepstow on his reappearance, but blew a winning opportunity; surviving a mistake at the sixth and making ground to chase Loose Chips at the 16th, he moved best from four out to the second last, leading at the last and going half a length up only to curl up as Loose Chips rallied, losing ground at the line.

There's only one ultimate target for Saint Are this season, that being the one in which he finished runner-up to Many Clouds in 2015; you can forget his run in the 2016 Grand National as the rain on the day was all against him. The pick of the paddock here, he chased Loose Chips most of the way until he was ridden from four out, and kept on at the one pace from the Pond Fence three out - with a slow jump at the fourth his only jumping misdemeanour, all in all it was a satisfactory run as he starts on the road to Aintree 2017.

Rocky Creek didn't take the eye (not the only Paul Nicholls-trained runner on the card to fail to impress in appearance), looking rough in his coat, and was held in fourth with two to jump, and Opening Batsman needed the run too, making an error at the 15th, losing his place from four out and tailed off when eased down on the run-in.

The closing Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race (it's easier to write 'bumper', but there are many different types of NH Flat race these days so best to be precise) was weak, with only five going to post, and the result might not be a true reflection of the ability of the third and fourth home.

Bardd (tallish, well made four year-old gelding by Dylan Thomas, not fully fit) surprisingly didn't start favourite, and he moved best when leading two furlongs out; he edged markedly to his right, leaning into Potters Approach for around 75 yards, but as Bardd found much more to go away from his rival in the closing stages it didn't affect the result.

Potters Approach (medium height, deep girthed) started 8/11 favourite and made his own running, kicking on with three furlongs to travel, but was a sitting duck for Bardd; having been carried right by the winner in the straight, he weakened out of a winning chance close home, making it easy to conclude that he would have been beaten anyway.

Some Chaos (unfurnished five year-old Brian Boru gelding) looked well and held a chance until tapped for pace with two furlongs to go, and paddock-pick Sissinghurst (medium height, leggy) ran a similar sort of race - for these two judgement should be reserved as to how much ability they have until they've run in larger fields.

Horses to take out of the meeting
Red Infantry
Dark Flame
Sugar Baron
Crystal Lad
Beallandendall

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| Huntingdon 6-12-15 | Cheltenham 15-11-15 | Kempton 18-10 | Cartmel 27-5 | Doncaster 28-2