Betfred Masters Handicap Chase 3m Sandown Saturday – Jonjo O’Neill (pictured above), Paul Nicholls, Philip Hobbs, and Venetia Williams have all hit the back of the net in this contest over the past decade, and all four field viable looking candidates again on Saturday.
O’Neill is double handed at the time of writing with the 7yo, Beg To Differ, and the 8yo, Go Conquer. The latter, who has declined some recent engagements, presumably because of ground concerns, looks better at shorter anyhow, so with plenty of rain about, Jonjo’s, Beg To Differ, looks the one to concentrate on. Starting at odds of 16/1, 20/1, and 33/1 for his first three runs this term, little was expected, and indeed nothing was delivered, although he did out run those odds of 33/1 last time, when finishing 4th in the Welsh National. However, the 7yo has proved in the past to be a much better performer in the second half of the season, with all his four career wins coming in January, February, or March, and indeed, his sole Chase victory was achieved over course and distance in this month last year. That was only his fourth outing over the larger obstacles, where he had Saturday’s opponent, the Sandown specialist, Loose Chips, 4 1/2L back in second. The runner up reopposes on a pound worse terms so looks held. Beg To Differ started, as a not unfancied 11/1 shot, in a very competitive, 23 runner Cheltenham Festival handicap, 24 days later, racing off a 10lbs higher mark, but clipping heels, unshipped his rider. He races on Saturday off a 4lbs lower mark, (139) only 6lbs higher than for that previous Sandown victory, and with conditions likely to be in his favour, has to be one for the shortlist.
Course form is always important at the Esher track, so with a win and a place from his three Sandown appearances, the Paul Nicholls trained Irish Saint is worth considering. He has done all his winning over shorter than Saturday’s three miles, and it has to be said, that his two attempts at the distance haven’t given much encouragement that 3miles is his optimum trip, although he did finish 3rd, albeit 15L and a head behind Saphir Du Rheu and Carraig Mor in the nine runner 25f Grade1 Novices Chase at last years Aintree Festival. The jury remains out on his best trip, but what can be said in his favour is that Saturday’s right hand track, (has won six of his ten races going this way round) will be very much to his advantage, and heavy ground won’t be a problem. As the sole Ditcheat representative he is worth considering.
The Philip Hobbs trained Novice, Rock The Kasbah, was a more than useful hurdler, achieving a rating of 150, winning at distances up to 20f, but after only three outings over the larger obstacles, looks as if a step up in trip is required. A winner of his first Chase (Chepstow 2m3 1/2f good) from the talented Our Kaempfer, he was a staying on 3rd next time (Cheltenham 2m4 1/2f good), and last time was second to the very useful Politologue (Ascot 2m5f Gd-Sft) keeping on well from the last. He has made some jumping errors in his races but may well be helped by the slightly slower pace of Saturday’s trip. He is racing off a mark 4lbs lower than his hurdles rating, so if taking up the engagement, (also in 2.25San and 2.45 Wetherby) has to be of interest.
Otago Trail looks the most likely of the Venetia Williams pair but I just wonder if he will have recovered from his exertions behind the spring heeled Bristol De Mai only fourteen days ago, when he looked a very tired animal, trailing in 22L behind the impressive winner, to take the runner up spot.
The past decade hasn’t seen a graduate of the Seven Barrows academy in the winners enclosure, but I’m sure that headmaster Henderson, is hoping to put the matter right with his talented pupil, Vyta Du Roc. A winner of six of his seventeen starts, twice at Grade2 level over hurdles, he made a satisfactory start to the new term when finishing 3rd at Aintree in November. He ran a solid race three weeks later when finishing 6th, beaten 9L in The Hennessy off a mark of 143. He has to be forgiven a poor run at Cheltenham 34 days ago, but racing off a mark of 139 on Saturday, he does look well handicapped, and with the stable in rude health is on the shortlist.
Considering the very poor record of Willie Mullins trained handicap chasers in Britain over the years, one is reluctant to mention his 10yo, The Crafty Butcher, but the claims of this son of Vinnie Roe are undeniable. Having only his second run for the Irish genius, he stayed on strongly to finish second in a valuable Leopardstown handicap off a mark of 127, thirty nine days ago, so now, with the Master of Closutton calling the shots, it will come as no great surprise to see further progress being made. Off a mark of 132, giving him a nice racing weight of 10st6lbs at the weekend, he is hard to ignore.
Selection : Beg To Differ
E.W. : The Crafty Butcher (if abs, Vyta Du Roc)