Sandown hosts the valuable final of the Veterans’ Handicap Chase series on Saturday (3pm, live on ITV4). The 6/1 favourite Dynaste holds minimal appeal, even off his lowest ever chasing mark of 145, as he seems unable to finish his races this season and this one is three miles.
Dynaste was last seen starting as the 2/1 favourite in a qualifier for this race at Kelso over a slightly shorter distance a month ago. He was beaten over 30 lengths by Gas Line Boy and there was no hard luck story, Dynaste was obviously struggling from a long way out. In his only other start this term he was beaten 13 lengths in the Charlie Hall Chase, losing his position four from home. Unless his physical problems have been miraculously cured, he looks likely to disappoint his followers again and will not be under consideration for this preview’s betting tips’ selection.
In contrast Rocky Creek (9/1), trained by Paul Nicholls (pictured), was not strongly fancied in the London National here a month ago and ran a blinder to beat the favourite, Doing Fine, a neck. Ridden by the 3lb claimer Jack Sherwood, Rocky Creek seemed to have regained his enthusiasm for the game. Nicholls put his turnaround in attitude down to enjoying himself out hunting.
If Rocky Creek has managed to have some fun since then, this robustly made 11-year-old should not be troubled by the subsequent 4lb rise in his mark. He has always liked this track but the drop back to three miles looks unlikely to play to his strengths. If some rain gets into the ground on the day it would probably help his chances as stamina is his strong suit.
Nicholls’ other runner Aerial (9/1) is interesting. He won impressively on his seasonal debut after an absence of nearly a year and a half at Fontwell in mid November. Patiently ridden by the 7lb claimer, Jordan Williams, he beat the favourite, Fergal Mael Duin two and a half lengths. That was over three miles three furlongs on soft ground off a mark of 127.
On his next start Aerial was beaten 13 lengths at Kelso by Gas Line Boy. Nicholls believes that the problem was not his raised mark of 135 but that the race came too quickly for him. It was the last chance to qualify for this race so he had no choice. Aerial is capable of performing over a variety of trips and is not surface-dependent. Rated 155 in his heyday, he looks to have strong claims off his current mark of 134 and once again benefits from Jordan Williams’ 7lb claim.
Gas Line Boy (9/1) has won over marathon distances but has never been tried at Sandown. Previously owned by Mick Fitzgerald, the general consensus among the senior jockeys before the 2015 Grand National was that he was a bad horse to follow over Aintree’s toughest fences. Their concerns were warranted when he fell at the first.
That was the only time Gas Line Boy actually hit the deck under rules but he has been prone to mistakes that have led to non completions. Now trained by Ian Williams, Brian Hughes was unseated by him a year ago on his first start for new connections at Haydock. It was a very different scenario when he made all and jumped well under Hughes at Kelso last time, beating Cloudy Too 11 lengths. Unfortunately that impressive win has resulted in a 9lb hike in his mark and Sandown’s unique jumping test could further compromise his chances.
Sue Smith’s Cloudy Too (14/1) also tends to hit the odd fence and is making his Sandown debut. Smith may well have been protecting his mark this season with this race in mind. Cloudy Too looked to needed his first run in early November and went on to win a handicap hurdle on soft ground at Uttoxeter before getting beaten by Gas Line Boy.
Cloudy Too has proved he can perform off his current mark (unlike Gas Line Boy) but he seems to need soft or heavy ground to be at his most effective. If it is soft on the day he is a very decent each-way prospect.
Colin Tizzard saddles Theatrical Star (10/1) for the owners of Native River. This son of King’s Theatre last got his head in front in December 2014 in a three mile one furlong handicap chase at Fontwell off a mark of 134. His mark has since slipped to 127 but his head carriage looked awkward when he finished fourth at Chepstow in October in his first start over fences this season. Blinkers were tried at Cheltenham two weeks later but he was beaten nearly 40 lengths.
Never one to leave a horse at home, Tizzard sent Theatrical Star to Carlisle just a week later without the headgear. He once again weakened a couple of fences from home and was beaten 35 lengths. After an absence of two months Theatrical Star reappeared over hurdles at Wincanton on Boxing Day. He jumped noticeably to the right and was beaten three lengths into third. Theatrical Star has decent course form, finishing second here a year ago but is ungenerously priced for a horse who appears to be damaged.
The 12-year-old Shuil Royale (12/1) has been much more sympathetically handled by Harry Fry. Another son of King’s Theatre, he was last seen winning a qualifier for this race at Aintree in late October. He blundered quite badly under Noel Fehily but managed to beat Your Busy five lengths off a mark of 143. He had been given a two month break since he finished a close second on quick ground at Worcester in August.
Shuil Royale is probably carrying some physical issues too explaining the sizeable gaps between his races. He has jumped right in the past but his form suggests that he performs best on left-handed tracks and likes good ground. Fry has obviously laid him out for this race and Fehily can be relied upon to give him every chance but the course and conditions are a concern.
Another horse coming into the race on the back of a win is Tom George’s Forgotten Gold (12/1). He finished 75 lengths behind Shuil Royale on his seasonal debut at Aintree, looking to need the race. On his next start he won in first time cheekpieces at Leicester on quick ground at the end of November off a mark of 140. It was a three runner qualifier for this race and the favourite, Godsmejudge, failed to fire and the second placed Caulfields Venture’s jumping fell apart. This is a much tougher task for Forgotten Gold off his new mark of 143 but having Richard Johnson on board for the first time has to be a positive.
An interesting runner at a much larger price is Nicky Henderson’s Ericht (25/1). He has finished second in both his starts this season over slightly shorter trips, most recently beaten a length and a half by Astracad at Cheltenham in early November. Ericht nodded on landing after the last and was outstayed by the winner.
His mark has only risen 1lb for that effort and if he copes with the extra distance here he could have each-way claims. He has yet to achieve more than a placing over this trip but the Henderson yard is on great form. David Bass rides him for the first time as his regular jockey Nico de Boinville is injured.
Astracad (16/1) has had two runs since that win at Prestbury Park. He was beaten 40 lengths in the Grand Sefton, not appearing to relish the National fences but finished a respectable second, beaten five lengths on Boxing Day at Wetherby.
Nigel Twiston-Davies is testing Astracad’s stamina beyond two miles five furlongs and his ability to handle Sandown for the first time here. It could well be significant that Astracad has not raced on a right-handed track since 2014. The trainer’s very capable son Sam has the job of trying to help him handle this new challenge.
In contrast Charlie Longsdon’s Loose Chips (20/1) has a solid track record here. In early November he won a veterans’ chase qualifier over course and distance off a mark of 137, beating Court By Surprise (20/1) half a length with Saint Are (16/1) five lengths further back and Rocky Creek in fourth.
In his only run since then Loose Chips did not get home over the extra five furlongs of the London National, he weakened rather quickly three out and was beaten nearly 40 lengths. In his previous three starts here over three miles he has won once and finished second twice. He starts off a 2lb higher mark than when winning his qualifier under the 3lb claimer Graham Watters who partners him again. If he is undamaged by his last effort he has to have decent each-way claims.
Our Preview’s Veterans Chase Betting Tips’ Verdict
As the betting market suggests this is an extremely open affair but the favourite is unconvincing. Course form makes Loose Chips a tempting each-way prospect for this preview but our preference as a betting tip is for Nicholls’ second string, AERIAL. He could be better treated than most by the handicapper and he has fewer recent miles on the clock than many, coming into this race relatively fresh. Back him each-way best priced at 9/1 with Bet365, Ladbrokes or Coral.
Fiona Derek is our Reality TV and horse racing expert. The only time you won’t find her riding or mucking out a racehorse is when she is watching Reality TV or racing on the box.