Sandown hosts the Jumeirah Hotels & Resorts December Handicap Hurdle on Saturday in what looks like a very competitive affair. Trainers have used this race as a stepping stone towards races at the Cheltenham festival. Evidently an important race for the future, here are my thoughts!
Most of the top trainers are represented in this and David Pipe sends two to aim at the prize. Firstly, Ronaldo Des Mottes (16/1 Ladbrokes), who was 3rd in a decent race at Plumpton on Easter Sunday. I was present that day and thought that the form would work out well, unfortunately that hasn't been the case. Considering he shoulders top weight, and he’s coming off a run of poor form as well as a break, I don’t rate the horses chances. The second David Pipe runner is Waterunder (14/1 Coral) who, on the other hand, has been coming along quite nicely and won well at Exeter at a big price last time. He receivs a 6lb penalty thanks to that victory though and this is a very big step up in class. I struggle to envisage that he has enough improvement in the locker to win this.
RUACANA (18/1 Coral) for John Ferguson is a Grade 1 winner and potentially a shoe-in for this if reproducing anywhere near the form he showed when winning at Chepstow and also when 9 lengths behind leading Champion Hurdle hope Our Conor at Leopardstown. The horse has struggled at Aintree on his last two starts however, his last run would simply have been a pipe opener and he could be potentially well treated off a mark of 139.
Vulcanite (12/1 Betfred) was a horse I personally fancied for the festival over the big fences but has really struggled so appears back over hurdles today. The horse has really disappointed in his last few races but any sort of return to old form would give the horse a chance. However off the same mark as Ruacana the latter is preferred.
Down the bottom of the weights, Whitby Jack (11/1 Ladbrokes) needs to find much more improvement and Milord (8/1 Betfred) and Seventh Sky (20/1 Coral) also need to step up on past performances. Deep Trouble (7/1 Ladbrokes) would have won a good handicap at Cheltenham last time out if it wasn't for the useful Quick Jack, nonetheless previous form shows more improvement is needed.
Although Specialagentalfie (12/1 Coral) was ahead of Ronaldo Des Mottes (16/1 Ladbrokes) at a race at Plumpton, this again is probably a step too high for either to contend. Similar remarks could be made about Radmores Revenge (22/1 Coral) who also needs to find more to get close. Calculated Risk (7/1 Betfred) once looked an impressive novice but struggled on return in the Greatwood and Urbain De Sivola (9/1 Betfred) for Paul Nicholls hasn't shown much in competitive handicap hurdles.
Last but not least is champion trainer Nicky Henderson's River Maigue (7/2 Coral). Once touted as a potential Champion Hurdle horse he competed in the big Novice hurdles throughout last year before disappointing in the Supreme at Cheltenham. This is a horse that could potentially be top class and returning fresh should not be an issue. Despite the positives, the horse has only won twice out of six attempts and struggles to get his head in front. His presence at the head of the market haste be taken seriously but at the odds I won’t be backing him.
This is a very competitive race with plenty of the runners having strong chances of victory. It's going to be a close one for me between RUACANA and River Maigue but at the current odds I'm going to side with the value. River Maigue could easily win this before going on to bigger and better things but this I’m happy to take him on with a horse who’s already had a run this season. Ruacana makes more appeal as Jack Quinlan takes off 3lb and any sort of return to his strong previous form gives him every chance.
RUACANA (Each Way) (18/1 Ladbrokes)