Sandown is a specialist’s track and Crosspark (3.00) seems well suited to the place, although he hasn’t actually won there yet. Caroline Bailey’s game chaser can put that right in the Veterans Final, which has grown into easily the most attractive race on Saturday’s Tolworth card.
Crosspark couldn’t quite get to a classy rival here in November and was conceding lumps of weight to the previous year’s winner when narrowly beaten again in the London National. But he is unlikely to come up against a really leniently-treated rival this time and the combination of three miles and soft going could be ideal.
Friday’s money for Valtor is interesting, as he has dropped to a dangerous rating. From the bottom of the weights, Regal Flow could get involved, having gone close last year.
1.50 Sandown The only reason Ibleo didn’t win at Cheltenham last time was that Sky Pirate finally put it all together, which had seemed slightly less likely than getting struck by lightning. That makes three times in a row that Ibleo has been raised in the weights for a defeat but Venetia Williams’s reliable type looks the right one here.
2.05 Ayr A case can be made for each runner but Charmant could be underestimated. While he was well held in two autumn races, both were Listed-standard and this is a significant step down in class. He has dropped to his last winning mark and the cheekpieces return.
2.25 Sandown Metier is an understandable favourite and he certainly has an engine but he was novicey in a few of his leaps at Ascot and needs to be more fluent for the step up in class that this Tolworth Hurdle demands. Preference is for the progressive Galice Macalo, who put up a big effort when second in a Listed handicap here on Tingle Creek day.
2.40 Ayr Heavy ground is just right for Portstorm, who made a winning reappearance in a slogfest here last month. The switch to handicaps should help him settle behind a stronger early pace.
3.15 Ayr The Scottish National winner a couple of years back, Takingrisks ran on dourly into fourth after getting outpaced in the Rehearsal Chase. That was his first run since a wind operation and this looks a better opportunity, with testing ground a help.
3.35 Sandown He’s a chaser in the making but Friend Or Foe looked one to stick with when he bolted up at Wincanton last month. That was his first try on a testing surface, which the youngster appeared to relish. Cheekpieces, fitted for his last two starts, also seem to have made a difference.
Tough training ahead for Al Boum after needed Tramore spin
Al Boum Photo faces a rigorous training schedule over the next two months, his reappearance run having seemed to show he is further from peak fitness than connections had expected. “He needed that run badly,” said his trainer, Willie Mullins, after the nine-year-old was a comfortable winner of the Savills New Year’s Day Chase at Tramore in the hands of Paul Townend.
Mullins briefly considered whether he needed to get another run into Al Boum Photo before the horse attempts to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup for a third consecutive time on 19 March. The Carlow trainer soon talked himself out of that but made no bones about planning to get plenty of work into the steeplechaser.
“He did what he had to do,” Mullins told RacingTV. “It looked like he was in trouble, maybe halfway down the back, but he hasn’t raced since last March.
“You could see he needed that run badly. I was surprised, myself. But Paul thought he just idled away on his own. There were only four [other] runners in the race and nothing around him.
“Rustiness, lack of race-fitness and maybe I should have had a run into him before that. But I set out my year to come here and I didn’t want to change my mind.”
Adding that Al Boum Photo was “having a right good blow” after the race, which he won by 19 lengths, Mullins continued: “We go to Cheltenham but how we approach Cheltenham in terms of his training schedule, I’m going to have a big rethink about.”
The Tramore contest, which Al Boum Photo was landing for the third time, has become established as his one and only prep-run before being prepared for Cheltenham and bookmakers shortened him to 4-1 for a third Gold Cup triumph.
A starting price of 2-9 for this race shows the horse was not expected to face much difficulty in beating four rivals, two of which were his stablemates. One of those, Brahma Bull, made things easier by unseating at the second fence and it could be argued the others also did a fair job of beating themselves.
The free-racing Djingle was allowed an uncontested lead but went too quick for his own good and was a spent force with more than a circuit to go. Meanwhile, I’m A Game Changer was, as expected, outclassed and never got into the argument.
That left Acapella Bourgeois to give his better-known stablemate something to beat but he stuttered into a couple of fences after being left in front on the final circuit. Having been a dozen lengths off the pace at halfway, Al Boum Photo was able to coast to the fore in the closing stages without Townend having to ask any serious question.