THERE was nobody happier Sandown passed Saturday’s early morning inspection than Chris Giles as Crambo (124+) and Iceo (141+) completed a big race double for the Scottish owner, with the last named clocking the fastest time of the day over hurdles at the Esher track.
The journey was almost over before it started as only the swift action of Harry Cobden prevented his partnership with the well-backed gelding making it no further than the first hurdle as evasive action was required to negotiate a Western Zephyr and Lightly Squeezed sandwich.
However, as has been the case all season, Ditcheat’s No1 rider was unflustered and bided his time at the rear of the field as Knickerbocker Glory (137) set the strongest pace of the day over the smaller obstacles.
After making ground heading towards the second last hurdle, it was obvious by the extravagant leap produced by the winner he was still full of running, and so it proved as with just one click of the persuader, the five-year-old was on the tail of the Skelton front runner and kicked clear.
Perhaps surprisingly however, the short closing sectional from the second last flight proved to be the slowest of the day as Paul Nicholls’ gelding covered the ground in 32.8secs.
In comparison, Spirit D’Aunou (126+) recorded the fastest finish of the day, stopping the clock at 28.8secs on his way to covering the final circuit 1.8secs quicker than Iceo.
Jamie Moore looked to have all bases covered on his father’s juvenile when leading at the second last although, with Havaila (126) in a determined mood, he was eventually hard pressed to resist the renewed challenge of the Milton Harris-trained gelding.
The data suggests both are young hurdlers on the upgrade and it would be no surprise to see them renew rivalry in the juvenile handicap hurdle on the final day of Ascot’s National Hunt season.
Crambo has only met with defeat once in his career, when pulled up in the Challow Hurdle, and it is easy to see why judged on his victory in the EBF Novices’ Final as he dug deep to beat Inneston (124) after the Moore runner looked to have taken his measure at the second last hurdle.
Fergal O’Brien’s six-year-old was no match for the opening race winner although still clocked a respectable 30.9secs for his closing sectional and was quicker than the Imperial Cup winner through the final circuit.
The pick of the performances over fences was Much Mas (143) who has improved for the step up to three miles and looks set for further success if repeating this showing.
At the head of affairs throughout, it must have been a surprise to jockey Luca Morgan how easily they skipped clear of the field after clearing the Pond Fence with the challengers amassing in his wing mirrors.
A closing sectional from the famous Sandown fence of 46.5secs could have been quicker as having been in front from so far out the seven-year-old can be forgiven for idling in the closing stages.
In comparison, the Gary Moore pair of Hudson De Grugy (118) and Zhiguli (124) covered the same ground in 45.4secs and 43.5secs having both covered less ground and raced against a much slower pace.
Journey just the job from the front
JOURNEY With Me (149+) paid a huge compliment to Impervious ahead of her bid for the Mares’ Chase at Cheltenham by repeating his front running tactics of Punchestown to good effect when winning the Grade 3 Novice Chase at Naas on Sunday.
While not required to run to the same time figure as when second to Colm Murphy’s mare, there were indications it was within the compass of Henry de Bromhead’s gelding as he found plenty for pressure when challenged by recent winner Limerick Lace (147).
The pair pulled well clear of their field as the winner covered the ground from the third last fence in 66.7secs, compared to the 67.8secs clocked by Espanito Bello (143) who was a smooth winner of the Leinster National.
However, the proximity of Barry Connell’s charge to the graded winner stretches when viewing the final circuit as the Robcour gelding completed the final lap 4.3secs quicker. A clear indication of the gallop set by Rachael Blackmore as she drew multiple mistakes from her rivals.
Wee Charlie (120+) clocked the best time over hurdles when adjusted for distance as he just lasted home in the 80-102 handicap.
The drop in trip suited the six-year-old who might be seen to better effect in a slightly higher grade when granted an easier track as his eventual winning margin was not reflected in the visual impression on display at the final hurdle.
In comparison, Nick Rockett (115+) was 3.4secs quicker over the final circuit and also finished off quicker as he stopped the clock at 30.0secs, compared to the 30.8 taken by Thomas Gibney’s gelding as Paul Townend delivered the hurdling debutant with a perfectly timed challenge to deny Let’s Go Champ (113).
Irish Point (95+) produced the sharpest finish as Davy Russell controlled a slow gallop from the front, before asking his mount to quicken just after the second last from where he registered a closing sectional of 28.3secs.
Carnfunnock (102+) could not have left it any later to pass Lucky Max (102), who looked to have been delivered to perfection by Michael O’Sullivan.
The Munir & Souede-owned gelding posted a closing sectional of 31.0secs which, although the slowest of the day, was not inferior enough to suggest there was any pace collapse.