Coral Challenge Handicap 2:25 Sandown

What type of horse does it take to win this race?

Having watched the last 10 replays of the race I am of the opinion that this race goes to a horse who sits midfield to the back of the field. Pretty much every year the race has been taken along at a frantic pace and those finishing best come from the middle – back of the field.

Front runners in the field?

You know they are going to go fast as you have Rusumaat and Naval Warfare who have both gone from the front in their last 2 starts. Secret Art and Pactolus also like to be up with pace. I am pretty sure this is going to be run at a decent pace so immediately I am looking for a horse who can come from off the pace.

What course will they take?

From leaving the stalls they run 2 furlongs before they reach the bend. They then go around the bend for 2 furlongs before entering the straight with 4 furlongs left.

Does the draw have an advantage?

For me anywhere you have a bend you will want to be drawn in the first 8 stalls if you have 16 runners or more. As I said at the start, this race is often won by a horse coming from off the pace. You don’t need to be a front runner but at the same time you want your horse to be relaxed from the off and not use valuable energy coming across from a wide draw, to get a position.

The horses I am happy to put a line through straight away?

I will start with the youngsters, that being the 3 year olds. We have two 3 year olds in the race with Rusumaat and Naval Warfare. This is a tough race and I believe you need to be a hardened horse with the hustle and bustle. Personally I believe both lack experience of this type of race. I think both are good horses but with £500k on the line I wont be putting my trust in a 3 year old.

Other horses we are going to put a line through?

Straight away the 10 horses at the bottom of the betting who are 14/1 and over, Hors De Combat, Master Of World, Muntazah, Mythical Madness, Manson, Glory Awaits, Pactolus, Sir Roderic, Secret Art and Ripoli.

I believe some of these are decent value bets but this race is not about value with £500k on the line, it is about finding the winner.

Who does that leave us with?

Starting with the favourite we are now left with 5 horses. Greenside, Blair House(non runner since writing), George William, El Hayem and GM Hopkins.

I will now go through each one individually pointing out the good and the bad.

Greenside

Worthy favourite and is a horse who is improving. This will be by far his toughest assignment to date as he has been mixing it in Class 3 handicaps. His last 2 starts have come at Sandown, finishing 1st and 2nd so he obviously likes the track. He is nicely drawn in 2 but does have to overcome a 5lb rise in the weights from his last start. Improvement is possible but if he don’t improve I don’t think he will be good enough to win. Martin Harley carries 9st 5lb.

Blair House (Non Runner since writing)

Ran a cracker on his last start to finish 2nd in the Royal Hunt Cup at Royal Ascot. He has gone up 5lb for that effort so a new career best will be needed here. He was gelded in October but was not seen until Royal Ascot, so you have to question what problems he had. You would like to think he will improve from his last run but if he was injured previously then he has only had a 17 day turnaround and the bounce factor comes into question. I really like the horse and think he is a good horse but William Buick will have to overcome a draw of 16. He wears blinkers so obviously they need him to concentrate. Will he use up too much energy trying to get his position? Buick carries 9st 8lb.

George William

Started the season well beating GK Chesterton at Nottingham and this was followed by
by 2 good runs at Newbury and Ascot, finishing 4th and 2nd. Flopped in the Royal Hunt Cup last time out but did race on the wrong side. The handicapper has kept him on the same handicap mark of 98 despite finishing 22nd of 29. George William started the season on a mark of 90 so is now 8lb higher. You have to ask if the horse has peaked too soon and if he is now in the handicappers clutches. He ran at Sandown last year on the same ground and same trip but could only come home 5th, in a weaker race, on a mark of 89. Sean Levey to carry 9st 4lb.

El Hayem

Ryan Moore teams up with Sir Michael Stoute on El Hayem. Another who flopped on his last start at Newbury back in May. Regular jockey Andre Atzeni has snubbed this horse in favour of Shraaoh in the Old Newton Cup at Haydock. Previous starts were 6th of 21 and 2nd of 11 on ground similar to todays. He is lightly raced and has Champion jockey on board. He is drawn in 10 which is not the worst but you have to ask will he find something too good. This is his toughest assignment yet so will need to improve a few pounds. Ryan Moore carries 8st 12lb.

GM Hopkins

Top weight with 9st 10lb and a first look at his form would not read well, you have to dig deeper. Was rated 112 by the handicapper this time last year so is 8lb lower in the handicap today on a mark of 104. He did bounce back with a solid run last time out in the Royal Hunt Cup, finishing 7th of 29. A previous Royal Hunt Cup winner on a mark of 103 and a winner of a Class 1 a year ago. Has the class on his day. Trained by John Gosden and owned R Heffen who loves a winner at Sandown. GM Hopkins is drawn in 7 and James Doyle will carry 9st 10lb.

So lets get rid of a few more

From my findings I am happy to get rid of George William as I now think he is in the handicappers grip and I also think he has had his peak, early in the season.

I am also happy to get rid of El Hayem as he normally finds something too good and I think his handicap mark is as high as he wants it. I think he will run a sound race but we want a winner not someone who places.

Who do we have left?

We have 3 horses left. This is the tricky stage as I now have to blank all the prices and use my imagination of how the race will pan out. My knowledge of the sport and what I see when reading the form is going to full use.

The three horses we have left are:

GREENSIDE
Weight – 9st 5lb
Draw – 2

BLAIR HOUSE (Non Runner since writing)
Weight – 9st 8lb
Draw – 16

GM HOPKINS
Weight – 9st 10lb
Draw – 7

So we have 3 horses left and the weight they are carrying range from 9st 10lb – 9st 5lb. Just 5lb between them at the weights so this is a case of who is the wrong side of the handicap and who is not.

I know Blair House (now a non runner) and GM Hopkins both run in the Royal Hunt Cup. Blair House finished 2nd with a clear run and GM Hopkins finished 7th with traffic problems but finished like a train. The handicapper raised Blair House 5lb and put GM Hopkins down 1lb. GM Hopkins is now 6lb better off at the weights than when the pair met at Royal Ascot. That is going to be a big difference here. Blair House also has to overcome a draw of 16 so will be using energy at the start of the race to get a position. He will be forced to run a race he potentially don’t want, in order to get a position.

On that evidence I am happy to take Blair House out of the equation.

Just 2 horses left

Greenside and GM Hopkins. The simple question I am asking myself, do I think Greenside should be within 5lb of GM Hopkins. Greenside is rated 99 and GM Hopkins 104. On what both horses have achieved I don’t think Greenside is actually a 99 horse on what we have seen. He is up against some very good horses.

That leaves me with our selection for £500k GM HOPKINS.

OUR SELECTION = GM HOPKINS

Why GM HOPKINS?

Firstly I will go straight to the negative and get that out of the way. He has to carry 9st 10lb. It is not brilliant but over the years I have learned to ignore the weight and follow the handicap marks. Basically are others badly handicapped on the wrong side of the handicapper and are horses on the right side of the handicapper. For me this is perfect example with what I believe. Although the weight is a worry it won’t be the first time a horse has carried top weight. Prince Of Johanne carried exactly the same 9st 10lb when winning the race back in 2013. In fact the 2nd home that day carried 9st 9lb. Horses who carry 9st 2lb or more are often the horses who win this race.

I have had my eye on GM Hopkins for a few races and watched his handicap come down at the same time. At the back of last season he was never put into races and looked a horse who was having his handicap mark ‘looked after’. Even his first start of this season he was being ‘looked after’.

His last start came at Royal Ascot and he finished a fast finishing 7th of 29. He had a few traffic problems and was switched right to left in the last 1f but still came home in good fashion. I have used the word above but he looks a horse who is about to ‘peak’ at the right time for us. This is only his 3rd start of the season and is now on his lowest handicap mark since winning the Royal Hunt Cup back on 2015. That race is so tough to win and is easily a better race than todays. If GM HOPKINS can win that race on a mark of 103 then he can surely win this race on a mark of 104. After winning that race he went on to finish 2nd in the Balmoral Handicap the same season at Ascot, carrying 9st 6lb on a mark of 109. Another race hotter than todays.

After that his rating went up to 112 which was too high for handicaps so he started mixing it in Class 1 and Group Races. He was a winner of the Class 1 Listed race – Stratford Place Stud Paradise Stakes, beating horses like Arod and one of Saturdays Eclipse fancies Decorated Knight, showing the class that he has. GM HOPKINS was rated 114 by this time so since then it has been a slippery slop of bringing down his handicap mark to which is now very workable on 104.

GM HOPKINS is a smooth travelling horse who remains on the bridle and the trouble with those straight mile races is you often have a wall of horses in front of you, spread across the track. After his 7th in the Royal Hunt Cup I write in my notes – GM HOPKINS would do better if he run around a bend. That is exactly what he will be doing today.

He has run well around a bend on previous runs which include a win at Sandown as a 3 year old and then a decent 3rd in a Class 1, again at Sandown. We know he likes the track which has proved crucial over the years at Sandown.

I honestly believe this race is going to be set up perfectly for the horse. He generally likes to be held up but every time he has run around a bend he has been slotted in midfield. As mentioned at the start the winner of this race generally comes from of the pace. He has a perfect draw in 7 where James Doyle can simply slot him where he wants and get him to relax from the off.

This is how I see the race being run.

Rusumaat and Naval Warfare will come from wide draws to make the running. Both those horses will use up too much energy by doing this and trying to make all. This will set it up for GM HOPKINS who I think will sit about 3-4 from the back. I think James Doyle will try and grab the rail and basically watch the race unfold in front him. GM HOPKINS will travel sweetly around the bend and when they turn in from the bend, he will have a full 4 furlongs to make his decision and which gaps to go for. GM HOPKINS will still be on the bridle 2 furlongs out, probably travelling better than anything. James Doyle will then push the button and GM HOPKINS will have a full 2 furlongs to pick up and get him going. Entering the final furlong I expect a horse to be on the rail in front of him so James Doyle angles him to the outside to produce him as late as possible. GM HOPKINS gets home in front by 1/4 of a length and we land £500k.

James Doyle is a very underrated jockey who actually rode GM HOPKINS for the first time at Royal Ascot. He has now got a feel for the horse which is great going into the race.

The trainer John Gosden is a magician and currently 69% of his horses are running to form.

This is all set to be a terrific Saturday afternoon and as you can see I have done my homework, it is now over to GM HOPKINS and James Doyle.

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