Rio Ronaldo won a 5f race over the course and distance last June and he arrives at Sandown Park’s quirky course over the minimum trip in good form for Mike Murphy, on the back of a cosy success at Salisbury 10 days ago. He’s a threat to all and the horse giving me a headache in view of the opening 1.20pm at Sandown Park on Friday, but he might just find it tricky to score under a 6lb penalty. The horse hasn’t improved out of sight of his narrow success here in 2017 and this is a tougher race.
Open Wide is in dangerous form, but may not be able to make best use of stall 1 given his racing style, so the Richard Hughes trained JASHMA is the one I’ll take a chance on, under the tidy hands of Nicola Currie claiming 3lb. This 4yo gelding is also a course and distance winner and he was unlucky here two starts back, before running a good 2nd at Newmarket last time out. The horse should be able to secure a handy position from stall 2 and usually has a liking for racing prominently. He looks handicapped to go close here, running off the same mark of 75 for a stable doing well in the past few weeks.
In the first of two Listed races on Day 1 of the Eclipse meeting, Mark Johnston’s CHAPELLI can be given a chance to prove herself considerably better than her effort at Royal Ascot last time out in the Dragon Stakes over 5f at 1.50pm. It was a third career start in a short space of time and all proved too much for the daughter of Poet’s Voice. However, she was progressing into a very useful juvenile at Catterick and York before that and after a couple of weeks off, she might be hard to beat if getting into an early rhythm from a potentially inconvenient draw. Well Done Fox could be the chief threat for Richard Hannon, but he too is one of several needing to leave a below par run behind them in order to win this trappy but valuable and interesting £30,000 contest.
The Listed Gala Stakes at 3.30pm is the feature race of the day, staged back on the round course over a trip of 1m2f. The defection of Emirates Flyer leaves us with seven runners, removing any each way appeal. From the market leading pair, this is a match between the proven match fitness and recent Royal Ascot form of EUGENIO, versus the potential of Sir Michael Stoute’s returning Mustashry; who was progressive last year but hasn’t been seen since flopping in the Group 2 Joel Stakes back in September. I backed Eugenio in the Wolferton Stakes and although it stung not to have the big price winner, his effort in 2nd was a career-best in first time blinkers. He was near the front a long time but stuck to the task really gamely under the champion jockey Silvestre De Sousa, who retains the ride here and if Eugenio is in a similar vein of form, he will take all the beating.
At a big price, Richard Hannon’s NAYEL could give each-way backers a good run for their money in the 4.05pm. Another who ran well below form at Royal Ascot, the 6yo was in excellent form earlier in the year, winning two good races at Windsor and Haydock during May. Nayel is owned by Sam Waley-Cohen and a few of his friends and despite being a 6yo horse now, he doesn’t have too miles on the clock, so there’s room for a bit more improvement for current connections if he can leave his effort last time out behind. On a career high mark and needs to turn a corner, but he is an honest performer on his day, so hopefully he’ll be raring to give it a good lash this afternoon in a fairly open Class 2 contest over the 1m2f trip.
I’d like to think DARK PEARL can land the spoils in the 4.40pm Sequal Handicap, a Class 4 race over 1m6f, which will take a bit of getting even on this fast ground at the Esher track. Ed Walker’s scopey Born To Sea gelding very much fills the eye as a stayer of some potential, but he does need to start putting it all together now. With conditions to suit after a good 2nd over the course and distance last time out and on his third start of the campaign, the 4yo gelding is finely poised to land a second career victory under Jamie Spencer.
Friday’s card is an excellent taster menu to the main event on Saturday. I have no strong opinion in the Eclipse itself, but if pushed I might suggest Roaring Lion as a very likely winner.
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