Officials at Sandown have acted to prevent a repeat of the chaos that occurred during last year’s London National, due to be staged once more on Saturday. Seven jockeys completed the course in conditions described as “extremely murky”, having failed to see a yellow ‘stop’ flag that was being waved before the third-last fence, with the result that this year’s race has been brought forward by half an hour.
“It will be over earlier and hopefully in better light,” said Andrew Cooper, Sandown’s much-respected clerk of the course. “It means a tweak of the running order, the sort of thing that’s been on my mind in previous years.”
Last year’s London National was scheduled to start at 3.35pm, the last race on the card, and finished barely 15 minutes before sunset. Saturday’s renewal is set for 3pm, swapping positions with a two-mile hurdle race.
Several factors limit Cooper’s room for manoeuvre, including the demands of scheduling races for ITV. “We’re having last races at 3.35pm, that seems to be what racecourses on televised Saturdays are working to, and the fact of the matter is the London National is going to take seven and a half minutes to run, while a two-mile hurdle is going to take four minutes.
“It may still be pretty gloomy at three o’clock,” Cooper conceded. But he also has two top-class steeplechases to run on Saturday’s card and cannot countenance running the London National before them, with the risk of its hardy old campaigners chewing up the ground for the classier two-milers.
Sandown has also decided to deploy more ‘stop’ flags around its circuit, in the hope of catching jockeys’ attention at an earlier stage if it should prove necessary to bring a race to a halt. “This is a Sandown-specific measure,” Cooper said, “but I’m sure every jumps course had a look at how they do things in light of what happened. I was being asked for advice and my thoughts on it quite routinely by fellow clerks after last December.
“We thought what we had in place was OK and it was deemed adequate, we were not found at fault. The flag was deployed correctly but did not work on the day in those circumstances.
“The kit is still the same, I know there was discussion about an alternative colour for the flag but at the moment it is still yellow. We have them in two additional places where they could be deployed, which is just sensible.”
Doing Fine, who was first across the line in last year’s race but lost the prize when it was declared void, is one of seven entries for Saturday’s race in the hope he can win it for real this time.
Friday’s best bets
Drama seems assured from the outset on Sandown’s Friday card, which starts with a race for amateur riders featuring plenty of pace. My Way, the likely favourite, has some strong form but is also winless in 10 attempts over fences and may find this more of a stamina test than the Badger Beers, in which he got very tired late on.
Igor, a faller here on his only previous start over fences, is also likely to race prominently, as is Boughtbeforelunch, who memorably threw away his chance on the Cheltenham run-in in October. So the race may pan out well for last year’s winner, Le Boizelo (12.45), who can be ridden more patiently.
He’s a few pounds higher than that day but not unreasonably, given that he won again in March and by a wide margin. He will have needed his reappearance run and can do better this time at 13-2.
At about the same odds, Dandolo Du Gite (1.15) is interesting in the next. An impressive winner on his chasing debut last year, albeit in low grade, he was absent for 17 months before Wetherby in October. He raced with plenty of enthusiasm that day but got predictably tired. He should be straighter this time and the step back in trip looks wise.
Tips by Chris Cook
12.00 Dubai Instinct 12.35 Catchmeifyoucan 1.05 George Ridsdale 1.40 The Late Legend 2.15 Shantou Express 2.50 Cherokee Bill 3.25 Harde Fashion
12.25 Tango Du Roy 12.55 Red Lion Lad 1.30 Huntsmans Jog 2.05 The Big Breakaway 2.40 Sevarano 3.15 Petite Power 3.50 Autonomous Cloud
12.45 Le Boizelo (nap) 1.15 Dandolo Du Gite (nb) 1.50 Morning Vicar 2.25 Any News 3.00 Farrants Way 3.35 Emmpressive Lady
3.10 King Of The South 3.45 Budanova 4.15 Violet Warda 4.45 Panoramic 5.15 Gowanlad 5.45 Convertible 6.15 Thrill Seeker 6.45 Kumasi 7.15 Six Strings
Over at Exeter, Petite Power (3.15) appeals in a staying chase in which he was beaten just a neck last year. He hasn’t been at his best so far this season and wouldn’t want to be much shorter than the present 13-2.