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Tony Calvin’s Antepost Tips: Apple to Rock the boat for Ben Pauling’s in-form yard

Tony Calvin has found two selections worth backing this Saturday at Sandown and Wincanton, including a horse running off a career low mark…

The Sandown executive will be biting their nails after Monday’s five-day entries numbered only 79 for their valuable Grade 1 Saturday seven-race card.

For a meeting that houses a 70k Grade 1 novices’ hurdle, a 100k veterans’ race, and a couple of 30k handicaps, that is a pretty worrying number, and one you would hope to see at the overnight stage, if truth be told.

Fingers crossed, the majority stand their ground then, as the cash on offer deserves competitive fields.

The ground is currently soft (with heavy places on the hurdles track, and good to soft spots on the chase route) and we have a mixed forecast throughout the week, with sunny days alternating with rain on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, with the weekend set to get the worst of it.

Mind you, the latest Sandown going update on the BHA site was from 9.27am on Sunday at the time of filing, so that is not great communication. Anyway, it is going to be soft minimum, and maybe even heavy come race-time.

Aso too short for me, sadly…

Let’s start with the big money and the Veterans’ Chase (15:00) and it is not out of the realms of possibility that all 17 in here stand their ground, as none have alternative engagements this week. That is not altogether surprising given it is over 50k to the winner.

The first firm up made, rather disappointingly, Aso their 5/1 favourite.

I say disappointingly because I fancied him most before going to look for the early prices, and was hoping for bigger, given the depth of the field. And then the 5s quickly became 4s, so the frown became larger.

I always had him down as more of a 2m4f horse but he showed he had the appropriate stamina for a race like this second to Blaklion over an extended 3m1f in heavy ground last time, and the winner gagged up off a 5lb higher mark at the same track over Christmas.

He has posted most of his best efforts going left-handed and is 1lb higher here, but I am not concerned by either, especially as he was dropped 6lb before that Haydock run. He is well handicapped and has more than a touch of class.

But the Sportsbook’s 3/1 is far is too skinny for me at the moment, as I can’t see there being many withdrawals and we will probably get a similar price and enhanced place terms about him come Thursday afternoon.

Of the others, 12/1 chance Red Infantry ran well for a long way when fourth in the London National over 3m5f here last time (has course form figures of 124) and was nudged down 1lb for it, while I imagine 8s poke Wandrin Star has been kept fresh for this since winning over track and trip in November. Both make some appeal, though the latter does seem best racing off longer breaks.

Anyway, I will return to this race later in the week.

Supreme contender can impress once more

I will not be alone in being very disappointed if Constitution Hill does not justify heavy odds-on status in the Grade 1 Tolworth at 14:25 on Saturday, as he looked a beast when sprinting clear – and he did sprint according to the time bandits – on officially good to soft going here last month.

It is not often I get impressed by anything, let alone horses, but once I got home from that Tingle Creek meeting I backed him at 8s and 7s for the Supreme.

Now, it is going to be very deep ground on the hurdles track on Saturday, which is always a concern when you are dealing with a horse with the serious gears he possesses (the Nicky Henderson camp always mention his “gears”), but he will surely take care of these, especially if his possible main rival Shallwehavenemore goes to Wincanton for a maiden hurdle on Saturday instead.

A betting proposition at around at the Sportsbook’s 2/7, he isn’t though.

The hurdles track on deep ground at Sandown is not for the faint-hearted, for horses as well as odds-on backers.

Double figures is too tempting

The first ITV race due up on Saturday is the 1m7f119yd handicap chase at 13:50, and no odds-compiler was going to miss the claims of Gunsight Ridge in here.

In fact, even the early 3s in the marketplace was immediately hoovered up into 5/2, which is the Betfair Sportsbook’s current price.

The form of his second to L’Homme Presse over 2m3f at Exeter was obviously well advertised by the winner last weekend so, even though he was beaten 6 lengths there, a 2lb rise clearly makes him very competitively treated here. Especially, as he shaped better than the beaten distance, trading at 1.22 at one stage.

But what would concern me about him would possibly be the ground (though he has a decent run on heavy to his name) and most certainly Olly Murphy’s stable form, to a degree at least, notwithstanding Brewin’upastorm looked the likely winner when coming down at the last in the Relkeel.

There is plenty of pace in here, with five potential forward-goers among the entries (and incidentally Darebin and Grey Diamond are double-entered this weekend) and that should suit Up The Straight, fine and dandy.

I backed him without the favourite when he was third to Pic D’Orhy at Ascot last time and I was cursing as he was the only one that tried to stick it up to the winning jolly, and paid for it late on, as the conservatively-ridden Falvoir mopped up the runner-up spot late doors as my horse weakened badly.

He clearly shaped far better than a 27-length third there and was dropped 3lb for it, too.

He has done all of his racing over further – indeed he has been campaigned exclusively between 2m3f and 2m5f since his pointing days – but I can see this trip in testing ground, off a fast pace, suiting him.

And he has unfinished business around here, too.

He traded at 1.03 in running when agonizingly picked up on the run-in over 2m4f at this track last March – he properly emptied up the hill there – and he has always struck me as a horse well worth a go at the minimum trip. He is off a career-low mark of 132 here, having always been rated 135 and above.

I checked with one of his owners and he is an intended runner – though of course form and fitness on Thursday morning before decs will dictate all – so I reckon he is worth a small bet at 12/1 each way, three places.

He is that price across the board and he is not a sexy shortener, so that 12s is my guide price, with 10-1 an absolute low at this stage.

Keep tabs on Natural History

There are 12 entries in the concluding 2m handicap hurdle at 15:35.

First Street and Volkovka have alternative engagements on this very card – First Street looks unlikely to go to the Tolworth, you would have thought, when he can race off 132 here but Volkovka only has a maximum of seven rivals should they run her in the mares’ race – but the fascinating one is another double-entered horse in the shape of Natural History.

I put him up at 7/1 on the abandoned Leicester card last week and he was cut in to 10/3 in a heartbeat, suggesting someone else thought the time was right for him too after a confidence-boosting run at Doncaster, and down another 4lb to a mark of just 118 over hurdles, compared to his heavy ground Flat mark of 101.

You obviously cannot back him until he is confirmed at the overnight stage – he is just a 5/1 chance here with a very wary Sportsbook – as he is due to run at Ffos Las on Wednesday, for which he is 3/1, but if he won there and came here under a 6lb penalty he would obviously carry maximum respect and really shake this market up.

Pauling’s horse can beat market leaders

The only other weekend race priced up at the moment is the 2m5f82yd handicap hurdle at Wincanton 14:40, with Blairgowrie and Crossing The Bar put in as the 4/1 joint favourites.

Apple Rock looks a very fair 8-1 chance here though, from the in-form Ben Pauling yard, as he has slipped back down to the same mark (117) as when winning convincingly on heavy ground at Carlisle last February.

Sent off at 4/1, he shaped far better than it appears at Leicester last time as he went round the unfavoured inner all the way that day, and he is weighted to win again now he has been dropped another 2lb.

At the start of last month, before the Leicester run, Pauling said: “He really thrived last season when he got soft ground, winning three times and going up from 101 to 119.”

“I was very happy with his first run back at Cheltenham when finishing mid-division. We will stick to 2m4f on heavy ground, but it is possible he will get 3m on better ground. There could be a decent handicap in him somewhere as he is still on the right side of the handicapper.”

The going at Wincanton is currently soft (good to soft in places), and the mixed forecast suggests it will probably remain so come Saturday afternoon, which will be just fine. He has won on good, anyway, if it does unexpectedly dry out a touch and you can easily argue his fifth at Cheltenham in April on that ground was his best effort to date.

I am happy to back him at 8/1 win-only with the Sportsbook, as I can easily see a double-figure field standing their ground here – so we could get four places on Thursday – with so few of these holding alternative engagements. Hold your bets on Straight Swap though, as he is entered at Chepstow on Thursday.

Again, his current price of 8s is standard industry-wide, so those are the odds you should be aiming for, too. Don’t get me wrong, I think he will a fair bit shorter come Saturday, clearly.

Good luck.

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