King's Salden Licht looks the value bet in modest Tolworth
FOR the second time in three years, just five runners will turn out in the Grade One Tolworth Hurdle -- if today's Sandown card gets the go-ahead after an early inspection.
With three one-time hurdle winners taking on a pair of maidens, the two-miler looks a distinctly below-par renewal as Paul Nicholls bids for his fourth successive win in the race with Ghizao.
This horse came up against a decent sort when beaten by Nicky Henderson's General Millar at Cheltenham last month. However, that Ghizao was brushed aside in a standard novice, doesn't augur well for his Grade One aspirations and it is interesting that Henderson withdrew General Miller from this contest to allow Oscar Whisky take its chance instead.
Oscar Whisky is unbeaten in three career outings, all at Newbury. A winner of a bumper in March, the five-year-old gelding then won with a penalty in November, before cantering up on his jumping debut two and a half weeks ago.
With such a prodigious profile, he is likely to start favourite today, but it's worrying that none of his three form lines have stood up too well.
While he can only beat what's in front of him, there must be a possibility that Oscar Whisky has been flattered by his winning margins, so he's not one to invest in at a short price just yet.
Preference is for the outsider of the three winners, Salden Licht. Trained by Alan King, the ex-Flat horse also made his hurdling debut at Newbury.
Under a confident ride from Robert Thornton, the six-year-old showed good qualities to win going away, first by putting his head down to repel a persistent challenger and then by showing a striking turn of foot to quicken six lengths clear after the last.
Again, that form is nothing special, but it was a breathtaking performance from a horse encountering soft winter ground for a first time. In a poor race of its kind, he may be the value option at 7/2.
A handicap chase precedes the showpiece, and Henderson's runner is fancied here. Pepsyrock is set to have his second run of the campaign, and the French import is taken to improve markedly from his first outing.
On a strict form reading, Pepsyrock has a lot to do, not least with Song Of Songs, which is two pounds better off now having had him 20 lengths in arrears when they both finished unplaced at Newbury last time.
Nonetheless, Barry Geraghty's mount can build on that. Pepsyrock has never won first time out, and his chance at Newbury was further compromised by his pulling too hard and making a bad early blunder. A course winner, he could make amends now.
The Blue Square Supporting Marie Curie Cancer Care Hurdle brings the curtain down on the Esher track's activity. With just two of the 14 runners carrying less than 11st, this is a tight handicap, which gives some of those further up the weights a chance.
Mamlook, representing an in-form Tony McCoy-David Pipe team, may be the one. The Peter Deal-owned six-year-old hasn't won since an Ascot handicap in April 2008, but he has caught the eye lately.
On his seasonal debut, Mamlook finished second in the Cesarewitch, before then chasing home Celestial Halo at Wincanton.
When McCoy last sat on the horse a couple of years ago, he won two on him by making all, so similar tactics might see the champion jockey belatedly extend that sequence to three.
In today's feature at Cork, the McCarthy Insurance Group Hurdle, racegoers are in for a treat as Mr Warbucks and Kauto Relko take each other on. Fourth in the Drinmore Chase, Adrian Maguire's Mr Warbucks is an exciting prospect, but so too is Kauto Star's younger brother. The conditions of the race might suit Liam Burke's horse better.
Best bet: Mamlook