Poet well versed to pass Sandown test
John Francome has his first Saturday off after 27 years as a presenter for Channel 4 Racing and, believe it or not, he is going racing.
That should be all the encouragement you need to back Poet, which he owns, to beat some pretty decent rivals in today's Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown.
The son of Pivotal was a class act on the Flat, even running the Epsom Derby winner Workforce to a length in the Brigadier Gerard Stakes at Sandown on one occasion. But he was such a character that a career as a stallion was always a non-starter.
Francome – who is trainer Clive Cox's landlord – took a punt, bought him, gelded him and schooled him. The result was an impressive hurdling debut at Newbury in December.
"If he jumps as well as he did at Newbury I'll be thrilled," said Francome. "I am completely unbiased, but I haven't seen one – and a seven-year-old at that – jump as well on their debut.
"Sometimes they don't jump quite as well second time out, but I'd be surprised if he didn't – he's a proper man. He's spent most of his life being chased along but he never came off the bridle at Newbury.
"It's a good test for him at Sandown and he'll find his level. He'll give a good account of himself – he should be too good for this lot."
Nicky Henderson has won the last two renewals with Minella Class and Captain Conan and is doubly represented with Golden Hoof – part-owned by Lee Westwood – and Royal Boy.
"Golden Hoof is a nice horse, but this is a step up for him," Henderson said. "Ideally he would want slightly better ground, but I hear it is drying out all the time. As for Royal Boy, this race is a tall order for him, but he has come on from his previous run and likes the soft ground."
Barry Geraghty had the choice of the two Seven Barrows runners and admitted it was not an easy decision to plump for Royal Boy. "It wasn't the easiest call I've ever had to make but it boiled down to the ground," he said.
Nick Scholfield was on board Melodic Rendezvous when they beat Royal Boy at Cheltenham and feels it could be those two fighting out the finish again.
"He deserves his chance in a Grade One," said Scholfield. "He did it nicely at Cheltenham where he beat Royal Boy but we had the benefit of experience that day, so I'm sure Mr Henderson's horse will be the one to beat this time with that under his belt."
On the all-weather, look out for Wexford raider Farmleigh House at Lingfield. Trained by Willie Martin, Farmleigh House arrives in search of a third win on the bounce after victories on the Polytrack at Dundalk in both November and December.
The six-year-old defied an 8lb hike in the ratings on the latter occasion when he easily accounted for Knock Stars by a length and a half over six furlongs.
Pettifour seems well enough treated on his best form to expect a big show in tomorrow's Sussex National at Plumpton. The Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained 11-year-old has not won since November 2009, but he did enough on his last outing at Haydock two months ago to warrant support here.
Pettifour was given a patient ride by Sam Twiston-Davies on Merseyside before slowly edging into contention and finishing fifth of 15 runners.
Connections must surely have been satisfied by that effort, though, as it was his first start since May. The handicapper has, importantly, also left him alone off a mark of 120. Pettifour had been rated as highly as 160 over hurdles in his pomp, so that shouldn't go unnoticed by those seeking value in what is always a difficult conundrum to solve. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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