Sandown Park Racecourse (picture by https://www.careersincatering.co.uk)
Tomorrow sees Sandown Park host its first meeting of the new year, which features the Grade 1 Unibet Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle, one of the main races for novices in the season’s calendar outside of the Cheltenham festival. Nicky Henderson saddles the heavy odds-on favourite Constitution Hill, who made a very good impression on his racecourse debut over this C&D, when scooting clear in impressive fashion to win by 14-lengths. He looks the part and will be hard to beat, though unfortunately his trainer will not be in attendance having tested positive for Covid-19 on Thursday. He posted on his Unibet Blog – ‘I’m afraid I am under lock and key and self isolating at home at Seven Barrows after catching the dreaded Covid which means unfortunately I will be unable to attend Sandown on Saturday for Unibet Tolworth day’.
🇺🇸 Constitution Hill – remember the name
— Racing TV (@RacingTV) December 4, 2021
There are some interesting alternatives in the line-up should the favourite not perform as he did last time. Jetoile & Datsalrightgino catch the eye. The former was a close third in Cheltenham back in October, form of which has been boosted by both the horses since, and he arrives here in search of a hat-trick after comfortable successes at Chepstow and Leicester over further trips. The latter is also looking for a three-timer with his most recent win coming in a warm novices’ race at Cheltenham last month, with the only horse out of that race to run since winning. It should be a very interesting renewal.
Slightly earlier in the card we have a Mares’ Listed Hurdle at 12.40pm, with just the five runners going to post. The eye is immediately drawn to the Willie Mullins horse, Gauloise, who is his trainer’s sole-runner on the card which usually speaks volumes when he sends a horse over from Ireland. She underperformed in the Mares’ Novices Hurdle at last year’s festival when down the field but ended the campaign with a half-a-length second in a Grade 1 at Fairyhouse before winning with ease at Punchestown. She has opened up as a 6/5 favourite with the firms bet365 & williamhill, which come 12.45pm may look very generous. Martello Sky is the obvious danger on the back of her Cheltenham win, beating Indefatigable in a handicap, but she’ll probably need more here if she’s going to land a double.
After the Tolworth, we have the final of the Veterans’ Series Handicap Chase, and these races are always a great viewing with battle-hardened chasers doing what they love best. It’s a typically open renewal, with Aso heading the market at 3/1 with https://www.bet365.com after a good second behind subsequent winner Blaklion at Haydock, whilst Warwick-scorer Final Nudge is in here off a 3lb higher mark and will appreciate it if the race turns into a slog, with him being better over further than the three-miles here. Sir Ivan is 5lb-higher than when third in this contest a year ago, which will make life a bit more difficult whilst previous C&D winner Wandrin Star may not want too much rain, but he is only 3lb-higher than when beating the re-opposing Dancing Shadow (another who would prefer further) back in November.
We have a couple of nice Handicap Chases in between the two aforementioned hurdle races. The 1.15pm, Read Nicky Henderson’s Unibet Blog Handicap Chase, features one of the more fancied runners from November’s Paddy Power Gold Cup in Farinet for Venetia Williams, who as we know, her horses relish plenty of give underfoot which, with heavy rain forecast on top of the already advertised soft ground, they are sure to get here. That race also has four-time course winner Darebin amongst the runners, though he has done all his winning over the minimum 2m trip, so 2m4f on very soft ground will probably stretch the ten-year-old but if he gets a soft lead and jumps as fluently as he can at times then who knows. Chef D’Equipe won this race back in 2018 from a 7lb higher mark and he is ridden & owned by David Maxwell, who tasted success most recently at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day aboard the 28/1-shot Dolphin Square.
The 1.50pm, Unibet Horserace Betting Operator Of The Year Handicap Chase, has the second and third from last year’s renewal running again, Paddy’s Poem & Moonlighter, with the latter looking the better handicapped of the pair. The front two at the head of the market may be the ones to focus on though. Gunsight Ridge was second to festival fancy L’Homme Presse, who has since won twice including a Grade 2, whilst Numitor has been progressive nicely and is still on a workable mark for for the combination of Heather Main and Tom Scudamore, who are operating at a 40% strike-rate when teaming up with chasers.
The card ends with the Class 2 (0-145) Unibet Casino Deposit £10 Get £40 Handicap Hurdle, and it’s again another tricky puzzle to solve. The five-year-old Hermes Boy is open to any amount of improvement now sent handicapping for the first time off a nice low-weight, as well as having 3lb-claimer Chester Williams on board. Volkova has been consistent since December 2020 with her form figures reading 1-2-3-1-3-1-2, though she will have to improve again now having been raised 5lb for that recent second at this course over a longer trip. An interesting runner is the top-weight Navajo Pass for Donald McCain (his only runner on the card), who has his second start since wind surgery, who won a Grade 2 around this time last year beating Buveur D’Air and who has four times won on ground soft/heavy. He will be giving plenty of weight to his rivals but could come on for a disappointing reappearance run off a 4lb-lower mark and has the conditional jockey Theo Gillard negating 5lb.
Buveur d'Air beaten!
— ITV Racing (@itvracing) January 23, 2021