Saturday sees a top class day of jump racing at Sandown Park with the track hosting two Grade Ones; the Racing Post Henry VIII Novices' Chase and the Betfair Tingle Creek Chase with an excellent field assembled for both races. Danny Archer takes a look at the card.
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Race One - Becky Cunningham 'National Hunt' Novices' Hurdle - O O Seven with a licence to thrill
The Nicky Henderson-trained O O Seven is fancied to fire in the first race of the day. The son of Flemensfirth was a nice winner of a Huntington bumper last year and was successful at the track 14 days ago in a novices' hurdle when winning by thirteen lengths under today's jockey Andrew Tinkler. He should have too much class for the other six runners in the field but may find Ben Case's Ballagh as the biggest threat. The six-year-old is making his seasonal comeback and finished in the first three in all of his bumpers last season.
Race Two - Thebookiesoffers.co.uk Mares' Handicap Hurdle - Brise Vendeenne holds live chance
The second race is an ultra-competitive Mares Handicap Hurdle with Brise Vendeenne heading the market for the Philip Hobbs stable who are having winners everywhere at the moment. The four-year-old has finished seconds in both her starts for Hobbs, including when beaten at 4/11 at Musselburgh last time over an extended one mile and seven furlongs. The daughter of Dom Alco now steps up in trip to an extended two mile and three furlongs with Tom O'Brien coming in for the ride. Others horses to highlight include Barton Rose who whilst only second in a selling hurdle at Stratford in October, looks set to improve for the move to Michael Blake's yard. The David Pipe-trained Lady Of Longstone carried top weight and was a gutsy winner at Kempton twelve days ago. With David Noonan taking five pounds off he could also give Brise Vendeenne something to think about.
Race Three - Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle - Doctor Harper to return to winning ways
The third race at Sandown is another competitive handicap hurdle over an extended two miles and five furlongs. The market is headed by Sir Mangan who joined Dan Skelton's yard earlier this year. The seven-year-old won on his reappearance this year by two and a half-lengths at Fontwell before finishing second at Cheltenham in a three mile and one furlong Listed handicap hurdle when beaten by half a length. The son of Darsi drops down in trip today and could keep up the good form of the Skelton stable. Ruacana also holds a live chance for another in form yard in John Ferguson. The six-year-old made a pleasing return to action at Huntingdon last month but carries top weight in today's race. The most intriguing contender is Doctor Harper trained by David Pipe. The son of Presenting has won six of his nine starts under rules and was last seen 611 days ago when comfortably winning the Grade Three Dominican Republican Handicap Hurdle at Aintree by a length and three-quarters. That is rock solid form and dropping down in trip and also in class, the seven-year-old may need the run but this classy gelding could run a cracker after 20 months off.
Race Four - Racing Post Henry VIII Novices' Chase - Bristol De Mai to take Sandown by Storm
The first of two Grade One's on the card, the Racing Post Henry VIII Novices' Chase was won last year by Tingle Creek favourite Vibrato Valtat and another top class field of six line up in this year's contest. The favourite is Bristol De Mai who was a good juvenile hurdler last year when winning the Grade One Coral.co.uk Future Champions Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow. Tackling fences this season the four-year-old was a good second to the classy Garde Le Victoire at Uttoxeter before pulling nicely clear at Warwick to score by 19 lengths on his second start over the larger obstacles. Ridden by Daryl Jacob, the son of Saddler Maker looks a worthy favourite. Some of the opposition include the Paul Nicholls-trained As De Mee who finished a two and a half-length second to RSA Chase fancy More Of That at Cheltenham on his last start as well as Willow's Saviour who overcame a long absence when registering a neck victory on his chase debut at Warwick last month. The 2013 Ladbroke Hurdle winner likes to lead and could dominate. Henry de Bromhead runs Sizing Codelco, Ar Mad who won nicely over course and distance last month, runs for Gary Moore whilst Bouvreuil completes the field for Paul Nicholls.
Race Five - Jumeirah Hotels And Resorts December Handicap Hurdle - Nicholls Plans Sandown Raid
This is another competitive handicap hurdle over an extended one mile and seven furlongs. The John Ferguson-trained Devilment heads the betting for this Listed race and he also carries top weight under Aidan Coleman. The four-year-old won well on his reappearance at Cheltenham before finishing sixth, beaten nine and a half lengths in the Stanjames.com Greatwood Hurdle at the same track. He brings good hurdling form to the table and is a worthy favourite. However, Some Plan who recently joined Paul Nicholls from the Tom George yard is fancied to make a winning debut for the Ditcheat handler. The Irish bred gelding continued to improve last season and finished the year with a tenth-placed finish in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle behind Douvan at the Cheltenham Festival. The seven-year-old is one of a number of Roger Brookhouse horses to have joined the champion trainer and he can overcome a 270 day absence and land the spoils.
Race Six - Betfair Tingle Creek Chase - Sire De Grugy to return to form in Tingle Creek
The highlight of the day is the Grade One Betfair Tingle Creek Chase for some of the classiest two milers around. Whilst the absence of Un De Sceaux, Sprinter Sacre and Simonsig is bitterly disappointing, this is still a top class race. The market is now headed by Vibrato Valtat who won the Henry VIII Novices Chase on this card last year. The six-year-old was a smart winner of the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter on his only start this season despite making a desperate mistake at the final fence. The way he travelled and jumped for the most part that day suggests he will be suited by the stiff test Sandown offers and he may well give Paul Nicholls a tenth winner of this race since 1999. henry de Bromhead who won the Fighting Fifth hurdle at Newcastle last Saturday with Identity Thief saddles Special Tiara who was third in Queen Mother Champion Chase at this year's Cheltenham Festival before registering a six length victory at Sandown in April. The eight-year-old returned to form with a disappointing fourth placed effort at Navan in November but he should strip fitter for that reappearance and if he is able to get an easy lead out in front, he could be hard to peg back. However, whilst he has been disappointing in recent times, the 2013 Tingle Creek winner has supposedly "turned a corner" according to trainer Gary Moore. The 2014 Queen Mother Champion Chase winner was a bitterly disappointing last of five in the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter on his reappearance this year but with the old adage that form is temporary and class is permanent, Sire De Grugy in a much weaker race could have an outstanding chance of landing the spoils. Old favourite Somersby, Mr Mole, Josses Hill and Third Intention complete the stellar field.
Race Seven - Betfair London National Handicap Chase - Harry to send bookmakers home restless