Sandown sees the return of Buveur D’Air to hurdling on Saturday and if he wants to be considered a serious Champion Hurdle contender he’ll need to deliver in the Contenders Hurdle (1.50pm).
Faugheen’s continued absence means the picture regarding the day one feature at the Festival remains muddy. With Petit Mouchoir winning at Leopardstown last Sunday, connections obviously feel they’ve as good a chance as any of winning the March 14 showpiece.
Don’t forget Buveur D’Air beat Petit Mouchoir by a neck at Aintree (Limini back in third) after finishing third behind Altior and Min in the Supreme Novices Hurdle. So he was among the top grade novice hurdlers last season, before he went chasing. You also have to factor in that if Buveur D’Air had stayed over hurdles, his rating would surely be higher too. This is his chance to start to prove that.
Sometimes when horses have been sent over fences they are not as slick over hurdles. I’m not really worried about Buveur D’Air’s return to the smaller obstacles as he’s from the Nicky Henderson academy and they don’t lack for jumping prowess.
I was in doing some filming for At the Races at Nicky Henderson’s during the week and saw Top Notch. He told me that he’s grown in confidence for his last couple of wins and the step up to 2m 5f really suited him at Ascot. He could go well in the Scilly Isles’ Novices Chase 2.25pm but I’m drawn to Le Prezien who has already finished in front of Top Notch at Uttoxeter. He could be the bet on ground we know he handles.
Behind Time was a good winner at Cheltenham on soft ground but doesn’t look a straightforward ride for Barry Geraghty in the handicap hurdle 3pm. Slow ground should help him and if he can keep tabs on the leaders into the straight, he’ll finish out his race well.
Mr Mix carries top-weight and was a good winner at Wincanton from Ruacana. He got 6lbs for that but Stan Sheppard takes 5lb off him on Saturday. He could still be reasonably handicapped.
However, the most solid option could be Nigel Twiston-Davies’ El Terremoto as his string are in cracking form. He bumped into the well handicapped Clyne at Haydock on his last run when third to him and Le Rocher after winning twice before that at the Lancashire track and Stratford.
It’s the first running of the Edinburgh National at Musselburgh (2.05) is a new concept and it is a real head scratcher.
I am tempted by a horse 4lb out of the weights in Full Jack. He stays really well has good recent form at the track over hurdles and is trained by a good operator in Pauline Robson. He’s a value play each-way.
The Scottish County Hurdle (3.15pm) sees Noel Fehily tem up with Harry Fry on Drumcliff. This lad has run some good races in defeat but this is his chance to bag a big prize.
The Grade 2 Towtown Novice Chase at Wetherby (2.45pm) is a quality contest and was won by the future RSA winner Blaklion last season.
His trainer Nigel Twiston Davies could have the answer here too with Callet Mad who enjoys been held up in his races and can build on his Taunton win last time.
The three mile handicap chase at Sandown 3,35pm could be a bit of a slog. I am slightly worried about Rock the Kasbah in the very soft ground over this trip – but I am not deserting him. Anthony was hailed as a possible Grand national contender when winning at Ascot and could be the safer option.