The Contenders Hurdle may be a Listed race in status but it’s packed with quality, namely the dual reigning Champion Hurdler Buveur D’Air. Nicky Henderson’s stable star suffered a shock defeat at the hands of Verdana Blue in the Christmas Hurdle most recently and beat what is now looking like a below-par Samcro in the Fighting Fifth on season debut. So he does have some questions to answer and is susceptible to an improver. That being said none of these horses looks up to taking the scalp of the Champion Hurdler.
Selection: Buveur D’Air
The Scilly Isles Chase is the feature race at Sandown on Saturday where there will be a new name on the honours roll. The green silks of Souede and Munir have taken the last four renewals of this Grade 1 contest but aren’t represented this time around. Vinndication heads the market having won all his starts to date including a Grade 2 event last time out. Kim Bailey’s charge looks like one of the most exciting horses in training and will take all the beating.
Colin Tizzard runs Lostintranslation who looks a ready-made chaser and is the biggest danger to the favourite. It surprisingly took three runs to shed his maiden tag over fences but did so in a Grade 2 most recently, where he proved over a length too good for Defi Du Seuil, who reopposes here.
The Grade 3 Heroes Handicap Hurdle looks wide open with any number of horses having leading chances. Lord Napier has been very consistent in recent times which included a sixth-place finish in the Betfair Hurdle at Ascot off a mark of 130 and then a third-place finish in the Lanzarote off the same mark. Peter Bowen’s charge now races off a four pound higher mark but he doesn’t need to improve much to feature, stepping back up in trip.
Ballymoy tops the weights for this having won three of his four starts this season including a Garde 3 victory most recently but these victories have resulted in a 13-pound hike in the handicap, which in this hot company should prove too much.
Casko D’Airy won very easily at Ascot on his first handicap foray but this didn’t go unnoticed by the handicapper as he hit him with a 14-pound hike. Only time will tell if this was overly harsh but I’d be of the opinion that it was and he’ll struggle here.
Folsom Blue was never really going in the Welsh National behind Elegant Escape but he finished fourth in this race last year off a four pound higher mark. Gordon Elliott’s inmate proved there was plenty ability left when finishing behind the much improved Paisley Park two starts back and should reward his each-way supporters.
The horse of most interest for me is Brio Conti who hasn’t graced the track in over a year. He was last seen winning and a small contest at Carlisle but prior to that was a close-up fifth in a Grade 1 at Aintree. If he were to reproduce that run here then he could outrun his odds.
Selection: Folsom Blue
The Masters Handicap Chase concludes proceedings at Sandown and the in-form Venetia Williams yard looks to have a strong contender in the returning Belami Des Pictons. We haven’t seen him since he finished second to Waiting Patiently in a listed event back in November 2017. That form looks particularly strong and given he’s won on seasonal debut before, he should take all the beating.
Give Me A Copper has always been held in high regard by Paul Nicholls’ but frustratingly he’s only run five times in three years for the stable. The now nine-year-old won his only completed start over fences when last seen also back in November 2017 and if he retains all of his ability, then he’ll go close.
Shanroe Santos could be the dark horse in this, he’s a course and distance winner that’s got a nice racing weight of 11-3 and remains on the same mark following a fine run behind Beware The Bear at Cheltenham when last seen. There may not be much improvement to come but he’s a solid yardstick against some rivals with questions to answer.
Selection: Shanroe Santos