Whatever wins, or goes close to winning, the Tolworth Hurdle (2.25) at Sandown on Saturday will immediately go on every shortlist for top novice honours in the spring.
The Grade One has proved a most informative trial in recent times: Yorkhill won it in 2016 en route to his victory in the Neptune Hurdle at Cheltenham. Finian’s Oscar, the 2017 winner, missed the Festival due to a minor injury, but landed a Grade One at Aintree in style instead.
And last year’s one-two, Summerville Boy and Kalashnikov, went on the fight out the finish of the Supreme Hurdle at Cheltenham.
With nine Tolworth Hurdles between them, Nicky Henderson and Paul Nicholls are always trainers to be taken seriously in this two-miler and sure enough they are wheeling out big young guns this afternoon.
Rathhill is Henderson’s pick from his exciting batch of novices and we can be sure that the 20-1 offered about him winning the Supreme Hurdle in March will disappear in a jiffy if he can dispose of his five rivals as readily as he dismissed his 19 opponents on his jumping debut at Newbury last month.
“He’s got gears,” says Henderson, recognising a key quality in the JP McManus-owned six-year-old. It is the ability to quicken which so often sorts out the best from the rest and makes a champion.
Obviously this is a tougher assignment than at Newbury; we don’t, for instance, know how good Nicholls’ Southfield Stone is yet after a series of Taunton saunters. But I fancy Rathhill’s turn of foot may prove decisive.
Freeman's Sandown selections
3.00 Rathlin Rose (NAP)
Goes well at this venue and will strip fitter after decent effort on return here in November.
2.25 Rathhill (NB)
Looked very smart at Newbury and expected to go on to much better things.
Back in action
We have waited so long to see Willie Mullins’ big Champion Hurdle hope Laurina back in action, but now that it’s finally happening it looks like being little more than a gentle schooling exercise against three vastly inferior opposition in the Mares’ Hurdle (1.50), unlikely to tell us anything we don’t already know, other than confirming her good health.
She has more than a stone in hand, although the improving Sensulano, on a hat-trick following handicap wins at Ascot and Cheltenham, might conceivably get her out of third gear.
“We’ve been waiting on suitable ground and have had to be very patient,” said Mullins’ son Patrick. “But if she’s going to be a Champion Hurdle mare, she’s going to have to be winning a race like this.”
New lease of life
For many, the real treat on Sandown’s card will be the Veterans’ Handicap Chase (3.00).
This final, and the series of qualifiers leading up to it, has provided a new lease of life for many of the sport’s most popular greybeards, a bit like golf’s Seniors’ Tour.
For Bernhard Langer, read the remarkable 15-year-old Pete The Feat, the winner of this in 2017 and runner-up last year, but the race is crammed with old favourites, like Loose Chips, Houblon Des Obeaux and last year’s winner Buywise.
I especially like the look of David Pipe’s Rathlin Rose, now ridden by Tom Scudamore, but a winner three times already around here for the amazing one-legged amateur Capt Guy Disney.
Sandown card – in full
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