1.10 Sandown Park ? The Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle (Series Qualifier)

This doesn?t look like the most vintage renewal but SAM RED was moving firmly in the right direction before taking a fall in the Listed Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle last week and looks on a fair mark assuming he?s none the worse for taking that tumble. Prior to that, he had looked pretty solid in a pair of novice chases and Dan Skelton looks to have found a good opportunity back over the smaller obstacles here. He wasn?t unfancied in a much stronger contest seven days ago and able to line up here off the same mark with conditions to suit, he looks to hold strong claims.

Beat That is undoubtedly the class horse in the field and is another returning to hurdling following a spell over fences. However, he concedes a lot of weight all round here and you have to go back to April 2014 to find his last piece of form of note.

Paul Nicholls? Connetable has been similarly in the doldrums, for all that he has plummeted down the handicap as a result. His handler has a good record in this race but it would take a brave man to bank on a return to fortune here.

Of the remainder, Dicosimo has only his second start for Warren Greatrex and a line can be put through his heavy defeat in the Coral Hurdle last time out. He could be well treated on his handicap hurdle form for Willie Mullins a couple of seasons back but it?s fair to say he hasn?t hit those heights for a while and this trip might stretch him. Monbeg Oscar is another trying this trip for the first time but does have talented young conditional Mitchell Bastyan taking 5lb off his back and could have a part to play despite being out of the handicap. Both Holly Bush Henry and Terry The Fish enjoyed success over the summer but any ease in the ground would go against them.


SAM RED? 1pt win @ 7/1 (Betfair, BetVictor & Paddy Power)

1.30 Aintree ? The Randox Health Becher Handicap Chase (Grade 3)

With eight of the last ten winners aged nine or older, and only seven winners younger than nine since 1992, this is not the race to be taking a chance on a younger participant. Just over half the field sit outside this desired bracket including some of the market principals Blaklion, As de Mee and Vieux Lion Rouge amongst them.

Perhaps one of the reasons for the limited success of younger runners is that they often have limited experience over the bigger obstacles. Only three of the last ten winners had run in less than 10 chases prior to lining up here and of this year?s field, Westerner Point is the only one to fall at this obstacle. The eight-year-old also misses the age trend as well so I would be happy to rule him out of contention at this stage based on the strength of both trends.

Race fitness is something that can also play a big part in this race given the 3m 2f trip and the heavy ground that runners are likely to encounter. However, the fact that eight of the last ten winners had had no more than one run during the current season, it is best to be aware of fresher rivals.

The weight carried can often make a difference in these staying races and it is interesting to note that only two of the last ten winners carried more than 11st to victory. This would suggest that the top five as they appear in the racecard may struggle under their heavy burdens, so from The Last Samuri down to As de Mee.

Given the nature of the fences it is little surprise that good jumpers often do well in this race. In fact, the 2014 winner Oscar Time was the only winner in the last decade to have fallen or unseated more than once during his career. There are six horses in this year?s field who can be eliminated on this basis with Goodtoknow, The Young Master and Portrait King amongst them.

Nigel Twiston-Davies is the most successful trainer in this race with five victories to his name courtesy of Indian Tonic (1993), Young Hustler (1995), Earth Summit in 1998 and Hello Bud in both 2010 and 2012. This year he is represented by the likely market leader Blaklion.

With only two winning favourites in the last decade, there is plenty of reason to be optimistic when opposing the market leaders. An average winning SP of around 12/1 also supports this idea as well as the fact that only half of the horses sent off favourite have finished in the first four. It would therefore be wise to factor in the poor record of those towards the head of the market when narrowing down the shortlist.



Viva Steve ? 6/7

Lord Windermere ? 6/7


All of our runners miss at least one of the trends but the marginal preference is for HIGHLAND LODGE who bids to win the race for the second time. James Moffatt?s eleven-year-old was narrowly denied by Vieux Lion Rouge in his bid to record back-to-back victories twelve months ago, losing by a short-head at the line. Despite being raised on the back of that effort, the handicapper has cut him some slack and he runs here off 1lb higher than he did last year. He clearly enjoys it around here and although he is a year older, he looks to have a leading chance.

Just missing out on the top spot is Viva Steve who hasn?t been seen since finishing fourth in the Kerry National in September. The nine-year-old won on his return to action last term before his form tailed off but there is every chance that he will take to the Grand National fences. His trainer Fergal O?Brien has been amongst the winners of late and he looks an interesting contender.

The shortlist is completed by Lord Windermere who ran well for a long way when finishing seventh in the Grand National in April. Jim Culloty?s eleven-year-old produced his best run of the season at Thurles in November last year and it could be that first time is the time to catch him. The handicapper has dropped him 3lb for his April run and on his best form, he looks dangerously well-handicapped.


HIGHLAND LODGE ? 0.5pt e/w @ 11/1 (Betway) (4 places 1/4 odds)

1.45 Sandown ? randoxhealth.com Henry VIII Novices? Chase (Grade 1)

There?s only five runners for this Grade 1 Novices? Chase but it?s an extremely strong renewal; the most competitive affair in recent years in fact. At the time of writing Brain Power was the market leader at 6/4, and whilst I was impressed with his chasing debut, 13/8 is very short in this field. Not only is he the most inexperienced of these over fences, but he has hasn?t been properly tested yet, and I personally think he is worth taking on at the prices.

Finian?s Oscar is also likely to be a popular choice. He has some engine and has only tasted defeat once in his life, and that was by a short-head in the Grade 1 Champion Novice Hurdle at Punchestown in the spring. He has had two runs over fences to date, winning at Chepstow and Cheltenham at 2m4f, but on both occasions has been doing his best work at the business end of the race. On what I have seen, I?m a little surprised to see him drop back in trip here, especially given how he was caught slightly flat footed by Movewiththetimes last time out. Even though he won the Tolworth over 2m last season I think the drop back in distance is a slight concern. He hasn?t been foot perfect over his fences to date either, so this will definitely test him in that department. He could well prove up to the task, and it may be that he needs to going that stride quicker to improve his jumping technique, but like Brain Power, his odds (2/1 at the time of writing) are short enough with a couple of slight questions to answer.

For me, the one with the least to prove and my idea of the winner, is Dan Skelton?s runner NORTH HILL HARVEY. Regular readers of my previews will know I tipped this horse at Cheltenham?s November meeting and I?m happy to stick with him again here. He?s had two runs over fences, both at Cheltenham, and won both in good style. What has impressed me the most is his bold jumping and I can see him bowling along in front and really giving the others a thorough examination of their jumping techniques. He always comes home strongly up the Cheltenham hill, so Sandown?s stiff finish should suit again, although the only nagging concern is that he?s done the majority of his racing around left-handed tracks. This shouldn?t be too much of a problem though, and if he can get into a nice rhythm early, he could take some pegging back. On hurdles ratings he has a few pounds to find, but he?s a much better chaser in my mind, and having come through his first two assignments with flying colours, he looks well up to challenging at Grade 1 level.

On strict form Sceau Royal has to enter the reckoning having only just failed to give North Hill Harvey 5lbs at Cheltenham in October. However, it is worth mentioning that Alan King?s runner had already had a run under his belt on that occasion. Overall, I think the selection has much more progression in him and I expect him to confirm the form.

The final runner in the line-up is the Paul Nicholls-trained Capitaine, and given the yard has won four of the last nine runnings of this race, he cannot be overlooked lightly. Having said that, this is a very competitive affair and for me he has a bit to find to trouble some of these. He has won two low-key events over fences to date, but as was the case over hurdles, I suspect he will come up short against the best of them over the larger obstacles.

To conclude, it?s certainly a fascinating contest, but NORTH HILL HARVEY has the least questions to answer, and given his running style could be hard to peg back and should be supported each-way at 7/1.


NORTH HILL HARVEY ? 1pt each-way @ 13/2 (BetVictor & Paddy Power)

2.20 Sandown Park ? The Jumeirah Hotels And Resorts December Handicap Hurdle (Listed Race)

A tricky puzzle to try and solve here but a chance is taken on EXITAS taking advantage of his lower hurdles mark. Phil Middleton?s charge was most impressive when sluicing up in a Listed handicap chase at Ascot a month ago and showed himself to still be in good form when a decent third a Cheltenham three weeks ago. He lines up here off an 8lb lower mark over the sticks and his shrewd handler had mooted that a switch to the smaller obstacles would be considered. Given he is clearly in fine fettle and has another valuable 7lb taken off his back by another talented conditional in Daniel Sansom (James Bowen has been on board the last twice), he looks to hold a solid each-way chance.

Nicky Henderson has an imposing record here and his sole representative Jenkins will inevitably find himself towards the head of the market. I?m not convinced that he is that good though and he has definitely flattered to deceive since being heavily beaten last Boxing Day. He was given a chance by the assessor from an opening mark of 137 but was well beaten in the Greatwood last time and a 2lb ease in the ratings may not be enough to see him prove competitive.

Alan King?s pair have more pressing claims with William H Bonney looking the first string as the choice of Wayne Hutchinson. He was a decent fifth in the Greatwood last time, the first form he had shown for nearly a year, and a 2lb drop in the weights will only aid his cause. Kevin Dowling was going well aboard Fidux over course and distance last time until an unfortunate collision with a swinging hurdle unshipped the conditional jockey. He looked likely to play a part in the finish on that occasion and must still be feared despite racing off effectively a 5lb higher mark.

Irish raider Crossed My Mind must come into consideration for all that he races off 4lb higher than his Irish mark. Arthur Moore?s five-year-old has had only five spins over timber so still has his best days ahead of him and is an interesting contender from a yard that has few runners on these shores.


EXITAS? 1pt e/w @ 12/1 (general) (3 places 1/4 odds)

2.35 Aintree ? 188bet.co.uk Many Clouds Chase (Grade 2)

Just the four runners here, but it still looks a competitive contest as a case can be made for each of the quartet of runners.

The sole Irish raider in the race is Alpha des Obeaux who failed to fire last spring but has been in much better form so far this term. Having chased home subsequent Ladbrokes Trophy winner Total Recall in the Munster National in October, he probably found Grade 1 company too hot to handle at Down Royal next time. However, there was plenty to like about his Grade 2 victory at Clonmel a few weeks ago, as he stayed on strongly on the run-in to win by five and a half lengths at the line. That was over 2m4f and whilst the return to 3m shouldn?t be an issue, he may struggle to concede weight to his three rivals here.

On official ratings, the one to beat is Cloudy Dream who has also started this season in fine form. He was a little unlucky to finish second to Smad Place in the Old Roan Chase over 2m4f in October and filled the same place in the Shloer Chase behind Fox Norton the following month. It is interesting that connections have decided to step him up to 3m for the first time here in a race of this quality and I have to admit I have my doubts about his stamina. Despite having winning form on soft ground, his trainer has always said that he is a better horse on better ground and with that in mind, I think he has plenty to prove here.

Nigel Twiston-Davies? Flying Angel finished ahead of Cloudy Dream when winning the Grade 1 Manifesto Novices? Chase at Aintree in April but has failed to replicate that form since then. He was pulled up at Ayr in April and whilst that can be forgiven on the back of a long season, his two runs so far this season have left plenty to be desired. He finished last of five at Newton Abbot on his return in October and although there were signs of encouragement at Ascot last time, he needs the step up to 3m to bring about significant improvement.

All things considered, it is hard to get away from DEFINITLY RED who improved throughout last season, winning valuable handicap chases at both Wetherby and Doncaster. He was well-fancied for the Grand National in April but enjoyed no luck in the race as he was pulled up following a tack failure. Life is set to be much tougher for him this term but he performed with plenty of credit when third in the Charlie Hall Chase behind Bristol de Mai and Blaklion in November. His overall form suggests that he tends to improve for his first run of the season and considering the amount of soft ground form he has, he looks to have plenty going in his favour here. His trainer believes he could develop into a Gold Cup contender by the end of the season and whilst he still has a long way to go to get to that level, I think he is the one to beat here.


DEFINITLY RED ? 2pts win @ 7/4 (general)

2.55 Sandown Park? The Betfair Tingle Creek Steeple Chase (Grade 1)

This is usually one of the very best and most eagerly-anticipated races of the season, but with the non-declaration of Douvan, Altior or Un De Sceaux, some of the lustre has seemed to have drifted away from the contest.

However, this does mean that we could well see a new star of the two-mile chasing division emerge and there are certainly plenty of candidates ready to throw their hat into the ring. The Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter a month ago could provide some useful clues, with four of the six runners (Ordinary World a NR) having run in that Devonshire contest. Paul Nicholls scored a 1-23 that day with winner, Politologue, and San Benedeto in second place. The form looks fairly solid and I would be very surprised if the latter could reverse the form with the John Hales-owned Politologue as this will only be the latter?s eighth start over fences and it doesn?t seem as if Nicholls has got to the bottom of him just yet ? he could take high rank in this division this season.

Also in that Exeter race, the pair of Ar Mad and Sir Valentino were pulled up on what was some very testing ground on their seasonal reappearances. Tom George?s charge has been out since though, winning nicely at Ascot off a big weight in a high-quality two-mile handicap chase. That, combined with Sir Valentino?s excellent efforts in defeat in multiple Grade 1 and Grade 2 chases last season, give him a decent chance here and he might be underestimated at 25/1. The eight-year-old may be a little older than the usual winners of this (5, 6 and 7-year-olds have the best record), but his third place in the Champion Chase, close second in the Desert Orchid Chase and even closing fifth in this race last year entitles him to some serious respect in a race that looks like it?s lacking that usual superstar that runs in it.

Gary Moore?s Ar Mad hasn?t been seen since that Exeter run, but is sure to have come on plenty for it and this return to familiar and well-liked surroundings at Sandown Park could do him the world of good. The ground should be much better than that day, which helps his bold-jumping style, and I?d expect to see a return to the front-running tactics that have served him so well in the past. Of course he?ll have to show a return to the form of almost two years ago, but even if he returns in the form he showed when fourth in last year?s race, he?ll have an outside chance.

Charbel is an interesting contender and on the strength of the form he showed before coming down at the second last in the Arkle, he?d have a shout as well. The worry with this horse is that he seems to have dropped off a bit since making the leap from novice company and this could still be too hot for him, even though this better ground and return to chasing should suit.

However, the one to beat is surely the impressive winner of the Shloer Chase, FOX NORTON and the market certainly agrees, having installed Colin Tizzard?s charge as the 4/7 favourite. On bare ratings, he?s 8lb clear of anything else in the race and has proved his wellbeing in no uncertain terms as he routed his opposition at Cheltenham three weeks ago. He has the best form in the race to his name, including Grade 1 wins at Punchestown and Aintree at the end of last season, while a reproduction of his second in the Champion Chase would surely be enough to dispose of these rivals. It may be his first experience of Sandown park?s famous railway fences, but he?s never fallen over fences and there?s never been a question over his jumping, so if he?s fit and firing, he?ll surely take some stopping ? he rates a confident max bet.


FOX NORTON 2pts win @ 8/13 (SportingBet & SunBets)

3.10 Aintree ? The 188bet.co.uk Grand Sefton Handicap Chase.

Sametegal is probably a worthy favourite given Paul Nicholls? record in this race but he is still pretty inexperienced over fences and this test over the intimidating Grand National course may just be a leveller for a horse that has evidently had his problems.

Therefore, preference is for CAPTAIN REDBEARD who had a decent pipe-opener when third at Ayr a month ago and should be primed for this now racing off a 1lb lower mark. Arctic Gold finished one place ahead of him but he had the benefit of race-fitness and Stuart Coltherd?s charge now has that run under his belt and a 3lb swing in his favour. The eight-year-old has progressed into a very tidy jumper, which will undoubtedly come in handy here and will likely out-run his inflated odds making him a decent each-way play.

Another that looks over-priced is Imjoeking who was running a blinder until tipping up in the Topham behind Ultragold back in April. Despite coming to grief, his jumping up to that point had been very good and he was right in the mix. However, his stamina was yet to come into play and that could be an issue here with heavy ground to contend with as well.

The biggest danger to the selection could well turn out to be this year?s Grand National fifth Gas Line Boy, who looked for all the world the winner until falling 3 out over the conventional Aintree fences on the Mildmay Course back in October. He must have strong claims off the same mark here but the drop in trip is a bit of a worry, for all that the stamina-sapping ground could ease a bit of that burden.


CAPTAIN REDBEARD? 0.5pt e/w @ 10/1 (general) (3 places 1/5 odds)

3.30 Sandown Park ? The Betfair London National Handicap Steeple Chase.

A real quality renewal of this stayers? race over three miles and five furlongs with a nice mix of veteran chasers and up-and-coming stayers to pick through.

Currently leading the market is the Neil Mulholland-trained Doing Fine, who has a very eye-catching jockey booking here with Barry Geraghty getting the leg up. He ran a nice race at Cheltenham off this mark last time out behind Cogry and SInglefarmpayment, staying on well up the hill to finish third and he looks set for another solid effort here. This kind of extreme trip does suit him well, but he does have a habit of being a ?nearly horse? who stays on late once most of the piece has been sorted out. The nine-year-old should run a good race, but I wonder whether the handicapper has him where he wants him off a mark of 137.

Sugar Baron is another who ran a very eye-catching trial for this at Cheltenham, this time when finishing a close second in a very well-contested Amateur Riders? Handicap over a shorter trip. He was a close seventh in this year?s bet365 Gold Cup off a 1lb lower mark for trainer Nicky Henderson and that form would give him a chance, but the cut in the ground and the way he weakened late on do make me think that this might be a touch too far for him, especially given he doesn?t have Harry Hunt?s 3lb claim as he did at Cheltenham, so he?s effectively running off 4lb higher. Even though he will probably have come on for that seasonal reappearance at Cheltenham, he strikes me as a tricky ride who looks a risky proposition at a single-figure price.

Household name, Houblon des Obeaux, worked his way back into the winner?s enclosure last time out at this venue when he defeated Third Intention in a thrilling Veterans? Chase for Venetia Williams. He?s gone up 2lb for that run but tackles this longer trip here, something which he does seem to enjoy in these twilight years of his career, and the ten-year-old holds decent claims of going in again. However, this does look a better contest and his runs in the better quality of races last season did seem to show his age a little. He could run respectably, but he?s got a bit to do if he?s going to win.

Another horse who seems to have been around forever is Fletchers Flyer, but he?s only really put his best foot forward three times in the past two years ? once when touched off by Onenightinvienna at Exeter, the when winning a handicap chase over this kind of trip at Punchestown and then when he was third in the Grade 2 Reynoldstown at Ascot. Most of his other runs, including two disappointing pulled up efforts the last twice, have been a little lacklustre and even though he?s slipped to his lowest mark since winning that Punchestown handicap, I?d want to see a little more from him before recommending him.

Paul Nicholls has won two of the last four runnings of this contest and he?s represented this year by SOUTHFIELD THEATRE, who has become a little disappointing over the last 12 months or so. Admittedly he would most likely have won the Badger Ales in December 2016 if he didn?t come down at the last, but he?s never really fulfilled the potential he showed in his novice chasing season. However, his latest fourth in this year?s Badger Ales at Wincanton was a promising effort off a big weight in ground that would have been too soft for him, so returning to good to soft ground after a 2lb drop in the weights is a big tick in the box, especially given he ran off 147 in the 2016 Badger Ales and is off 148 here. Lorcan Williams also takes a very valuable 7lb off his back thanks to his claim, so from effectively 9lb lower than that last run and when he was a good fourth over C&D in the 2016 bet365 Gold Cup and 6lb lower than for that 2016 Badger Ales run, he should be strongly respected after that first run in almost a year.


SOUTHFIELD THEATRE 0.5pt e/w @ 12/1 (Stan James) (3 places 1/4 odds