THE YOUNG and old of the National Hunt world come together at Sandown Park this weekend with two intriguing clashes.
Nicky Henderson has a very strong suit of novice hurdlers in the Grade One Tolworth Hurdle (2.25).
Like BIRCHDALE and EPATANTE, the highly regarded RATHHILL has won his sole hurdles race and found plenty last time out at Newbury.
He may be the best of the Seven Barrows bunch but this is a competitive affair, and it’s no surprise to see Paul Nicholls have a live contender in GRAND SANCY.
Already a Listed winner over hurdles this season, he will have learned plenty from the hustle and bustle of the Betfair Exchange Hurdle at Ascot last time when beaten just six lengths into fourth.
ELIXIR DE NUTZ made it back-to-back victories last time out when he led from the start and never looked like getting caught under a big penalty.
He has really thrived since joining the Tizzard stable from Philip Hobbs and has seen support with Carrigill’s, who make him 11/4 second favourite at the time of writing.
The Tolworth is followed by the Veteran’s Chase Final and Richard Newland’s lightly-raced gelding ROCK GONE looks the one to beat.
He’s clearly had his problems with just 14 starts to his name and emerged from another long absence with a recent second-placed finish over courses and distance to LOOSE CHIPS who is something of a standing dish over 3m at Sandown.
Newland is only interested in training winners and has another leading contender in BAND OF BLOOD, who was short of years last time out at Kelso but looks reasonably treated if he can recapture the form that led to a Doncaster double last February.
Look for TORPILLO to maintain his unbeaten run in the opening juvenile hurdle at 12.15 and follow up on his winning debut for Nigel Twiston-Davies over tomorrow’s (Saturday) courses and distance last month when never headed.
Nicholls has plundered his favourite track Wincanton on more than one occasion and is coming off a 28 per cent strike rate in December, which matches his career strike rate at the Somerset racecourse where he has saddled an incredible 374 winners.
COPAIN DE CLASSE can add to that total in the 1.50 as he generally goes well fresh, and with no sign of rain the ground should be right up his street, but stablemate CAPELAND will be on hand to pick up any pieces.
WICKED WILLY came from off the pace to finish in the frame at a big price in the 3m handicap hurdle in Cheltenham’s two day December fixture and his form during the month of January’s past points to a big run and at 15/2 is an each-way price with Carrigill’s.
Back on the flat ISLE OF AVALON is entered at Wolverhampton tonight (Friday) and at Newcastle on Sunday and his trainer Sir Mark Prescott has impressive ratings at both tracks and the daughter of Camelot should win wherever she goes.
The Sussex National is the headliner at Plumpton on Sunday where THE TWO AMIGOS can be the punters’ pal for Nicky Martin and looks well treated.
CARRIGILL’S NAP (Stake returned as a free bet if selection does not finish in the top 4): ELIXIR DE NUTZ, Saturday, 2.25, Sandown.
AUGUR’S BEST BET: THE TWO AMIGOS, Sunday, 2.40, Plumpton.