Sandown Park staged the first of two consecutive days of competitive racing on Friday 12th March with a six-race card sponsored by Paddy Power.
While most of those running at The Festival™ supporting WellChild next week are being wrapped in cotton wool ahead of their big day out, we did get some pointers for Aintree next month and there were some smart performances from horses with bright futures ahead of them. Here Graham Clark reviews the action on track…
CONSISTENT DIAMOND SPARKLES FOR THOMAS
Sam Thomas hinted at a trip to the Randox Grand National Festival at Aintree for Grey Diamond, who opened his account over fences at the fifth time of asking.
Having finished in the frame in his two previous starts over fences this season the Dai Walters-owned seven year old was rewarded for his consistency with victory in the Paddy’s Rewards Club Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase.
Sitting in behind early pace-setter Antunes the 3-1 chance moved into the lead between the final two fences of the extended 1m 7f prize before holding off the challenge of Dostal Phil.
Thomas, speaking away from the track, said: “He had a bit of a late start to the season as he picked up a niggly little injury. He is a lovely great big horse and one I’ve always thought had a lot of ability. It has just taken time to get him to come to our way of thinking.
“He likes to get on with things and tries to do things in a rush but he was more relaxed today and that was the best he shown up in a race. The way he relaxed there we could step him up in trip which will open up more doors in the future.
“We could potentially look at Aintree but we will keep an eye on the going as he doesn’t want it too quick. He could be one for the Perth Festival and we have toyed with the idea of going to France.”
JOHNSON AND HOBBS CHEERED AFTER FESTIVAL BLOW
Trainer Philip Hobbs and jockey Richard Johnson had their spirits lifted by Orby’s Legend just hours after leading Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle contender Thyme Hill was ruled out of a trip to the Cheltenham Festival next week.
After struggling to handle testing conditions at Exeter last time out the five-year-old gelding returned to winning ways with an emphatic 12 length success in the two-mile Paddy Power “National Hunt” Novices’ Hurdle.
Johnson said of the 9-4 winner: “He has just got a very good attitude and is very straightforward. He is probably a chaser for next season. I think on better ground he will get further. He didn’t quite see his race out at Exeter the last day as it was on testing ground.”
On Thyme Hill he added: “It is just one of those frustrating things and it always happens the week before Cheltenham. The owners and Philip took the sensible decision to wait for Aintree instead of going to Cheltenham half-fit. He will be back and he is a very exciting horse.”
WILLIAMS THRILLED BY TALENTED BANBOU
He may not be forming part of trainer Venetia Williams’ team at the Cheltenham Festival this season but six-year-old Frero Banbou looks destined for bigger and better things judging by his nine length victory in the Paddy Power Handicap Chase.
Williams said: “We are delighted with what he has done. He had a little wind op. It was a suggestion from his jockey that it would help and it clearly has. He is going to have to go in better company and the handicapper will ensure that.”
Although yet to make a decision as to whether Royale Pagaille will run in the WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup, the Sam Vesty National Hunt Chase Challenge Cup Novices’ Chase or the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase next week, the Aramstone handler has firmed up plans for a number of her other Festival runners.
She added: “I will probably run six or seven. Ibleo is running in the Grand Annual and that’s been decided and Cepage will I think go in the Ultima. We are going to be gung ho with Aso and throw his cards in the Gold Cup. If he runs into third or fourth we would be delighted.”
GILLARD CELEBRATES FIRST DOUBLE OF HIS CAREER
Fergus Gillard secured the first double of his career with wins aboard Sexy Lot and Gericault Roque – then declared: “It’s days like this you live for.”
Having teamed up with David Pipe to score with Gericault Roque earlier on the card, the 5lb claimer and the Pond House Stables handler combined for further success together in the “From The Horse’s Mouth” Podcast Novices’ Handicap Hurdle.
Speaking after the five-year-old’s six-length success in the 2m 4f finale, Gillard said: “I’m delighted as that is my first double under rules. It is days like this you live for. It is lovely to do it at a Grade One track on a day before a big meeting.
“She has run plenty of times this season and she has just outstayed them today. I wanted to get in a handy position before they got racing as I knew she would gallop on.”
BARD FOLLOWS UP WITH ANOTHER FRIDAY WIN
Sheena West’s Bard Of Brittany found himself in the winner’s enclosure for the second Friday in succession after following up his last time out victory at Doncaster with a seven-length triumph in the Paddy Power “4 Sleeps To Cheltenham” Handicap Hurdle.
Trainer West said of the 100-30, winner: “When you are watching it you are always looking for dangers. The race was a bit stop-start and he got to the front before he ideally wanted to but he was clearly travelling and going well.
“I had to run him under a penalty as this was the only realistic race for him for another five weeks.”