1.50pm Sandown - Grade 2 Betfair Beacons Winter Novices Hurdle
While just five runners will be heading to post for the first of the Grade 2’s on the card at Sandown on Friday, they are all coming off the back of a victory last time out, three of them on hurdling debut.
Nicky Henderson has stated he has some very nice novices for the season ahead, and his runner Southoftheborder arrives here with many eyes on him as he takes a big step up in class here.
A point-to-point winner over three miles in November for Derek O'Connor, he only had one bumper run for current connections, where he was sent off the 11/8 favourite, so plenty of positive vibes around the horse.
He won that nicely, and although he looks to be a staying type for the future, he showed at Ffos Las that day that he does have a little pace alongside that staying ability, as he pulled clear in the closing stages with ease to win on his rules debut.
His hurdling debut was at Sandown 26 days ago, where he was sent off the odds-on market leader, and he duly justified all that market positivity by winning the contest, albeit maybe not as impressively as the odds suggest.
However, he travelled and jumped really well, before pulling clear in the closing 100 yards or so, not very hard-pressed in the end.
He looks to have bundles of potential, and this step up to two and a half miles will not be an issue for him (his hurdle debut was over two miles), and if anything, the further he goes up in the trip the better he might become.
Unbeaten heading into this, all eyes will naturally be on him , but he is a very nice type, and any horse that can win a bumper over an inadequate trip must have plenty of potential. He is an exciting novice to look forward to as the season progresses.
2.25pm Sandown - Grade 2 Betfair Esher Novices Chase
A really fascinating Novice Chase between two staying novice chasers with huge potential, as last season's Albert Bartlett winner Stay Away Fay takes on Giovinco, a horse that a fair few are touting to be the next best thing for the Lucinda Russell team. And it is the latter who could be best suited to come out on top in this contest here on Friday.
First and foremost Giovinco technically has the most experience over fences out of all of these runners, as he has already had two runs over the larger obstacles, which includes an unseating on chase debut at Carlisle.
It is impossible to say if he was going to win that day, but one thing is for sure he was jumping well and travelling nicely throughout, just made a little mistake when landing when jumping over the third from home. He showed next time out that the unseating left no effect on him, as he landed a four-runner field at Aintree with relative ease.
He jumped well in a race where conditions really wouldn't have suited him (fences were omitted, and he is a thorough stayer who will relish the jumping test, so it wouldn't have suited him) so to still win such a tricky contest does show he is a nice chaser in the making.
The Lucinda Russell horse comes into this race off the same mark as Stay Away Fay, who was very game on debut without looking too flashy, his form however has been franked with Grey Dawning winning since they met.
However, Giovinco does get 3lb off him in the weights, and that might not matter in normal circumstances, but when it comes to inexperienced chasers, it could be a decisive factor.
Both horses are very nice staying types for the future, but given the conditions of this race and the fact he gets the weight pull in his favour, Giovinco is the one to really keep an eye on at Sandown on Friday.
Whenever Lucinda talks about him there is a little sparkle in her eye, so really feels he is a Brown Advisory horse for next March.
Race preview provided by @ Jake Russell