WHEN SATURDAY COMES so does Team Nicholls and they have a strong hand in the Two Grade 1 races at Sandown this afternoon.
In the Henry VIII Novice Chase (13:55) over two miles, preference is for Al Ferof. Paul Nicholls’ horse made a scintillating debut over fences at Cheltenham three weeks ago and it would be a surprise if he was to be beaten here.
He probably has most to fear from Lancetto who beat Toubab narrowly in a fast time at Cheltenham in October — albeit on good to firm ground — and Nicky Henderson’s Eradicate who was a very easy winner in a poor three-horse race at Doncaster last time out.
However AL FEROF gave a terrific performance last time and I see no reason to desert him now.
The Tingle Creek Chase (15:05) over two miles is one of the flagship races of the season. Moscow Flyer, Master Minded, Twist Magic and Kauto Star have each won it twice over the last eight years with Paul Nicholls winning the last six runnings.
Unfortunately Nicholls’ main hope for tomorrow, Tataniano, is a late withdrawal, leaving Ruby Walsh to switch to Kauto Stone.
This half-brother to Kauto Star impressed at Down Royal a month ago beating Roi Du Mee by over six lengths. However that was over 2m4f on soft ground — my worry is that tomorrow’s two mile trip might be a bit short and the good ground might be against him.
The current two-mile champion Sizing Europe also lines up. He started the season with a stroke of luck over 2m4f at Gowran Park when he was handed the race when a long way behind by the fall of Rubi Light. He then attempted the three miles of the Nicholson Chase at Down Royal where he tired rapidly from the last and was overhauled close to the line.
His connections have messed about with him over the last year trying to make him into a three miler. However, they seem to have put that ambition to bed by not entering him for the King George at Kempton. A look at Sizing Europe’s form gives lie to the myth that he is only a spring horse; in fact, there are excuses for some of his defeats.
Wishfull Thinking reverts here to two miles in what his trainer Philip Hobbs describes as an experiment. He finished sixth on his reappearance at Cheltenham in the Paddy Power Gold Cup, weakening rapidly from the 3rd last. More worrying are the reports that he was struggling to breath after the race as this horse has had breathing problems in the past.
Last season he had impressive form, finishing four lengths second to Noble Prince at Cheltenham before beating Medermit by 10 lengths at Aintree. Wishfull Thinking then went on to finish the season with a four-length win over the subsequent Galway Plate winner Blazing Tempo at Punchestown.
However, all of those races were over 2m 4f and more. Though his style of running might be suited to two miles, he might just set the race up for Sizing Europe. Add in the fact that SIZING EUROPE would have to give 13lbs and 15lbs to his main rivals in a handicap and I think he would have to run way below par to be beaten here.
Stranger things have happened though, and I would advise just a 1 pt win. If you’re still confused after all the above, keep your money in your pocket, sit back and enjoy what should be a great race.