Racing Round-up: Grand chaser rekindles National hopes at Sandown

A New Year may bring about plenty of changes and new challengers to the old guard, but the first weekend of 2016 saw some familiar faces and stories dominate.

Willie Mullins took both Grade 1 prizes on offer, while 15 evergreen chasers belied their age to produce arguably the race of the week in Surrey in a bumper couple of days.

While it may have been a sense of déjà vu, we can’t help but look ahead here at Ladbrokes News, and the days just gone have certainly influenced the betting in some big prizes in the future.

Here is the round-up of all the news and market movers from the weekend just gone…

Pipe’s ‘gentle giant’ all heart and Soll

The newly introduced Veterans Series came to an exciting conclusion at Sandown on Saturday, as a whole host of old favourites battled it out for a bumper £100,000 prize.

Prior to the race David Pipe had described Soll as the ‘gentle giant’ at Pond House Stables, and he certainly looked a big, imposing sort as he made his way out onto the track.

Jumping the third-last at the end of the three mile slog, the 11-year-old found himself in third place behind Aachen and Creevytenant with Tom Scudamore hard at work, but the gelding dug deep in the home straight.

Still with three lengths to find on the leader jumping the second-last the gelding plugged on admirably under Scudamore’s urgings to get up by a neck and take the prize.

The guts and determination he showed at the Esher track could come in handy in April, with another crack at the Grand National mooted.

Ladbrokes cut last year’s ninth-place finisher from 50/1 to 33/1 for the Aintree contest that will certainly bring out the stamina in the horse.

What could stand in his way though is the likely rise in the weights. He won Saturday’s contest off a mark six pounds higher than the one he visited Liverpool off last year, and with his rating likely to increase again, it looks a big ask.

Soll (r) continued his good Sandown record in a game victory

Soll (r) continued his good Sandown record in a game victory

Is there more to the mares division than Annie Power?

But for a well-documented fall at the final hurdle at Cheltenham, Annie Power would be heading to the Festival in March to defend her crown, as such she is priced up as a 4/5 jolly to land the prize this time round.

However, Willie Mullins’ mare is yet to run this season, and it could just be that the challengers to the title are beginning to show their hand.

Polly Peachum very nearly took advantage of the market leaders’ fall in March, going down just a head in the Grade 1 contest.

She was cut to 10/1 from 14/1 after a game victory in a Listed event on Saturday, over Richard Newland’s The Govaness who was also shortened, this time from 20/1 to 16/1.

Jumping the last it looked as if the latter was coming to take the race from Nicky Henderson’s mare, but under David Bass, the eight-year-old showed she was well up for a fight, holding on by a head.

The ground would have undoubtedly been softer than ideal for the victor on Saturday, so more can be expected on a sounder surface at Cheltenham, but whether she can prevent Annie Power making amends for her spill nine months ago remains to be seen.

Polly Peachum (l) and The Govaness fought out a stirring finish

Polly Peachum (l) and The Govaness fought out a stirring finish

It’s not all about the Ricci juggernaut at Closutton

Such is the hype over Susannah and Rich Ricci’s latest batch of monsters trained by Mullins, you could easily assume that the owners have a monopoly on the County Carlow big guns.

Try telling that to Andrea and Graham Wylie who enjoyed a treble success at the weekend to showcase their relative might ahead of the Cheltenham Festival.

Firstly Yorkhill coped with the drop in trip admirably in the Grade 1 Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown, jumping well and travelling powerfully to take up the lead in the home straight before holding off all comers.

It was a novice hurdle double 24 hours later as Bellshill added another Graded pot to the coffers in the Lawlor’s Hotel Novice Hurdle.

Guessing which races the pair will target is a tricky proposition, and one that even Mullins was unable to answer.

Nevertheless there were cuts all round as the latter was cut to 7/2 (from 5/1) for the Neptune, while Yorkhill was shortened to 7/1 for the same race and 8/1 (from 12/1) for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

The Wylie’s weekend was made even better when Shaneshill took a hot looking novice chase at Naas by four-and-a-half lengths.

While that success was over two miles, the betting suggests that he will be upped in trip come March with his JLT Novices’ Chase odds cut from 7/1 to 5/1.

Ruby Walsh's mount travelled powerfully through the Sandown mud

Ruby Walsh’s mount travelled powerfully through the Sandown mud

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.

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Ben Stones

Ladbrokes News’ equine expert, Ben likes nothing more than studying the form to pick out a winner or two for our readers. A Journalism and Media Studies graduate from the University of Winchester, Ben has previously written for a number of football and racing blogs and websites, as well as contributing to the sports pages of his home-town newspaper.