Sandown’s big pre-Christmas festival was packed to the rafters for Betfair Tingle Creek day and punters got off to the ideal start as I Can’t Explain justified favouritism in the opener.
Nicky Henderson has a fabulous record in the Core Spreads “National Hunt” Novices’ Hurdle, having won the two-mile event on seven consecutive occasions until 2015 when O O Seven scored.
I Can’t Explain, a point-to-point winner in Ireland and sent off the 11-8 favourite, cruised into contention under Nico de Boinville before jumping to the front two out and putting the race to bed.
Henderson said: “We use the race quite a lot, I think, don’t we? This is a nice place to start them off and when you have a nice horse, it is always good to start them off at a nice place.
“He handled the ground well, but it was quite hard work. But that is why you’d run him over two miles in that ground, as he would probably run over two-five on anything quicker than that.
“You wouldn’t mind seeing him doing it again, as he has only had one point-to-point, so I would not like to jump into too deep a pond, too soon.
“He is only four and he has always been pretty professional. He is very straightforward. At the moment, there are no quirks or foibles hiding there. He seems to just get on with his job.”
I Can’t Explain was introduced at 20-1 by GentingBet for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. Paddy Power and Coral were similarly aligned.
Papagana (11-2) looks a mare with promise after she took the Elmbridge Mares’ Handicap Hurdle in good fashion, staying on nicely up the hill under Aidan Coleman.
One of the least exposed in the line-up, the Oliver Sherwood-trained five-year-old had left her bumper efforts behind when she scooted in at Ffos Las in May – but had blotted her copybook with a tame effort at Market Rasen five months later.
However, on vastly different ground, she made smooth progress down the far side and stayed on strongly to win in the end, answering every question to score by two-and-three-quarter lengths from Jubilympics, who rallied to claim second from the one-paced Secret Door.
Coleman said: “I only rode her at Ffos Las before and she won that day. She is a very straightforward filly and a very good jumper.
“I was always quite happy she would finish, as I wanted to fill her up turning in on this soft ground. When I got running between two out and the last, she was always going to finish strong.
“The old adage is: she’ll be better over fences as well!”
The Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle always looked likely to prove a war of attrition in the testing conditions, and so it proved, as the Venetia Williams-trained Eminent Poet (14-1) stuck on dourly to score by six lengths from Another Emotion.
Eminent Poet had scored when the mud was flying at Haydock and Wetherby last winter and relished the conditions on his seasonal debut, taking it up two out after stalking long-time leader Loose Chips, who eventually finished a further four lengths back in third.
While it proved hard work up the hill, jockey Hugh Nugent always looked to have a bit left in the tank and the 7lb claimer was delighted with the way the seven-year-old kept finding more.
Nugent said: “This was my first ride here. I had a quick walk around and asked the other lads what they thought of the ground. It has gone well for me – I like it now. I was a bit worried they had not gone quick enough, even on that ground, because he is a stayer.
“But he is so tough, it doesn’t really matter with him, because he just ploughs through it, no matter how heavy. That was my only ride today, so one ride and one win – I’ll take that.
“That is my second win of the season in my first year as a professional. I turned professional last year after having 12 winners as an amateur and I am now with Venetia. It is going well so far.”
Man Of Plenty invariably gives his best and his consistency has been his downfall in recent times, but he defied the handicapper in game fashion to land the Jumeriah Hotels and Resorts December Handicap Hurdle.
It was just the third success of the Sophie Leach-trained nine-year-old’s career, yet it was not unexpected, as he had been well supported, into 8-1 from 16s.
He picked up the bridle turning in and got the better of Nelson’s Touch to draw away for a seven-length success in the Listed contest.
Winning jockey Sean Houlihan, who claimed 5lb, said: “He was very good – he always has been, though. He has just been running in very competitive races for the last 16 months or so.
“He does stay further, which probably helped him (coming back in trip today). He’s a hardened handicapper and it is just great to get his head in front.”
Morney Wing (12-1) proved another gallant winner, knuckling down to record a hard-fought length success over Red Infantry in the Betfair London National in the hands of 7lb claimer Rex Dingle.
Racing from 11lb out of the handicap, the nine-year-old gained a seventh chasing success.
Trainer Charlie Mann said: “We took the decision to take 7lb off and that has helped. He has given him a great ride. He loves this heavy ground and we were badly handicapped last year.
“We will likely look for similar races such as this, the Sussex Nationals and the like. As long as he gets his ground, he’ll keep giving his best. I’m delighted with him and delighted for the syndicate, who have had a lot of success with him.”
Dingle added: “I dreamed it would pan out like that and I’m overwhelmed that I have won it. He just kept popping away. It is fantastic.”