Nicky Henderson’s Cheltenham Gold Cup hope Santini starts life outside novice company in the Virgin Bet Future Stars Intermediate Chase at Sandown on Sunday.
Always highly regarded at Seven Barrows, he is prominent in the betting for the blue riband event despite winning only one of his three outings over fences last term.
However, that tells only half the story as his preparation for the RSA Chase in March was interrupted in the days leading up to the race yet he still ran well, being beaten only half a length by Topofthegame.
Henderson said: “It was slightly frustrating with him last season. He had no real preparation going into Cheltenham.
“The flu vaccination took him out of running for the Reynoldstown and he needed more practice. Then we had a foot problem and we couldn’t ride him for three weeks.
“For him to run like he did at Cheltenham was amazing. If I’m honest, with a better preparation, I do feel he could have won at Cheltenham.
“There is pressure on him as he has got to come out and do what he is expected to do at Sandown and then we will take it step by step.”
Henderson used the race to good effect with Might Bite two years ago, who went on to just come up short in the Gold Cup.
“I’ve used the race for so many second-season chasers and it just gives them one shot at something easier. I know these races never fill up, but they are so useful for second-season chasers,” he went on.
“He has only had three runs over fences and I’m not going to throw him into big fields of handicappers. He is in great form. He jumped 10 fences on Thursday morning. It will be hard work at Sandown as the ground will be testing.”
It is far from a penalty kick for Santini, though, with Alan King’s Talkischeap returning to the scene of his biggest success in the bet365 Gold Cup at the end of last season.
“He is in good form and is ready to start,” said King.
“I had two races in mind for him. I thought of running him in the hurdle race at Newbury that Dingo Dollar ran in, but they decided to stick him up 12lb over hurdles without me realising which meant he wasn’t qualified, so luckily Sandown was there.
“He needs to be running this weekend if he is to run in the Ladbrokes Trophy.
“He won’t beat Santini, but we don’t really want to pick up a penalty before the Ladbrokes Trophy. We are dropping back in trip, but that’s fine and it is a good race to start him off in.”
While only four go to post, neither Philip Hobbs’ 150-rated Steely Addition or Stuart Edmunds’ Now McGinty, second in the Reynoldstown, can be ruled out with confidence.
Dr Richard Newland is delighted to get the injury-plagued Abolitionist back racing for the Casino At Virgin Bet Veterans’ Handicap Chase Qualifier.
The 11-year-old has been restricted to just three runs since joining the Claines handler two seasons ago.
“Abolitionist is in good form. He obviously has been difficult to train with his number of injuries, but he’s in good form this year and it’s just a starting point for him really,” said Newland.
“We’re looking forward to getting him back on the track.
“I hope he will= run in either the Becher or the Veterans Chase Final, depending on how he goes.”
Abolitionist has to give weight to all his rivals that include old favourites Houlbon Des Obeaux, Le Reve and Loose Chips.