Richard Birch believes a step up in trip will be key to his EBF Final fancy
European Breeders' Fund Paddy Power 'National Hunt' Novices' Handicap Hurdle Final (Grade 3) | 2m4f | 4-7yo | ITV4/RTV
This is always a cracking race, full of improving young hurdlers, many of whom remain open to improvement for the step up to 2m4f.
Only one favourite in the last ten years – McFabulous 12 months ago – has triumphed, surely a measure of just how competitive this contest always is.
The Mick Preston, certain to be towards the head of the market, has plenty of up-side to his chance.
With just four races behind him, it looks as though he's been carefully prepared for this valuable prize and, although a two-and-three-quarter-length win over Winds Of Fire on his handicap debut at Hereford in January is by no means standout form, that did come over 2m.
The Mick Preston was conspicuously strong at the end of that race in beating off a rival who has both winning and placed form over further at Sedgefield and Fakenham respectively.
A 6lb rise for that victory looked fair at the time, bearing in mind the unexposed Song Of The Hunter was a further 13 lengths adrift in third, and the distinct likelihood of his improving significantly for the extra half-mile makes him of serious interest.
Fergal O'Brien's wonderful season has been one of the features of the 2020-21 campaign, and it will get even better if Karl Philippe manages to land this £50,000 final.
A record of three wins and two seconds from five career starts reads well on paper, and his latest Exeter success received a timely boost on Tuesday when Killer Kane, who finished nearly 25 lengths behind him that afternoon, landed a maiden hurdle comfortably on a return trip to the Devon track.
Killer Kane's stablemate Striking A Pose arrives on the back of two fluent wins, while Dorking Lad, whose stable does particularly well at Sandown, rates a lively outsider.
Race analysis by Richard Birch
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What they say
David Pipe, trainer of Martinhal
Martinhal has got a great attitude and I think the step back up in trip will help him as well. The ground is going to be quicker than he has encountered but I’m sure he will handle it. Whether he is as effective on it only time will tell. It is difficult winning handicaps like this off top weight but we will give it a go. Dynaste finished sixth in it off top weight and he still ran a very good race, and Martinhal could do the same.
Emma Lavelle, trainer of Sam Barton
He is a lovely horse that is clearly going to be a chaser. The race at Doncaster has worked out well and he has come on for that mentally and physically, and is in good form. He has got the right profile for this race. I was impressed how easily he travelled through the race. Though he was clearly green when he got to the front, I loved how he went about it through the race. The track should be fine for him as it is a big galloping track like Doncaster.
Fergal O'Brien, trainer of Karl Philippe
He won two bumpers and then was second in his first two hurdle races. He won nicely the last day and going forward or being handy seemed to suit him better at Exeter. They're getting a bit of rain at Sandown and the more they get the better and I'm really looking forward to running him.
Colin Tizzard, trainer of Striking A Pose and Road Senam
Striking A Pose has won his last two and he couldn't have won any easier at Exeter, where he never even came off the bridle, though it wasn't the strongest of races. He is off 130, so if we thought he was good enough to go Cheltenham, where we had him in the Albert Bartlett, then he is good enough to win this one. Road Senam ran into six hurdles at Doncaster and he still finished third. He came over with quite a big reputation from France but he hasn't shown it yet. If we are going to lose his novice status we don't mind doing it in this race.
Chris Gordon, trainer of Press Your Luck
He’s got some nice pieces of form. I wouldn’t want too much more rain for him and in an ideal world it would dry up a bit.
Dan Skelton, trainer of Riggs
I think the track will really suit him, he wants horses to come back to him and Sandown is a great track for that to happen. It's hyper-competitive, as it always is, but I'd definitely give him a little chance.
Nigel Twiston-Davies, trainer of The Mick Preston and Beauport
We've been very pleased with him over hurdles and he wasn't bad as a bumper horse. The ground shouldn't be a worry to him. I don't think there's a lot between him and Beauport, who didn't get the clearest of runs last time, and hopefully the better ground should help both of them.
Gary Moore, trainer of Dorking Lad
It's a shame what happened with the void race at Plumpton. Hopefully, he'll run a big race off his low weight here. He'll improve for good ground.
Reporting by Scott Burton
Read a selection of our Saturday previews . . .