There is no track in the country that I enjoy visiting more than Sandown Park in Esher which many alongside myself will agree offers the best viewing of any racecourse in the UK with the famous row of seven fences down the back straight always a magnificent spectacle.
After two inches of rain in the during the week the hurdles course was left waterlogged meaning the four hurdles had to be abandoned but great praise must be given to Sandown as they quickly put plans in place to add three extra chases to the card to ensure racing could still take place and after a successful inspection at 4pm the previous day a revised card of six chases was given the go ahead.
After all the heavy rain during the week it was going to be hard work for the horses faced with heavy ground and the stiff Sandown hill to contend with and it paid to race up with the pace as with the exception of the 3m Betfred Masters Handicap Chase where the leaders went off way to quick, being up with the pace was certainly the place to be.
The opening race a 2m 0-145 handicap saw the Jonjo O'Neill trained Eastlake who had recently won in extremely heavy ground at Ascot make virtually all the running and asserting after the last to run out a commanding winner from Lord Singer. The disappointment of the race was the Paul Nicholls tarined Toubab but in fairness to the trainer he had stated that his horse didn't like the conditions but with only one run under his belt this season he had to get a run into his horse with Cheltenham only five weeks away.
The feature race of the day was next up with all eyes in the Nicky Henderson Captain Conan who was stepping up to 2m4f for the first time in this grade 1 and unlike his first two runs over fences he was held up and it was the outsider of the four runners Third Intention who looked to have the hot favourite beat after building a 3 length advantage jumping the last but like many other horses in the past failed to get home up the Sandown hill allowing the favourite to rally and get up in the shadow of the finishing line. Connections felt the winner was a bit rusty after having to miss the Dipper Chase that was abandoned earlier in January and this at least proved his effectiveness at this trip and if anything it looked like he could stay even further in the future. All roads now lead to the Jewson Novice Chase at The Festival now.
The 3rd race was one of the new races added to the card a 2m4f 0-145 veterans handicap chase which featured course winner and past Topham Chase winner Gwanako and 2010 Grand Annual Chase winner Pigeon Island but it was Dashing George who had only run at Leicester three days ago finishing 4th over 3m and finding this shorter trip much more to his liking this 11 year old gelding made all and put in polished display of jumping to run out a commanding 9 length winner from the staying on Plein Pouvoiu.
The Betfred Master Handicap Chase worth £50000 was the most valuable race if the day and it was disappointing to only see seven horses line up for with such good prize money being put up. Nicky Hendersons sole Grand National Roberto Goldback headed the weights and the race began with the Paul Nicholls trained favourite Keppols Hill falling at the 1st fence and it was the lightly weighted On Trend who took advantage of the early pace setters Mister Hyde and Viking Blond who went off way too quickly in the heavy ground cutting each others throats leaving the Nick Gifford trainer 7 year old to pick up the pieces and run out a 8 length winner to Viking Blond who to his credit done well to hold on for 2nd after going of so quickly. The winner is now likely to head to one of the handicaps at Cheltenham possibly the Kim Muir.
The final two chases were new races added to the card and both went to the bang in form Venetia Williams stable with top weight Kapga De Cerisy making all to win the 5th race and the final race of the day saw yet another horse make all the running with the short priced favourite Shangani landing the spoils.
There will be better days racing at Sandown and on this cold winters day the crowd was sparse but any NH card at Sandown is always worth the entry fee and in five weeks time the Paddy Power Imperial Cup takes place one of the most competitive handicap hurdles of the season.