Handstands impresses once more in Sidney Banks

By Sports Desk February 08, 2024

Handstands appears to have earned himself a place on Ben Pauling’s Cheltenham Festival squad after maintaining his unbeaten record in the M1 Agency Sidney Banks Memorial Novices’ Hurdle at Huntingdon.

Bought for £135,000 after winning his only start in the point-to-point field in October, the five-year-old made an immediate impact under rules at Hereford two months later before following up under a penalty at Newcastle early in the new year.

Pauling’s charge faced a step up in class for his hat-trick bid, with Nicky Henderson’s Grade One winner Jango Baie among his rivals, but he proved more than up to the task under Harry Cobden.

Bugise Seagull took the four-strong field along for much of the two-and-a-half-mile journey before 9-4 shot Handstands took over before the home turn, at which stage Jango Baie was being niggled along by James Bowen and was briefly caught in behind the other two runners.

The 5-4 favourite, winner of the inaugural Formby Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree on Boxing Day, stuck to his guns in the straight and was not far behind Handstands at the final flight, but the latter never looked in any serious danger of being caught and had a length and a half in hand at the line.

“He’s so raw and looking at him walking around the paddock there against a couple of those he looked a shell,” said Pauling.

“He looks a horse for next year, but there is just no bottom to him and he has just lobbed round there as easy as you like and when Harry wanted him he’s come alive really – he didn’t pick up the bridle for the first two miles and it’s really pleasing.

“I don’t think he is short of speed either and I’m very pleased. I don’t think he has had to try too hard again there and I couldn’t be happier. He was a bit careful at the second but other than that he has jumped brilliantly and it was a brilliant ride from Harry.”

Coral cut Handstands to 16-1 from 33-1 for the Baring Bingham Novices’ Hurdle at next month’s Cheltenham Festival, while Paddy Power offer 10-1 from 20-1 in their non-runner money back market.

Pauling added: “It’s job done today and then we will see what we do next. He’s an exciting horse for the future and we might look at the Baring Bingham.

“I think we will probably go (to Cheltenham), why not? He doesn’t have to do an awful lot does he and that won’t have taken too much out of him. He’s won on good ground and he’s won on heavy ground – it doesn’t really matter to him.

“There’s not much to separate him and Tellherthename (runs in Saturday’s Betfair Hurdle at Newbury). I still think Tellherthename is probably a bit better, but that isn’t to say this lad is not class in his own right.

“They are different horses – Tellherthename travels that bit sweeter, whereas this lad goes to sleep then comes alive afterwards.”

Henderson was far from disappointed with the performance of the runner-up Jango Baie, who was conceding 5lb to Handstands.

“James said it was a bit of a stop-start sprint,” said the Seven Barrows handler.

“I’m sure he got the trip all right and he stayed on well. He got messed around a bit (in running) but I’m not making excuses. We were giving them 5lb and well done to the winner. I think they are two smart horses, it is always a decent race and I think it was.

“He probably wants all of this trip. He’s finished both of his races very strongly – he certainly did at Aintree when he stayed it out very well and finished very strong.”

On whether Jango Baie could run at Cheltenham, he added: “These are young horses and we’ve got to see who is coping with what.

“Aintree (over two and a half) would look the obvious place for him, but we will see. I will talk to the owner.”

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