El Fabiolo will bid to aid Willie Mullins’ quest to be crowned Britain’s champion jumps trainer by contesting the bet365 Celebration Chase on the final day of the season at Sandown.

With the Randox Grand National success of I Am Maximus at Aintree seeing Mullins hit the front in the title race, the Closutton is keen to grab what he believes would be a “once in a lifetime achievement” with both hands, as he looks to fend of Dan Skelton and perennial champion Paul Nicholls.

As is usually the case, most of the Mullins big guns are being readied to round off the campaign at the Punchestown Festival between April 30 and May 4.

But star two miler El Fabiolo could forego an outing in County Kildare to instead head back across the Irish Sea the previous Saturday, with the £170,000 Celebration Chase likely to have a major bearing on where the championship ultimately ends up.

Speaking at a press morning at his yard to promote the Punchestown Festival, Mullins said: “El Fabiolo will definitely go to Sandown.

“The Celebration Chase is an important race and it looks like a big race that we have the winning of, which would be huge.

“A lot will depend on what happens between now and Punchestown, (but) looking at it, we’re about £50,000 in front, so if we won that (Celebration Chase), one of the other guys would have to win another feature and probably another race to pass us.

“It’s a three-score game at the moment, but Paul is really a master of winning the championship and he will have his tactics in his head already. He could win the Scottish National and the bet365 Gold Cup and blow us out of the water, but you need a lot of luck to do that too.

“We’re just hoping that we can get one nice prize – and with a bit of luck, it will make it difficult then for Dan and Paul.

“We’re getting huge goodwill, especially from a lot of people across the water. They’re saying it’s adding a bit of spice to the end of the season and it’s a once in a lifetime achievement if we can manage to pull it off, so we’re going to put everything into it.”

El Fabiolo will be on a retrieval mission if he does turn up at Sandown after a bad mistake led to him being pulled up as a 2-9 favourite for the Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.

Mullins revealed the seven-year-old was feeling the effects of his disappointing effort after returning to Ireland, but is confident he is now back on-song.

He added: “He just wasn’t right when he came back from Cheltenham, so I just gave him a break and let him find his feet, so he’s bucking and kicking the last few mornings.

“He just wasn’t himself, but there was nothing to treat when we got home. Sometimes you just give a horse a break and let him recuperate and he’s done that and seems in good form now.

“He’s as fit as a flea and one or two bits of work should see him right for Sandown, I imagine.”

Another horse under consideration for a trip to Sandown is Arkle hero Gaelic Warrior, although the six-year-old does also have the option of Punchestown’s Barberstown Castle Novice Chase.

Mullins said: “Gaelic Warrior always looked very, very good but that form got a huge boost and it would be nice going to Punchestown with that, but I think he holds an entry in Sandown, so we’ll see how things go but I’d like to go to Punchestown with him.

“It’s sort of thrown a bit of a spanner in the works for our team but we still have an A-team I think to bring to Punchestown anyhow.

“It’s not something I like doing (running a novice in open company), but maybe this year we might have to look. El Fabiolo will be there, though, maybe he’d be enough.”

Joe Tizzard will head into the Cheltenham Festival full of confidence after a big Saturday double at Sandown on Imperial Cup day.

Tizzard has enjoyed many great days in the saddle at Prestbury Park but is yet to saddle a winner at the showpiece meeting, with JPR One leading the Venn Farm charge in the opening day’s My Pension Expert Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices’ Chase.

After breaking his Grade One duck as a handler at the track on Trials day, he will now return to the Cotswolds full of optimism after Rose Of Arcadia’s (9-2) win in the Best Odds On The Betfair Exchange Handicap Chase supplemented Scarface’s triumph in the previous Betfair Serial Winners Fund Novices’ Handicap Chase.

Tizzard said: “It’s always lovely to have a double on a Saturday full stop, but the weekend before Cheltenham is just what you need.

“It doesn’t just boost me, it boosts the staff, the owners, everybody. If you are struggling to find a winner it’s a different story, but that will just give the whole team a big boost and we’ll look forward to next week now.”

Tizzard was delighted to see the 13-2 scorer Scarface finally fulfilling his promise in his two-and-a-half-mile test.

“He’s improved for every run over fences and we’ve always held him in high regard,” said Tizzard.

“He’s got his confidence and after winning, it was a good run at Plumpton last time (when second) and even better again today now he’s got his confidence.

“Hopefully he’s at the right end of the handicap and I don’t know what we will do next. We just saw this pot and thought we would have a crack at this and thought the conditions would suit him.

“We’ll just have a think now and decide if we go to Ayr or we could hold on for the nice race over a bit further up at Ayr. There will be some nice races for him.”

Dan Skelton gained compensation for Faivoir’s near-miss in the feature Imperial Cup when picking up Listed honours with racecourse debutant Honky Tonk Highway in the British Stallion Studs EBF Mares’ Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race.

The 3-1 favourite had accounted for Ben Pauling’s useful Diva Luna in the pointing field and could now head to Aintree for graded action in the spring.

“Harry just felt the whole way round she wasn’t going and if you notice going through the wings of the first few, he actually sits down to hunt her along a little bit,” said Skelton.

“She has bundles of stamina and it was a very good point-to-point she ran in – Diva Luna who was second to her has won a Listed bumper at Market Rasen – so that was a sparkling bit of form in a point-to-point.

“When we started working this horse she didn’t exactly fire straight away and the more we’ve done with her, the better she has got. You saw there half-way up the run-in she ran around a bit, but she has a bit of fire in her belly not dissimilar to what Roksana had and the good mares like that.

“We would have high aspirations for her and whether she goes to Aintree or not, we will wait on the ground. We’ll keep her in training for it and see if it is appropriate.”

Skelton was another to register a double when Jet Plane landed a shock 22-1 success in the concluding betting.betfair.com Handicap Chase, while there was a rare jumps winner for Stuart Kittow, who saw his likeable filly Spiced Rum make most at odds of 13-2.

“We might go back on the Flat now, but she’s been on the go for quite a while, so I think when the ground dries up we will have to turn her out,” said Kittow.

“She obviously likes the softer ground. She took it up really easily and it’s quite stiff here and the softest part of the track is in the home straight. I think she actually jumped and travelled better where the ground was better down the back straight.

“She’s obviously still improving which is brilliant. She’s a nice dual-purpose horse.

“I have two jump horses, this one and Cornish Storm and he has been running nicely as well, so we’ve had a bit of fun this winter – makes a change from Wolverhampton at 9pm.”

Go Dante snatched the Betfair Imperial Cup Handicap Hurdle on the nod for Olly Murphy and Sean Bowen.

The eight-year-old was the 5-1 joint-favourite for the contest and was patiently ridden by Bowen in a field of 15 rivals.

The bay did not always jump with fluency and did not look the obvious winner as they turned for home, with plenty of horses ahead of him and two hurdles left to jump.

He was gaining ground constantly, however, and began to close in on Dan Skelton’s Faivoir at the head of affairs.

The two horses drew level as the post neared and a photo finish was required to split them, with Go Dante coming out on top by a nose.

Murphy said: “Horse and jockey were both very good there and my best friend (jockey) Harry Skelton has finished second, so it’s a good job I didn’t get a lift down with him.

“It was a great horse race and Faivoir is a tough horse and has won a County Hurdle.

“Go Dante has progressed well and we always thought he was going to be really good and he’s come here today off a mark still in the 120s. I’m not saying I would have been disappointed if he didn’t win, but I thought he was better than his mark just yet to prove it.

“He’s won a good pot today and these are the races you want to win aren’t they.”

Go Dante holds entries in both the County Hurdle and Martin Pipe at the Cheltenham Festival, but Murphy will resist the temptation to head to Prestbury Park, instead thinking of one more run elsewhere before a possible chasing campaign next term.

He continued: “The first thing I said to Barbara (Hester, owner) is we won’t be running next week and the only reason I left him in was in case he bolted up.

“He’s a horse who has not underachieved, but he’s had a lot of problems and it’s a big well done to my team at home. He’s been a tough horse to train and he broke his pelvis in a nasty schooling incident. He’s been through the mill this lad.

“I think he will improve for a fence (next year) and I imagine he’ll have one more run over hurdles this year. Where that will be I don’t know, but I would imagine we might have a look at something at Aintree or Punchestown, or maybe the Scottish Champion Hurdle – something like that if it is soft.

“He’s had a very good year and hopefully he will be a very nice chaser next year.”

Ben Pauling dominated the European Breeders’ Fund Betfair ‘National Hunt’ Novices’ Handicap Hurdle Final, saddling the first two horses home.

The winner Champagne Twist was ridden by Ben Jones at 11-2, whereas stablemate Pic Roc was the mount of Kielan Woods at a price of 10-1.

The latter horse made the running throughout, leading the 17-runner field over every obstacle and gaining himself a significant lead as the race progressed.

He was challenged by Champagne Twist in the home straight, however, who loomed up on the centre of the track to pass him just a few strides ahead of the post.

It was a special moment for Pauling who is enjoying a rich vein of form and he said: “It’s a brilliant result and I couldn’t split them beforehand. Woodsy wanted to ride one and Ben wanted to ride the other, so it kind of worked quite well.

“This is for a crew of my great mates so it’s pretty special, but Emma’s (Kendall, owner) horse Pic Roc ran a great race as well and probably just got a bit lonely having done plenty out in front and just got nabbed on the line. They both ran really well.”

Ben Jones has been one of the beneficiaries of Pauling’s fine string of results since joining the Naunton Downs handler and he was thrilled to have chosen the right mount.

He said: I’ve been very lucky with the opportunities I’ve been given and luckily it’s paying off.

“There wasn’t much between them and obviously coming down to the last there still wasn’t much between them!

“I think Pic Roc will end up being a lovely horse and Champagne Twist is probably a bit more streetwise and that’s why he’s won today. He’s not short of a turn of foot either and I think on better ground, you would see a better horse.

“We both jumped the last really well and there were no hard luck stories. Kielan said well done pulling up and he’s a good sportsman. He thought he was on the best one, I thought I was on the best one and luckily it worked out my way.”

Making Headway bids to provide the burgeoning training partnership of Oliver Greenall and Josh Guerriero with a significant pre-Cheltenham boost in the Betfair Imperial Cup at Sandown.

The Cheshire-based team will not send many runners to the Cotswolds next week but do have a major bullet to fire in the form of stablemate Iroko, winner of the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Hurdle 12 months ago and this time a serious player in the Turners Novices’ Chase.

Making Headway himself holds Cheltenham engagements in the Coral Cup and the Martin Pipe, but for now all eyes are on this weekend’s Sandown feature, the traditional appetiser to the Festival.

The six-year-old has enjoyed a fine first season over hurdles, with wins at Carlisle in October and Newbury last month sandwiching two creditable efforts in graded company, and Greenall feels he has plenty going for him on Saturday.

“He’s an improving horse who has run in some good races and run well,” he said.

“I don’t think it’s the deepest Imperial Cup there’s ever been, the favourite of Ben Pauling’s (Jipcot) won well at Huntingdon the other day but that was a lesser race, so he needs to step up again.

“We’ve got some good form with some good horses. He’s obviously inexperienced and needs further, but soft ground and the stiff finish at Sandown will suit him.”

Pauling is another trainer who can look forward to sending a small but select team to Cheltenham following an excellent recent run of form.

As well as saddling Jipcot, who carries a 7lb penalty for a comfortable win at Huntingdon last Sunday, the Naunton Downs handler has another leading contender in the form of Bad, who has been placed in four similarly competitive handicaps already this season and is due a change of luck.

“Jipcot has always been a horse who we knew had ability but had just been struggling to get exactly where we wanted him. It looks like the application of a hood and tongue-tie seems to have worked the oracle,” said Pauling.

“It’s quite a quick turnaround, but he didn’t have to do an awful lot to win at Huntingdon and he goes there in good form.

“I’m looking forward to seeing him back in some decent company. I’m not sure the 7lb will be too much of an issue and it’s been a case of getting his head in the right place really.”

On Bad, he added: “I was confident that going up in trip with him was the right thing to do, but with the ground being how it is and how it is going to ride on Saturday, he will be a stout stayer over two miles and I’m looking forward to seeing how he gets on.”

Paul Nicholls is hoping French recruit Sans Bruit can raise his game after what was an underwhelming debut British introduction at Doncaster in January.

“He didn’t quite get the trip at Doncaster where he was a bit keen on his debut for us on his first time since a wind op,” the champion trainer told Betfair.

“He should appreciate stepping back in distance to two miles and he has plenty of decent form on soft ground in France, where he won five times over hurdles.

“We are running him in a hood to try to help him relax and he looks to have a nice each-way chance.”

Sans Bruit will be partnered by Harry Cobden, but jockeys’ championship rival Sean Bowen is confident of clawing one back aboard Olly Murphy’s Go Dante.

A winner at Cheltenham in December, he was a respectable third in the Betfair Hurdle last month and goes to post off the same mark.

“It was a very good run at Newbury and he’ll enjoy the track and ground at Sandown,” said Bowen.

“He’s really progressed with each run this season and I’m really looking forward to riding him. He’ll love conditions and everything should suit.”

The sole Irish-trained contender is David O’Brien’s Minx Tiara, who was last seen filling the runner-up spot after leading for a long way in a Listed handicap hurdle at Leopardstown.

O’Brien, who trains around 15 horses at his base in Piltown, said: “Minx Tiara has come out of her run at the Dublin Racing Festival very well and seems in great form.

“The prize money is so good at Sandown and the owners are mad keen for a day out – they are a great bunch of lads and have had a lot of fun over the years. She is nine years old now and there might not be that many more chances to travel with her.

“Hopefully this is a good opportunity for her while she is in such good form. I thought she was well-handicapped, although I am a little bit worried that the English handicapper has given her an extra 9lb compared to her mark in Ireland and she is up 11lb overall for her run at Leopardstown.

“Sean and Danny (Mullins) who have both ridden her said with the form she is in at the moment, there could be a nice prize in her. Hopefully, she has an each-way chance.”

Hughie Morrison reports Not So Sleepy to be firmly on course for next month’s Unibet Champion Hurdle after going up the Lambourn gallops “like a rocket” on Wednesday morning.

The mud-loving veteran has won 11 times over jumps and on the Flat combined, most recently proving the fire still burns bright despite his advancing years when claiming Grade One honours in a rescheduled Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Sandown in December.

Morrison has since given his 12-year-old a winter break and is now beginning to turn the screw ahead of what will be his fifth tilt at Champion Hurdle glory in just under three weeks’ time.

“I went away last week and I came back and thought he was looking rather fat, which is a good sign because you want them to be doing well,” said the trainer.

“Over the last year or 18 months we’ve taken him to Lambourn the odd time, because we’ve been snowed in or something like that, and he actually had a nice gallop in Lambourn this morning.

“Thanks to the people in Lambourn who accommodated us, he had a spin up The Long gallop and he went up there like a rocket.”

Not So Sleepy was pulled up in his first Champion Hurdle four years ago and has finished fifth in the last three renewals, twice behind Honeysuckle and once behind Constitution Hill.

With Constitution Hill and last year’s runner-up State Man again set to be in opposition, Morrison is under no illusions about the task facing his charge on March 12, but he is happy to roll the dice and will be praying for testing conditions on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival.

“I’m sure they will start quivering in their boots when they hear Sleepy is running,” he joked.

“We’d like a day like today on Tuesday March 12! Hopefully we get wet ground to make it hard work so the speed horses can’t quicken away from him. We also need Constitution Hill and State Man probably to have a day off.

“We are realistic, but at this moment in time I’m very happy with him.”

He added: “He’s lucky he’s not in a Willie Mullins or Gordon Elliott yard as he probably wouldn’t be running, would he? He’d be running in a County Hurdle or being saved for an egg and spoon race the week before or something.

“I know that sounds cynical, but I think the interest in Cheltenham is waning a bit because of the monopolisation. When you watch the Grand National weights yesterday, I found that deeply depressing.”

Fergal O’Brien’s Springtime Promise continued on an upward trajectory with an impressive victory in the Jane Seymour Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at Sandown.

An experienced point-to-pointer with two victories in that discipline for Gary McGill on her CV, the bay changed hands to join O’Brien ahead of the current season.

She made her debut for new connections with a two-length win at Huntingdon in January before going on to land another novice event at Sedgefield later the same month.

At Sandown she stepped steeply up to Grade Two company for the Weatherbys Cheltenham Festival Betting Guide-sponsored Jane Seymour, starting at 11-1 under regular jockey Connor Brace.

In a field of seven she ran a pleasing race and jumped neatly throughout to pull away on the approach to the line and secure a three-length victory, extending her winning streak to five consecutive races both under rules and otherwise.

“It was a very good run, her form really stacked up from Huntingdon,” O’Brien said.

“It was hard work for her at Sedgefield, but Connor always thought she’d be better in a better run race.

“She jumped and travelled really well. She didn’t pull, she was a bit too keen in her other races, but today was perfect for her and she saw it out very well – we’re over the moon with her.

“She’s very straightforward, very honest, she’s a good ride at home and she’s very easy to do so she’s got loads of potential.”

Springtime Promise is entered for the Ryanair Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival and was cut from 50-1 to 33-1 with Betfair for that race, which has been won for the past two years by winners of the Jane Seymour.

O’Brien added: “I’m delighted for the Keeping The Dream Alive syndicate, we’ll have a look and see what the ground comes up like at Cheltenham and see where we can go next.”

Elsewhere on the card Dan Skelton’s Etalon caught the eye in the Team Forces “Ubique” Handicap Chase, a race he won under Harry Skelton by nine lengths as the 4-6 favourite.

The success is the latest instalment in the gelding’s chasing career, which started with a win on debut at Newbury and continued when he was triumphant in a Warwick novice in January.

Skelton said: “We didn’t really have a hold-up in the autumn, but he was a bit slow to come to hand. He’s got his act together now and was always going to be a chaser and saw it out well today.

“I do think for now he is a two-miler and on balance he’s going to miss Cheltenham and go to Aintree, we will run him in the Grade One novice chase there (Maghull Novices’ Chase).

“We would like to aim high and see if we can create something and with the greatest of respect, if he can’t win a Grade One he will get another chance to run in the Grand Annual in the future.”

The Castel Royal Artillery Gold Cup went the way of Major Will Kellard, who rode Jamie Snowden’s Farceur Du Large to a six-and-a-half-length victory as the 13-8 favourite.

The winning horse was one of a trio in contention over the last fence, where Fil D’Ariane fell and hampered Broken Halo, leaving the grey to gallop home and add this prize to his Grand Military Gold Cup title.

Aston Martini puts her unbeaten record on the line in the Weatherbys Cheltenham Festival Betting Guide Jane Seymour Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at Sandown on Thursday.

Both Love Envoi and You Wear It Well have used the race as a stepping-stone towards Cheltenham Festival glory for the past two seasons, and another informative renewal looks to be in prospect.

Nicky Henderson’s Aston Martini was first past the post at Lingfield on Winter Millions weekend, only for the raceday stewards to deem she had caused interference to runner-up Ooh Betty. However, Aston Martini’s connections appealed the decision and were successful.

“It’s very exciting. She’s still got that unbeaten record to protect – she’s still a big work in progress, but so far so good,” said Liz Rutter, racing manager for the Henry Ponsonby syndicate.

“I think going back up in trip will probably help her as she’s won over further.

“Hopefully the ground won’t be too bad, but she did handle Lingfield and she seemed to handle that very well.

“She battled on very well there, she was headed and came back to win and really that was her first proper race, the first time she’s had to battle. She still seems progressive.

“Hopefully that form holds up as they think a lot of the Irish horse (Only By Night) in third. Obviously it will be hugely competitive and a big step up for her, but she’s an exciting one to have.”

Henderson also runs Either Or, a winner at Warwick last month.

Nigel Twiston-Davies inherited Smiling Getaway from Dan Skelton after she had run just one bumper, finishing fourth, but she has won both starts for her new yard.

Impressive at Ludlow, she made even more of an impression under a penalty at Warwick.

Assistant trainer Willy Twiston-Davies said: “She’s done absolutely nothing wrong since she came to us, she’s two from two.

“Her jumping has been fantastic, she stays very well so we’re hoping for a very good run.

“She’s earned this step up in grade, Aston Martini won OK last time but on the figures she should be bang there.

“I thought she won very well the last time and she’d taken a big step forward from her win at Ludlow to Warwick and hopefully there’s a bit more improvement to come.”

Skelton’s Cherie D’Am, Olly Murphy’s Little Miss Dante, Fergal O’Brien’s Springtime Promise and Lucy Wadham’s Jeune Belle complete the runners.

Sixmilebridge could be added to trainer Ben Pauling’s small but select team for next month’s Cheltenham Festival following an impressive debut at Sandown last weekend.

The Naunton Downs handler is fast approaching the 50-winner mark for the current campaign and has unearthed several exciting prospects who are under consideration for the showpiece meeting in the Cotswolds in five weeks’ time.

Pauling is particularly strong in the novice hurdle division, with Fiercely Proud and The Jukebox Man both placed in graded company and the unbeaten Handstands and dual winner Tellherthename both facing crucial tests this week in the Sidney Banks at Huntingdon and Betfair Hurdle at Newbury respectively.

Point-to-point recruit Sixmilebridge was unraced under rules prior to running in Sandown’s bumper finale on Saturday, but was backed as if plenty was expected and duly justified favouritism with an impressive victory, teeing himself up for a potential tilt at the Champion Bumper.

“In everything he’s done at home he’s been impressive,” said Pauling.

“He’s not a keen horse, he’s just a good work horse, and we’ve struggled with him throughout the whole season in getting his lung health spot-on.

“He still wasn’t spot-on on Saturday, but it had got to the point in the season where we either rolled the dice to see how we got on or we shut up shop for the season. We decided to roll the dice and we were delighted to see what we got because there’s probably a fair bit of improvement to come when he’s 100 per cent healthy.

“If I can get his trach wash clean, he would be the sort that I would roll at the Cheltenham bumper because he seems to have that mental attitude you need and travels well without being too keen – he looks like he knows his job.

“We might let him roll in the Cheltenham bumper, which would be unusual for me, but I do think he’s potentially a bit special.”

Sixmilebridge’s victory was the second leg of a Sandown double for Pauling and his owners the Megson family, with the tricky but talented Harper’s Brook striking gold in a valuable handicap chase.

The eight-year-old had thrown away victory on his previous outing at Ascot when pulling himself up on the run-in, but having got the job done on Saturday, he too is Festival-bound.

Pauling added: “He is a horse with enormous ability, an unbelievable stride and the scope he has is just mad, but he is a bit of a character to say the least, so any day you get his head in front is a good day.

“I was thrilled with the way he travelled through the race off a strong pace. He was nearly taken out at the third-last by the loose horse and it was unfortunate at the last for the other horse to fall, but we can now look forward to going to Cheltenham with an exciting horse for the Grand Annual.

“He’s been given a mark of 140 which is spot-on as it’ll get you in, but you’ll be near the bottom of the weights. I couldn’t be happier with him.”

Harry Redknapp-owned The Jukebox Man has not been seen in competitive action since finishing third in the Grade One Challow Hurdle at Newbury in late December, but he is also on Pauling’s Prestbury Park teamsheet.

“Jukebox will go straight to Cheltenham and I’d say he’s more of an Albert Bartlett horse than a Baring Bingham horse,” the trainer said.

“If the Baring Bingham came up on proper heavy ground then I’d probably stick at two-and-a-half, but I think he’s probably more of a three-miler.

“He ran a blinder in the Challow. It was pretty tough going that day and they went a proper, honest gallop considering the conditions.

“I just thought that even though that he seems great at home, he could do with a proper opportunity to freshen up. He’s in really good form and I think he’s only going to improve.”

Nickle Back galloped to a memorable Grade One victory in the Virgin Bet Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase at Sandown following a bold front-running ride from James Best.

It was a fairytale first success at elite level for the jockey and West Wratting trainer Sarah Humphrey, although the race was marred by a fatal fall for Hermes Allen at the second-last.

Best and 10-1 shot Nickle Back established a healthy lead in the early stages, with 8-13 favourite Hermes Allen heading the chasing pack.

Some exuberant leaps allowed the pacesetter to extend his advantage to fully 20 lengths with three to jump and he was again foot-perfect at the Pond Fence.

After Nickle Back bounded clear from two out, Djelo clawed back some of his lead up the stiff home stretch but Best’s mount was not for catching, prevailing by seven lengths,

“I just cannot believe it,” Best told ITV Racing. “As a small child growing up, you watch these races on the television on a Saturday and you dream of becoming a jockey and winning races like this.

“A massive thank you to Sarah and all the team, I’m just gobsmacked, as I was when winning on him in his first chase at Warwick.

“For them to put their faith in me on this wonderful horse, it means so much and I just can’t believe it.

“He was a bit brave early on and that kind of twisted my arm second time down the back – for goodness sake, just go with him!

“He loves galloping and he loves jumping, so just get a breather when I could.

“Congratulations to Sarah, as she has done a wonderful job with this horse, who is quite fragile and not easy to train.”

Sandown’s meeting on Saturday, set to feature the £100,000 Unibet Veterans’ Handicap Chase, has been abandoned due to a waterlogged track.

Clerk of the course Andrew Cooper and his team called an 8am precautionary inspection on Friday as though the track was raceable at the time, heavy rain was forecast for Thursday evening.

The predicted worst case scenario was up to 20mm of rain, but even more fell at the Esher venue with 34mm recorded and it has left the course saturated with no hope of improvement in time for racing.

“We’ve had 34 millimetres of rain, which started at about 2pm yesterday afternoon and finally eased off at about 4am this morning,” said Cooper.

“I would say there are multiple areas on both courses (chase and hurdle tracks) of waterlogged, false ground and areas of standing water and there are no options in terms of realignment.

“I think there is an element of judgement that it isn’t going to be materially better in 24 hours and we don’t think it will be sufficiently better in 24 hours.

“It’s basically saturated ground that is going to sit like that for a number of days now.

“It was just the wrong amount of rain at the wrong time for us, on top of what has already been a fairly wet spell, certainly since Christmas anyway.”

You Wear It Well will go back against her own sex in the new year after failing to really fire in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Sandown on Saturday.

With the Grade One contest rescheduled following the abandonment of racing at Newcastle the previous Saturday, and Constitution Hill and his stablemate Shishkin withdrawn on account of testing conditions, everything appeared to be falling into place for Jamie Snowden’s star mare.

The six-year-old had already shown her well-being this season by landing a Listed prize at Wetherby, and with Snowden having won the Coral Gold Cup at Newbury the previous weekend with Datsalrightgino, You Wear It Well was favourite to provide him with another major Saturday success in Esher.

Ultimately, though, the daughter of Midnight Legend was well beaten in third place behind the popular veteran Not So Sleepy and fellow mare Love Envoi, and Snowden feels his charge underperformed.

He said: “I think the handicapper had it on form that she had to improve to win that race, even without the two defections. She ran all right, but probably hasn’t run her race, I would have said.

“Her price was probably skewed by the form of the yard and this, that and the other, but she’s run OK in the circumstances.

“She goes on soft ground, but that really was terrible ground on Saturday and she didn’t really get into any great rhythm. She was a bit keen early on and missed a couple of hurdles.

“Take nothing away from anyone, but it probably wasn’t her true running.”

You Wear It Well’s main objective is to secure a second Cheltenham Festival success in the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle in March, having last season landed the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle.

What route she takes to Prestbury Park is uncertain, but she appears unlikely to take on the boys in the meantime.

“I think going back against her own sex makes sense really,” Snowden added.

“Due to a lack of a realistic opportunity for her in December, we thought we’d take our chance in the Fighting Fifth, and the fact that she went off favourite suggests it wasn’t a ridiculous decision to go down that kind of route.

“It didn’t quite work out, but we’ll dust ourselves down and go again. There are mares’ races for her at Sandown and Doncaster and Warwick, so there are plenty of opportunities between now and March.”

Not So Sleepy stayed on best of all to win the rescheduled Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Sandown.

Saved from Newcastle’s abandoned card last weekend, the race lost plenty of its lustre when Nicky Henderson withdrew the current champion hurdler Constitution Hill and stablemate Shishkin.

That meant just four went to post, with Goshen and You Wear It Well setting a strong enough gallop in the conditions.

By the second last those two had done their running while Not So Sleepy, who turns 12 in a few weeks, was still on the bridle under Sean Bowen.

Love Envoi, who had not really been travelling throughout, soon appeared on the scene but approaching the last Not So Sleepy, who dead-heated in the race with Epatante in 2021, quickened eight lengths clear.

It was a noteworthy success for Bowen, who also holds a sizeable lead in the race to become champion jockey.

Booster Bob could have an exciting future having stayed on strongly in testing ground to claim the Betfair Claremont Novices’ Hurdle at Sandown.

Sent off the 5-6 favourite for the Listed event, Olly Murphy’s five-year-old had previously relished testing conditions when claiming a Uttoxeter novice event by 18-lengths.

However, even he struggled to get into a rhythm in the deep ground at the Esher track and relied on his class to overhaul Helnwein once strenuously ridden after the last by Sean Bowen.

“I was never happy,” said Murphy. “I don’t think he jumped great for him and he loves that ground, but they went very steady and turned it into a sprint which wouldn’t have suited.

“He’s got a lot of ability and I don’t think he did a lot right today. I don’t think the hood suits him now, he wants that off.

“They went very steady and when you go steady in a tactical race, sat last of three isn’t the best place to be. He was very free as a bumper horse and he’s come a long way in a short period of time.”

Despite seeing Booster Bob as both a horse for further and fences, it is Haydock’s Sky Bet Supreme Trial Rossington Main Novices’ Hurdle (January 20) up next. However, a trip to the Cheltenham Festival appears off the cards for this season.

“Do I think he is a horse for the Supreme? No is the answer,” added Murphy.

“I think he’s an out and out chaser and he will probably go to Haydock now for the Supreme trial at the end of January – bad ground, two miles. He’s crying out for two and a half, but he can race with the choke out and I would be just worried about going two-and-a-half just yet.

“I wont blow his mind now this season. If there was a bit of slow ground at Aintree or something like that, then maybe. But going round Cheltenham in a 16-runner Grade One isn’t for this lad at the moment.”

Nicky Henderson has withdrawn Constitution Hill and Shishkin from the rearranged Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Sandown.

While the meeting passed a 7.30am inspection, rain was still falling throughout the morning at the Esher track on already heavy ground on the hurdles track and conditions are being monitored.

Champion Hurdle winner Constitution Hill was supposed to make his seasonal reappearance at Newcastle last weekend but the meeting was abandoned with the Fighting Fifth moved to Sandown.

Shishkin was an intended runner at Newcastle also, in the Rehearsal Chase, but in an attempt to get a prep run into him before the King George, Henderson had declared him alongside his stablemate.

However, neither will run at Sandown, nor will promising novice hurdler Willmount in an earlier race but Jonbon is still an intended starter in the Tingle Creek.

Henderson said on X, formerly known as Twitter: “Due to the extremely testing going, we have decided that Constitution Hill will not run in today’s Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Sandown because it would simply not be fair to race him under such extreme conditions on his first run of the season.

“It is too close to Boxing Day, and he can’t do both, so, all being well, he’ll go straight to Kempton for the Christmas Hurdle.

“Shishkin has also been withdrawn, along with Willmount from his intended engagement in the Listed Novices’ Hurdle.”

As for Jonbon he added: “He has had a run so is fit and well, and the ground is much more suitable on the chase course. It is very unfortunate, and we are all sorry they won’t be turning up, but we have to put the horses first — it’s as simple as that.”

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