The Grade 2 Winter Novices’ Hurdle (14:20) over nearly two and a half miles is the highlight on Sandown’s card with all six of the lightly-raced runners having some sort of claim.
Topping the Timeform ratings and making the most appeal is unbeaten northern challenger Maximilian (Timeform weight-adjusted rating 148) for Donald McCain and Brian Hughes. The German-bred gelding won his only start in Irish points before winning both his bumpers at Carlisle last term and has carried on in the same vein in novice hurdles this autumn. He showed plenty of stamina when successful at the same track on his return in October and then followed up under a penalty over nearly three miles at Bangor last month, drawing clear between the last two flights to beat Dr Kananga by nine and a half lengths.
Among his promising rivals is the David Pipe-trained four-year-old Man At Work (141p). A £155,000 purchase after falling at the last when set to finish third in a strong Irish point, he made a winning debut for his new connections in a novice hurdle at Aintree last month when delivered late to beat the odds-on Dan Skelton newcomer Grey Dawning by a length and a quarter with a bit in hand.
‘Hot Trainer’ Paul Nicholls has won this in the past with the likes of See More Business and Neptune Collonges, and more recently in 2019 with Enrilo whose half-brother Henri The Second (137p) bids to follow in his footsteps here. He won his first two bumpers last term, at Chepstow and Ascot, the latter a listed contest, before pulling up amiss at Aintree, but he shaped promisingly on his debut over hurdles at Chepstow in October. A bad mistake three out when holding every chance proved costly, but Henri The Second rallied well on the run-in to go down by a length and a quarter to Chianti Classico and seems sure to progress.
Jamie Snowden is another ‘Hot Trainer’ and represented by Park This One (135p), he too looking likely to improve on his hurdling debut. Off the mark in his second start in bumpers last season at Exeter, Park This One made all the running again on his return at Uttoxeter in October, jumping accurately before battling to a half-length success over the Ben Pauling-trained Awaythelad.
Pauling, another ‘Hot Trainer’, fields Henry’s Friend (140) in this contest. After winning a four-runner novice by 20 lengths at Aintree in May on his debut, he faced a stiffer task under a penalty in Man At Work’s race back there last month but led briefly after two out and kept on to be beaten just over six lengths into third.
Chris Gordon’s runner I’d Like To Know (132p) has the most improvement to find to take this but, having been runner-up in his only start in Irish points, he looked a good prospect when making a successful debut over hurdles in a maiden at Worcester in October. He already looked the likeliest winner when his nearest pursuer unseated at the last, leaving him to come home eight and a half lengths clear of the favourite Fame And Concrete.
Timeform analyst’s verdict
The unbeaten Maximilian is the one to beat having defied a penalty in a good time at Bangor last month. All five of his rivals are potential dangers, notably Man At Work and Henri The Second.
Timeform weight-adjusted ratings
141p Man At Work
140 Henry’s Friend
137p Henri The Second
135p Park This One
132p I’d Like To Know
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