Three Horses To Watch At Sandown With The Cheltenham Festival In Mind

Caribean Boy will aim to book his place in the Ryanair Chase with a victory at Sandown.
Caribean Boy will aim to book his place in the Ryanair Chase with a victory at Sandown.

Steve Chambers picks out three horses that run at Sandown this Saturday and could then feature prominently at the Cheltenham Festival, with some notable Ryanair Chase clues emerging from the all-jumps card...

Caribean Boy - Virgin Bet Handicap Chase - 13:15

An impressive four-length winner of the Virgin Bet Handicap Chase 12 months ago, the Paul Nicholls-trained Dolos will bid for back-to-back wins in the Sandown 1m 7f 119y contest, but he will have a major adversary in the shape of Caribean Boy, who takes his chance for Nicky Henderson.

The seven-year-old made an impressive start to his chasing career with his most notable success coming in the Grade 2 Berkshire Novices' Chase at Newbury in November, where he outclassed the former Grade 1-winning novice hurdler Fiddlerontheroof. However, he blotted his copybook next time out when finishing last of three in a Graduation Chase at Ascot in December. But, connections of the Seven Barrows inmate shouldn't be too disheartened with that loss as he was beaten by Dashel Drasher, who won again at Ascot on his next start, while Cleeve Hurdle bound Itchy Feet, who finished second, is a top performer as well on his day.

While Saturday's event is over a distance just short of two miles, Caribean Boy appears to be more suited to a longer trip, and the Ryanair Chase could be his Cheltenham Festival assignment - a race he is currently 40/1 for, at the time of writing. The Ryanair betting is wide open this year with reigning champion Min and Kim Bailey's Imperial Aura towards the head of the market, but in such a wide open division there's gaps for springers in the betting, and Caribean Boy could be one of those, if producing the goods at the weekend.

Shan Blue - Virgin Bet Scilly Isles Novices' Chase - 13:50

Dan Skelton's Shan Blue will be attempting to emulate the Philip Hobbs-trained Defi Du Seuil by claiming victory in the Grade 1 Scilly Isles Novices' Chase and then go on to win the Grade 1 Marsh Novices' Chase at the Cheltenham Festival a month later.  Skelton's charge will be one of the star attractions in Saturday's Scilly Isles and the seven-year-old will attempt to extend his unbeaten record over fences to four this weekend, and he will be well fancied to maintain his 100% record.

A brace of wins at Wetherby on his first two chasing starts were eclipsed by a mightily-impressive three-and-three-quarter length win in the Grade 1 Kauto Star Novices' Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day. Now tackling Grade 1 company for the second time, Shan Blue, who is not entered for the 3m Festival Novices' Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, will be looking to use Saturday's test as a warm-up for the Marsh Novices' Chase.

Currently a 12/1 second favourite for the Marsh, Shan Blue will have to produce a spectacular display if he is to get remotely close to red-hot Marsh favourite Envoi Allen in the betting, but having not put a hoof wrong to date over the larger obstacles then Shan Blue will look to continue his winning run and duly book his spot at next month's Festival for the Marsh, which is run on March 18.

Saint Calvados - Cotswold Chase - 14:20

Six go to post for the rescheduled Cotswold Chase, which has been switched to Sandown following Cheltenham's abandonment last weekend, and the sextet should serve up an excellent renewal of the 3m Grade 2 contest. Nicky Henderson's Santini will be looking to use the race as a prep for the Cheltenham Gold Cup, while Bristol De Mai and Lake View Lad will be another duo aiming to book their spots in the Gold Cup with a positive run.

But, the most eye-catching runner is the Harry Whittington-trained Saint Calvados, who remains in the line-up following the switch from his beloved Cheltenham, and a positive run here should book his spot at next month's festival. However, it looks like a Gold Cup bid is out of the question, as he is a 40/1 chance for the blue riband event, and a return to the Ryanair Chase looks in order for the classy eight-year-old.

Touched off by Min in last season's Ryanair, Saint Calvados is destined for a return to that 2m 5f contest on day three of the festival, and he is trading around a 9/4 fourth favourite for the Grade 1 contest on March 18. Last seen finishing fourth in the King George VI Chase, Saint Calvados had become a Cheltenham regular, but will now make his second trip to Sandown Park this weekend. Well beaten by Altior in the 2019 Tingle Creek Chase, Saint Calvados is a mid-distance star these days, so Saturday's three-mile test may just stretch the petrol gauge, but Whittington will just be wanting a solid run before he unleashes his tilt at the Ryanair in a few weeks time.

Cheltenham Festival Tips
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