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Mark Your Card: your best bets for the weekend's racing

Racing analyst Declan Smyth kicks off the new year with a look at today’s Grade One contest at Sandown, the Tolworth Hurdle.

Image: Nigel French/EMPICS Sport

Reproduced with permission from WhiteFlagIsRaised.com

TODAY’S FEATURE RACE is the Tolworth Hurdle (Sandown, 2.35pm), a Grade One for novice hurdlers.

Five runners have been declared, but trainer Charlie Longsdon has stated that he will not make a final decision about Magnifique Etoile until after the second race this afternoon.

Paul Nicholls’ Prospect Wells looks likely to go off as favourite. This horse has Group Two win and Group place form on the flat in France and won a listed race at York last May. He won his Novice hurdle in October and followed up that run with a close second to Steps To Freedom in a Grade Two at Cheltenham.

He then went on to beat All The Aces easily in a novice hurdle at Newbury but suffered a setback when beaten by less than two lengths into fourth in the Ladbroke Handicap Hurdle at Ascot in mid-December, a race in which he conceded eight pounds to the winner Raya Star.

The ground that day was soft and he appeared not to like being held up at the back by Ruby Walsh, but it wasn’t a bad performance for a novice and he’s probably earned favouritism today.

Captain Conan has his first run for Nicky Henderson. He hasn’t been seen since winning at Auteuil in June; it’s worth remembering that his task that day was made easier by the fall of the favourite. The form of that race hasn’t worked out and as this is a big horse, his future probably lies in chasing.

Colour Squadron is an interesting runner from the Philip Hobbs yard. He won a 2m1f bumper  on his racecourse debut at the end of October by 14 lengths and reappeared a month later at Newbury where he was runner up to It’s A Gimme in a maiden hurdle over the same distance.

He then went on to win his maiden over the same course and distance, making the running and staying on strongly to beat Montbazon by a length on going described as soft.

Charlie Longsdon’s Magnifique Etoile has won his two hurdle races this season by an aggregate of 25 lengths. However, both races were moderate contests for a horse who was beaten by16 lengths by the aforementioned Montbazon in a bumper back in March. This horse is highly regarded by connections, however.

The final runner, High Storm, appears held by Prospect Wells.

The race will almost certainly be decided by a combination of pace and going. Prospect Wells is the horse with the flat class; however, horses off the flat don’t have a good record in the race.

The advance going is described as soft (good to soft in the back straight). Nicholls’ horse has never really showed his best form with that much give in the ground, although being by Saddler’s Wells you would expect him to handle it. On the evidence, this is probably his best trip.

Colour Squadron looks like he might need further. Expect him to make the running, which will suit Prospect Wells who never really settled off a middling pace at Ascot.

It’s a very close to call but PROSPECT WELLS should just have the class to win. The selection was only entered after the race was reopened for declarations, but the Ditcheat Team wouldn’t run him here if he wasn’t ready and that might be a tip in itself.

For regular racing updates, follow @whiteflagman on Twitter.

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Declan Smyth

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