Aidan Coleman will partner Santini for the first time as he puts his Cheltenham Gold Cup credentials on the line in Saturday’s rearranged Cotswold Chase at Sandown.
Saved from Cheltenham’s abandoned Trials Day last weekend, the blue riband warm-up has attracted three genuine top-notchers.
Nicky Henderson’s Santini was second in the Gold Cup last year to Al Boum Photo, while the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained Bristol De Mai is fresh from winning the Betfair Chase at Haydock. Colin Tizzard’s 11-year-old Native River has also scaled the heights, not least when winning the Gold Cup in 2018.
Coleman will get the leg up on Santini at the Esher venue, with regular rider Nico de Boinville lined up to take the mount on Champ, Henderson’s other Gold Cup contender, in the Denman Chase next week, after which a decision will be taken over who rides which horse at Cheltenham.
“We’re keeping all options open really because we’ve got Champ to come out next weekend,” said Henderson.
“The idea is that Aidan will then know Santini, Nico will ride Champ next week and then everything is covered – that’s the gist of the plan.
“Hopefully all horses return safe and sound and are on course for March, and they can both run in the Gold Cup and then I’ve got two jockeys.
“It’s for obvious reasons, Nico obviously knows Santini very well already, so it was an opportunity for Aidan to get to know him.”
Adding further intrigue to the rescheduled event is the Harry Whittington-trained Saint Calvados, second in the Ryanair last season and fourth in the King George on his only outing this campaign.
Paul Nicholls’ Yala Enki will enjoy the extremely testing conditions, while Nick Alexander’s Lake View Lad makes the journey down from Scotland. Both are arriving on the back of wins last time out.
Yala Enki proved his durability when he won the Portman Cup at Taunton, just two weeks after finishing third in the Welsh National.
Lake View Lad had Native River and subsequent King George winner Frodon behind when winning at Aintree.
There is also Grade One action on the card in the form of the Virgin Bet Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase, with Dan Skelton’s Shan Blue the headliner.
An impressive winner of the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Christmas, he faces six rivals headed by Alan King’s Messire Des Obeaux, who has seemingly returned from a long absence as good as ever.
Nicholls’ Hitman, second to Allmankind in the Henry VIII Novices’ Chase over two miles and Henderson’s mare Dame De Compagnie will ensure it is a true test of his ability.
Paint The Dream, Sporting John and Up The Straight complete the field.