Nigel Twiston-Davies does not expect a switch to Sandown to inconvenience Bristol De Mai ahead of the rescheduled Virgin Bet Cotswold Chase.
Following the abandonment of Cheltenham’s Trials Day fixture last weekend, the authorities moved quickly to save this Grade Two contest and recognised Gold Cup trial – and have been rewarded with what promises to be a fascinating affair.
Popular grey Bristol De Mai has been branded as a Haydock specialist over the years, much to the annoyance of his trainer.
And while he only gave that theory more weight in bagging his third Betfair Chase in November, he has run plenty of good races away from Merseyside – including a Grade One success at Sandown in the Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase at this fixture five years ago.
Twiston-Davies said: “It doesn’t matter to Bristol whether he goes left-handed or right-handed, so it’s not a problem.
“It’s five years since he won the Scilly Isles – he’s been going a long time!
“He’s in very good shape and I don’t think the track or the ground will be an issue, so we’re very happy.”
Bristol De Mai is nought from six at Cheltenham, but did finish third in the 2019 Cheltenham Gold Cup and found only subsequent Gold Cup runner-up Santini too strong in last year’s Cotswold Chase.
Connections hope to have a clearer idea as to whether the 10-year-old merits a fourth tilt at Gold Cup glory after this weekend, with the Grand National at Aintree also a major target for the spring.
“Let’s see how we go on Saturday before thinking about anything else,” Twiston-Davies added.
Santini proved his Gold Cup credentials with an ultimately authoritative display in last year’s renewal, before pushing Al Boum Photo all the way in the blue riband.
However, he will line up at Sandown with questions to answer, having failed to recapture his best form in two starts so far this season – most recently finishing fifth in the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.
Henderson told Unibet: “It’s great that Sandown are able to restage this race because this has been the plan for quite some time and should put him spot on for another crack at the Gold Cup.
“The track is right up his street, I don’t think a slog on heavy ground is really what he’s crying out for but he has to run so we might as well let him take his chance.”
With Champ, Henderson’ other Gold Cup contender, reappearing next weekend at Newbury, Aidan Coleman has been employed.
“Aidan knows Champ from his hurdling days and obviously Nico (de Boinville) knows Santini inside out so it is important that both jockeys are familiar with both horses. We are trying to keep all angles covered with a view to what may or may not happen at Cheltenham,” added Henderson.
Colin Tizzard’s 2018 Gold Cup hero Native River proved he retains plenty of ability when a close-up third behind Nick Alexander’s Lake View Lad and Santini in the Many Clouds Chase at Aintree in December, when several fences were missed because of low sun.
“Everybody keeps asking me if Sandown will suit him, but I don’t see why not,” said assistant trainer Joe Tizzard.
“The seven fences down the back will really suit his jumping and a nice, stiff finish. In ground conditions like this, it’s tough around Sandown, so I think it will suit him.
“He’s in lovely form and has done nothing wrong for the last two years. He ran a blinder at Aintree and this has always been the plan.
“It’s fantastic they’ve reorganised it from last weekend, as we certainly didn’t want to miss it.”
Lake View Lad gets the opportunity to prove that triumph was no fluke, while Harry Whittington saddles King George fourth Saint Calvados.
The six-strong field is completed by the Paul Nicholls-trained Yala Enki, who steps up in grade after beating If The Cap Fits in a conditions race at Taunton a fortnight ago.
Nicholls said: “He’s astonishing. If you’d seen him work and school earlier this week, you wouldn’t believe it – he’s so enthusiastic.
“He’s ate up everything since he ran and is very fresh. The more it rains ahead of Saturday the more it will suit him.
“I’m not saying he’ll go and win, but if it’s really testing ground and gets really attritional, he’ll run really tidy.”
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