Kim Bailey appears to hold a strong hand ahead of next week’s Cheltenham Festival and advertised the yard’s good form when Flirtatious Girl landed a cracking renewal of the Listed British Stallion Studs EBF Mares’ Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race.
The going on the Sandown hurdles course was described as soft, heavy in places and was all the more testing after the preceding Imperial Cup.
But Flirtatious Girl, who had been beaten when taking a while to settle at Huntingdon on her second start, looked much more professional this time and sauntered to a two-and-a-quarter-length success over Speech Bubble, with Tweed Skirt a further three and three-quarter lengths back in third.
Bailey said: “She has improved since her last run in December. She is a really good mare and she is so tough.
“I was slightly concerned that the ground might have been too soft for her. She really is unbelievably tough, so to go and do what she did was great. She is not very big, but at the end of the day, she’s done it now.
“She won a Listed race and she’s been placed in Listed company and if she never runs again, she’s worth her weight.
“She is very different to my other winner of the race, Molly’s A Diva (2013), who was a big tank of a horse and as slow as a hearse. This little, tiny thing in comparison is quite quick, but both loved soft ground and hopefully she will go on to better things.”
Bailey’s Festival team is headed by First Flow in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase and Vinndication in the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle and he added: “I had a really good morning, watching the Cheltenham prospects on the gallops and I’m really looking forward to it.”
The conditions, testing as they were, got worse ahead of the Listed Paddy’s Rewards Club Novices’ Handicap Chase, which was run in a cloud-burst.
The torrential downpour did not hurt the chances of the mud-loving Farinet (13-2), who got off the mark over fences with a gutsy display to overhaul Up The Straight after both had made blunders late on.
Winning rider Charlie Deutsch said: “After the last time I rode him at Haydock, I thought this lad would stay really well and I think he’d get three miles.
“I wanted it to be a test, but coming into the last, which I missed, the horse in front had stopped a bit. But to be fair to him, he was very tough to be able to pick up again and run to the line like he did. He’s a very good horse.”
The Gary Moore yard have their sights firmly fixed on the future with Hudson de Grugy (4-5 favourite), who took apart a sparse field in the Paddy’s Giving Away £1 Million Today Juvenile Handicap Hurdle.
The four-year-old made light work of his three rivals to come home 17 lengths clear of Global Agreement in the four-runner contest, despite making a complete hash of the third last.
Winning rider Joshua Moore said: “I saw the wood come flying past me three out!
“But he really does keep on galloping and he’s a big, strong horse who has plenty of scope.
“He has not been the most natural hurdler in his early days, but he is getting a lot better and the first time around here (last time) he was a bit novicey and it cost him the race. He does need a galloping track, which suits him very well.
“I would say he is more of a future chaser. A fence would help him to back off a bit. He’s a big strong, horse and next year we will have to feel our way with him and pick our races carefully and keep him in mind for the following season. He wouldn’t want any jar in the ground and would prefer the ground on the soft side of good.”
Richard Johnson rarely comes away from Sandown without having a winner and this card was no exception, as Fortescue (8-1) made the most of the taxing ground to overhaul the front-running Debece and claim the fourth chase win of his career in the ‘From The Horse’s Mouth’ Podcast Handicap Chase.
Johnson said: “If anything, I was almost in top gear around the first circuit. He is one of those horses who benefit from these conditions today. I’m sure, in the future, there will be some nice staying chases to go for.
“There are one or two options for him maybe later in the year, but it largely depends on the ground. Perhaps races like the Welsh National or extremes of trip is where is future lies.”
Five Star Getaway (11-8 favourite) was arguably the most impressive winner of the afternoon, landing the concluding ‘Paddy Power ‘3 Sleeps To Cheltenham’ Handicap Chase in the hands of Nick Schofield.
The seven-year-old, who raced off bottom weight, was always travelling well and his rider was looking over his shoulder after the last on his way to a five-and-a-half-length victory.
Trainer Christian Williams said: “He’d have probably won with 14st on his back today! We have always thought a lot of him.
“We have tried to avoid running in the worst of the ground over the winter, but felt it would pay dividends today. It looks like he’s handled soft ground, but we were not sure.
“He will probably have his last run of the season in the final of this race at Haydock (April 3).”