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Chilli too hot for Sandown rivals

Whitehotchillifili took her career to new heights after opening her account for the season with a tenacious success in the Unibet “You’re On” Mares Hurdle at Sandown.

The Harry Fry-trained seven-year-old claimed a first Listed victory in the two-mile-four-furlong event after going one better than on her previous start over course and distance.

Having travelled powerfully into contention, it looked as though Whitehotchillifili had handed the initiative to long-time leader, Stormy Ireland, after making a bad mistake at the second last.

Gathered in by Sean Bowen, the 13-8 shot found an extra gear up the run-in to forge past Stormy Ireland before going on to score by three lengths.

Fry said: “On ratings she had a lot to find (with Stormy Ireland), but we knew our mare goes on the ground as she ran a cracker here under top weight a month ago.

“It was always the plan to go to that race then on to today. I was cursing at the second last as I thought the plan had come unstuck. She battled on really well and they went a good tempo, which really suited her.

“She is much more settled these days. Last year she didn’t stay, but certainly that intermediate trip suits her in these conditions.”

Fry has earmarked another Listed event at Warwick next month for Whitehotchillifili ahead of a potential outing in the David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, for which she was introduced at 33-1 by Paddy Power.

He added: “There is another mares’ Listed race at Warwick over two-five in February and, all being well, that is where she will go hopefully. Conditions won’t be too dissimilar to today.

“She ran a good race in the mares’ novice at Cheltenham finishing sixth. Ground conditions would need to be in her favour to go back to the Festival.”

Nicholls confident Stormy Ireland can regain winning thread

Paul Nicholls expects Stormy Ireland to make the most of a significant drop in class the Unibet “You’re On” Mares’ Hurdle.

The Jared Sullivan-owned seven-year-old will bid to strike gold on her fourth start since joining the Ditcheat handler from Willie Mullins when stepping back up to two and a half miles in the Listed contest at Sandown.

Although Stormy Ireland beat only one rival home in the Grade Two International Hurdle at Cheltenham last month, Nicholls believes the result was better than it looks on paper.

Speaking in his Betfair column, Nicholls said: “Chasing didn’t work out for her in two starts this season, so she was back over hurdles last time when she ran much better than her finishing position suggests in the International Hurdle at Cheltenham three weeks ago.

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“That has sharpened her and this Listed mares’ hurdle is a more suitable target for Stormy Ireland, who has a 4lb penalty to carry for winning a Grade Three race in Ireland.

“I’d say she should be hard to beat stepping up in trip against her own sex.”

Robin Gold has been in prolific form this season winning four of her last five starts, however, trainer Dan Skelton feels she will have to improve again if she is to add to that tally.

Skelton said: “Though Harry (Skelton) won on her last time, Bridget (Andrews) will get the ride on Robin Gold as she gets on very well with her.

“She has been very progressive this season, but this is a massive step up in class again though.

“The track will suit her as it is a track you can play late on. She has got a lot on her plate being realistic though, but we are looking forward to giving it a go.”

Harry Fry is confident testing conditions will play to the strengths of Whitehotchillifili, who finished second off top weight in a handicap over course and distance on her latest start.

He said: “Strictly on ratings, they’ve all got plenty to find with Stormy Ireland.

“Our mare ran a really good race there a month ago under top weight.

“Conditions will not be an issue for her and hopefully she goes there with a very strong each-way chance.”

The field is completed by Flow Away from the yard of Alex Hales, the Venetia Williams-trained Quick Wave and Desaray Girl, who will represent Micky Hammond.