Best Mate was the most famous winner of Sandown’s Grade 1 Scilly Isles Novices' Chase, back in 2001.
The three-time winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup was a short-priced favourite, when cruising to a stylish victory. Foot and mouth put-paid to the Festival that year, and to Best Mate’s hopes of an Arkle Chase success. But the young chaser was to develop into one of the greats, taking Cheltenham’s ‘Blue Riband’ three years in a row.
Paul Nicholls enjoyed a dominant period in the race from 2006 until 2009. It’s fair to say that none of the winners shot to fame, though Silverburn went on to finish fourth in the RSA behind Albertas Run.
In three of the last season renewals, the prize has gone to Nicky Henderson. Punchestowns, Captain Conan and Oscar Whisky were all classy types, though again, none of the trio hit the heights over fences. The 2010 winner Punchestowns, looked to have a bright future over the larger obstacles, winning this race in stunning fashion before heading to Cheltenham and a tilt at the RSA. Sent off a 2/1 favourite, he faded tamely out of contention, finishing a hugely disappointing fifth behind Weapon’s Amnesty.
The last two renewals of the Scilly Isles have gone to owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede. The pair were responsible for Gitane Du Berlais in 2015 and Bristol De Mai 12 months ago. The latter was a stunning winner at Haydock last month and is now viewed by many as a serious Gold Cup contender. Connections are responsible for one of Saturday’s fancied runners, when they team up with Nicky Henderson and the six-year-old Top Notch.
The master of Seven Barrows will have been pleased with the progress made by his young chaser. Third on debut at Uttoxeter, he has won his last three, and proved a step-up in trip was no issue when winning at Ascot last time. That effort at a right-hand track can only enhance his chances here, and he’s always proved adaptable to ground conditions. He’s not the biggest, but has been neat over his fences thus far. He’s a gutsy sort, with a touch of class, and should go well.
Paul Nicholls has plenty entered, though appears to be favouring Clan Des Obeaux. He looked a little unfortunate to lose out to Whisper at Cheltenham last time, when meeting the second last fence wrong and losing momentum. He’s a big, raw looking five-year-old, who looks sure to improve over time. He’s won twice since arriving in the UK, and both victories came at Newbury. It’s likely that the flat galloping track suits him at this stage of his development, and how he copes with the railway fences will be of interest. He may well prove the best of these in the long-term, but at some stage on Saturday, his ability to shorten-up into a fence will undoubtedly be tested.
Le Prezien is currently third best in the betting, and should Nicholls allow him to take his chance, he’ll prove an interesting contender. He chased home Yorkhill at Aintree in the Grade 1 Mersey Novices’ Hurdle in April, and has coped well with the switch to the larger obstacles. Just ahead of Top Notch in the Uttoxeter race, he has won his last two, though both at a shorter trip than this. He’s looked capable of going further, though jumped slightly to his left at Exeter last time, which clearly would be less than ideal here.
Baron Alco looks likely to take his chance for local trainer Gary Moore. He has two wins over fences at Plumpton to his name, and has also finished behind Whisper this winter. He’s likely to make the running, and has been neat at his fences thus far. He’s not exceptional, but he’s no mug, and I’d expect him to put up a bold show. Nevertheless, I’d be surprised if he didn’t find one of these a little too good for him.
In a competitive renewal, I’m coming down in favour of Top Notch. I fancy that Clan Des Obeaux will prove a long-term project, and that Henderson’s chaser will be a little more battle-hardened. Best of luck to all those having a punt.