Fingal Bay takes the next step on the road to Cheltenham in a red-hot renewal of the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle this afternoon.
Unbeaten in a bumper and twice at this Grade Two level, Philip Hobbs’s five-year-old is already prominent in the betting for a couple of events at the Festival in March.
He overcame a mistake at the second-last flight to score at Prestbury Park last month and Hobbs, although well aware of the task facing him at Sandown, has high hopes.
He said: “He’s a gorgeous horse and is just so straightforward.
“He does everything so well, but he’s not flashy at home.
“His work would be nothing tremendous, but he’s won easily in his three races now and it looks like he’s still progressive.
“This is definitely his biggest trial so far, so we’ll see how he gets on.
“I’m very happy with him at home as he’s in really good order.
“We could probably have done with the ground being a bit softer than it is as they haven’t had much rain, but we’ll see.”
Chief among the opposition is Simonsig, who arrived from the Irish point-to-point field with a huge reputation and lived up to it when winning a valuable bumper at Fairyhouse for Ian Ferguson in April.
He has since been transferred to Nicky Henderson and never came out of second gear to go in at Ascot on his jumping debut.
“He did look good at Ascot,” said Henderson.
“I’m not sure we want to find out our fate this early in the season, but we’ll see what happens.”
Sizing Symphony has already won at Cheltenham this season and Irish handler Henry de Bromhead brings him over again in search of some better ground.
“This looks an ultra-competitive novices’ hurdle over two and a half miles,” De Bromhead said on his website.
“We’ve been very happy with him since his win at Cheltenham and the ground should be okay for him as good ground is very important for him to be at his best.
“This race represents another step up in class, but we’ve always held him in high regard so we’re looking forward to seeing how he gets on.”
Irish hopes are also carried by Bostons Angel, who bids to give weight and a beating to four talented rivals in the Sportingbet Future Stars Chase.
Jessica Harrington’s seven-year-old completed a hat-trick of Grade One novice wins in the RSA Chase and he was still travelling powerfully on his seasonal return at Down Royal when unseating jockey Robbie Power.
Harrington said: “It’s a tidy little race with a few of them having had problems of some sort on their last runs.
“We’ve got to give them weight and they are all good horses, but I suppose we’re a three-time Grade One winner and you would expect that.
“He was still going well at Down Royal when he made the mistake.
“I do think he’ll appreciate the bit of nicer ground he’ll get (at Sandown).
“Some people might have had him down as a mudlark last season, but he showed he wasn’t when winning at Cheltenham.”