Mr Gardner's bold jumping can prove key
The Scilly Isles Novices' Chase (2.25) at Sandown usually draws a top-notch contender which tends to frighten away the opposition. Not this time. So much so, that there's no dead wood at all among the nine runners.
Medermit and Reve De Sivola were the best of them over hurdles, yet both have appeared vulnerable over the larger obstacles. And while Captain Chris is the apple of trainer Philip Hobbs' eye, he remains without a win after two outings over birch.
Many will entrust their hard-earned with free-running mare Nadiya De La Vega, which received all the allowances, but it would be no surprise if Mr Gardner carries the day. A stablemate of Nadiya De La Vega, the selection jumped boldly when he encountered fences for the first time -- albeit against far lesser opponents than he meets here.
Should he vault with similar aplomb round this tricky circuit, his proven stamina could prove decisive.
Staying at Sandown, the Masters' Handicap Chase (3.35) gives Take The Breeze the chance to capitalise on an excellent run at Ascot, where he chased home Massini's Maguire (the pair clear) in a highly competitive handicap in October.
Interestingly, however, the fact neither horse has run since suggests connections have been waiting for Cheltenham with these decent prospects.
The chances are that Take The Breeze might just need this, especially with Nicholls' penchant for backing off his string at this time of year. And for that reason, Take The Breeze is passed over in favour of Leading Contender. To judge from his recent effort over the course and distance, this resolute galloper is coming to the boil.
Another tease of a handicap chase (4.05), this one over the minimum trip, can go to Call Me A Legend, which regained the winning thread with ease last time. This consistent sort can confirm her defeat of Moon Over Miami, which is allowed 7lbs for an eight-length beating. That looks insufficient against Alan King's in-form mare.