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Not much focus needed for binocular to be 'contender'

Only the bout of cold winter has saved today's card at Sandown from ignominy. Only because of the prolonged freeze-up is there a herd of novice chasers desperate to gain further experience before the Cheltenham Festival. And only by repeatedly highlighting these shortcomings will improvements be made to the televised action on English racing's most important day of the week.

The Scilly Isles Novices' Chase is the sole redeeming feature on an afternoon which offers poor fare for a Saturday. A race that often cuts up has drawn a well-matched cast, many of which have been sidelined by recent abandonments. Still, with little else of interest to punters, we must be grateful for small mercies.

The work Binocular does at home is more arduous than what will be required for him to win the Contenders' Hurdle. It's no wonder the race has been dropped from the Channel 4 schedule. And with a further two short-priced favourites in races from Ffos Las and Wetherby, the Saturday Scoop6 makes as much appeal as a winter holiday in Egypt.

What about the totescoop6 Handicap Hurdle (3.0), I hear you ask? Well, take a closer look for yourself. In a huge field of 21 runners, preference is for a seasoned horse which won't be intimidated by jumping hurdles from the middle of a scrum. Conversely, the stats maintain that the race invariably falls to a lightly-raced type which happens to be thrown in at the weights. How's that for an uncomfortable dichotomy?

Horses with the appropriate credentials include Lush Life, Kilcrea Kim, Mister Hyde, Like A Hurricane and Prince Tom -- the last of those from the Paul Nicholls stable that has won this three times in the last four years. It's an encouraging pointer that Prince Tom was Nicholls' sole entry, but he was raised 13lbs by the handicapper when he finally broke his duck at the eighth attempt. He is readily overlooked.

Lush Life and Kilcrea Kim have plenty of weight in a race that usually favours those towards the foot of the handicap, while Mister Hyde would be of interest if Jonjo O'Neill's runners were in better form. That leaves Like A Hurricane as the last one standing, but with so many unknowns, I take a flyer with Mr Jay Dee at long odds.

Lucy Wadham's six-year-old, which ticks all the boxes, can be excused his disappointing effort in bottomless ground at Fakenham last time. His jumping should be more polished on this better surface, and the step-up in trip may bring about the improvement needed for Mr Jay Dee to be competitive. He moves up in class, but connections are rarely ones to mistake geese for swans.

Irish Independent