Our racing expert marks your card for Friday's jumps action at Sandown.
David Pipe doesn’t have the ammunition he once had but he’s still a shrewd operator and his horses often improve markedly on their handicap debut. I’m hoping that is the case with SKINFLINT when he runs in the 2m handicap hurdle for amateur riders as the six-year-old has shown next to nothing in his hurdle starts to date, albeit he was up against some smart novices when a remote sixth at Newbury last time. But he did show ability when a close second on his only start in an Irish point and one of the horses that finished behind him on that occasion was Shantou Rock, who has subsequently proved himself a smart hurdler/chaser. Even if the selection turns out to be half as good as that horse, he really ought to be going close in this off a mark of 110. UPDATE – the selection is very easy to back this morning (out to 8/1 from 9/2), which is never a good sign with handicap debutants, so best keep stakes small.
Things have not really panned out for WESTEND STORY since his fifth in the 2016 Champion Bumper won by Ballyandy, but the Philip Hobbs-trained seven-year-old looks ready to make up for lost time and is taken to shrug off top weight in the 2m3f handicap hurdle. Not himself last season, according to connections, he improved for reappearance fourth at Carlisle in November to land a class 3 handicap at Wetherby in January, being ridden clear after the last to win unchallenged. He’s gone up 10lb for that but, even so, he can surely rate higher than his current 134 now that he has turned the corner.
The closing 2m3f novices’ handicap hurdle looks tricky and a case can be made for most of the 11 runners. But one who brings some potential to the gig is LIP SERVICE, who was last seen finishing fourth (of 19) at Cheltenham in November when making his debut for Fergal O’Brien. That was a much more competitive race than this and while he’s been absent since, that’s presumably down to him being given time to recover from wind surgery. He had some useful form when trained in Ireland by Tony Martin, winning a chase at Tramore, and he’s certainly in the right hands to make his mark in this country.
All odds were correct at time of posting.