With the jumps racing season well underway, fans will be treated to a jam-packed schedule of elite racing over the next few months as trainers prepare their thoroughbreds for the preeminent fixtures on the sport’s calendar in March and April.
One such meeting which will provide punters and pundits some helpful pointers in the lead-up to the Cheltenham Festival will be Contenders Day at Sandown Park – and in particular – its Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase.
In what is the only Grade 1 fixture on the card, the Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase is run over two miles and four furlongs and is open to horses aged five years or older. This year’s race is once again expected to be filled with an incredibly strong field, with a number of prominent trainers expressing their interest in entering their thoroughbreds in the race taking place on the first Saturday in February.
The race has proven to be notoriously difficult to win in year’s past – and with that in mind – read on as dissect the last three winners of the esteemed Grade 1 affair.
L’Homme Presse (2022)
Entering the race off the back of three consecutive wins, the undefeated chaser and Venetia Williams-trained L’Homme Presse was a short favourite in the horse racing odds at 8/13 in 2022’s Grade 1 novices’ chase at Sandown Park. However, despite the interest he drew in the betting lines, the then seven-year-old wasn’t without his fair share of competition. With wet conditions and a live threat in 2020 Betfair Hurdle winner Pic D’Orhy lining up against him, L’Homme Presse’s perfect record in chases appeared in jeopardy.
The French-bred horse put any pre-race concerns to bed however, putting forth a flawless display to reign supreme by 21 lengths from Mister Coffey and the aforementioned Pic D’Orhy. It was an equally brilliant performance from L’Homme Presse’s jockey Charlie Deutsch, whose decision making over the second half of the race was crucial in helping develop the pair’s insurmountable lead up the straight.
His victory at Sandown Park proved to be the best possible preparation – with L’Homme Presse winning the Grade 1 Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival just a month later.
Sporting John (2021)
In what was a considerable upset, the Philip Hobbs-trained Sporting John turned over hot pre-race favourite Shan Blue by nearly four lengths in the Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase two years ago. After a less than stellar first half of the race, in which he gave his rivals a decent head start – the then six-year-old settled into proceedings and firmed as a challenger as the field tackled the railway fences.
Sporting John showed plenty of stamina around the final bend and up the straight, holding off Shan Blue and Paint the Dream to win by just shy of four lengths. Sporting John’s performance at the Cheltenham Festival a month later was left to be desired however, with him falling two out from the finish in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase.
For those who follow horse racing tips, at the time of writing, Sporting John is expected to line up in the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Itchy Feet (2020)
In yet another upset in the Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase, outsider Itchy Feet finished strong up the straight to secure a thrilling win by three-and-a-half lengths from Midnight Shadow and Champagne Platinum. While it was a fantastic performance from the French horse, he has been unable to replicate it since – failing to win a race in his last 13 outings.