THE most valuable race on the Sandown card was the Veterans’ Chase, but because it is confined to horses aged 11 and older, it cannot carry pattern status.

Nonetheless, it provided a really competitive contest on paper, although the rain had really got into the ground by the time it was run, and that resulted in a slow-motion finish with only five of the runners able to see things out.

Last of those to finish was Valadom, although the gallant grey deserves credit for leading from the first fence, often by a big margin, and losing the lead only after the second-last fence. The strong pace was too much for most of the field, but a slog in the mud is ideal for Prime Venture (Evan Williams/Adam Wedge), and the 18/1 shot cast off a couple of poor efforts in getting back to the sort of form which had seen him finish in or around the places in a couple of runnings of the Welsh Grand National.

He was produced from off the pace to tackle the well-backed favourite Final Nudge (Fergal O’Brien/Paddy Brennan) just as that rival had taken over between the last two fences, and he kept on stoutly as others tired to register a nine-length win. Prime Venture was pulled up on his debut in veterans’ competition behind Aso, who flopped here, but he broke a blood vessel there, which explains his inconsistency. He needs a thorough test and heavy ground, so won’t be easy to place now, although connections may well plan to aim him at this race again next year, and plot his programme around that.

Martello Sky

If there is an unsung heroine in the mares’ hurdling division, it must be Martello Sky (Lucy Wadham/Aidan Coleman), who was gaining her eighth win from just a dozen career starts when landing the Unibet Mares’ Hurdle at 2/1 from Anythingforlove (Jamie Snowden/Page Fuller), and that despite seeming to find the heavy ground against her.

The winner and second were helped by staying wide from the home turn, whereas Shark Hanlon’s Skyace looked unlucky having been stuck on the worst of the ground after a momentum-ending error at the second-last flight.

She is not one to forget on the back of this defeat, although that’s harder to say about hot favourite Gauloise (Willie Mullins), who was tailed off after hanging and jumping markedly to her right. She can’t be judged solely on this effort, but nonetheless has something to prove as a result.

“That was an amazing performance” said a beaming Lucy Wadham after the race. “Martello Sky hated the ground and down the back you could see Aidan was thinking ‘should I pull her up?’, but once she was in with other horses she took off.

“She very talented, she’s tough and she’s improving. We were well treated by the weights today but she’s tough to go out there and do that.

“We’ll give her a break and then look at the Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.”

Racing opened with a win in a good time for the Gary Moore-trained Moulins Clermont who justified odds-on favouritism by 13 lengths in the juvenile hurdle.


the tracks

Irish-trained Ayr double

THERE was no joy on Saturday for Shark Hanlon or Willie Mullins, but Gordon Elliott and Stuart Crawford bookended the card at Ayr the following day via Ailie Rose and Burn The Evidence respectively.

The former landed the mares’ novice hurdle under Brian Hughes, while Sean Bowen did the steering as Burn The Evidence broke her duck at the fourth time of asking.

Coakley on

a hot streak

ROSS Coakley gained positive reviews for his riding in Britain last season, and he has made a sparkling start to 2022.

He rode a double at Lingfield on Saturday and another winner at Kempton on Thursday helped him to a total of six winners from just 11 rides so far in January.