South west London has two top racecourses on its doorstep in Kempton and Sandown Park, just a few miles apart.
Each hosts Grade 1 horse races over jumps during the winter months, so here’s a recap of the major winners there of the 2020-21 National Hunt season.
Allmankind (Henry VIII Novices’ Chase)
Triumph Hurdle third Allmankind took his form to new heights with an easy success in the Henry VIII Novices’ Chase at Sandown.
He made all the running, jumping well over the Railway fences down the back straight and was always doing enough up the Esher hill, holding Hitman and two previous Grade 2 winners.
It was an impressive way to follow-up on a taking debut effort over fences at Warwick.
Although Allmankind jumped slightly out to his left at Sandown, this wasn’t an issue and he completed a hat-trick over fences under a penalty in the Kingmaker Novices’ Chase where he gave useful handicapper Sky Pirate a 14-length beating.
Politologue (Tingle Creek Chase)
Popular Paul Nicholls trained gelding Politologue won a second Tingle Creek Chase after long-time rival Altior was withdrawn on account of the testing going.
While the absence detracted from his victory, the John Hales owned grey could only beat was actually in front of him.
Paul Nicholls with Bravemansgame, Politologue and Frodon during a stable visit at Manor Farm Stables, Ditcheat.— PA Images (@PAImages) March 2, 2021
📷David Davies – see more at https://t.co/p2ldFnyWAq#HorseRacing pic.twitter.com/hTKfuXSRuP
Conceding race fitness to Exeter Haldon Gold Cup winner Greaneteen and Cheltenham handicap scorer Rouge Vif was no problem for Politologue.
Like Allmankind, he made all under the same jockey in Harry Skelton and won by seven lengths in Sandown’s feature steeplechase.
Shan Blue (Kauto Star Novices’ Chase)
The first of three Grade 1s on Kempton’s big Boxing Day card, the Kauto Star went to Dan Skelton inmate Shan Blue. He left his novice hurdle form well behind when switching to fences and easily won minor events at Wetherby en route to this by an average of 15 lengths.
Shan Blue’s jumping held up under pressure from Colin Tizzard’s The Big Breakaway, who made a costly mistake at the final fence.
The decision to drop back down in distance for the Scilly Isles at Sandown, as we’ll see, proved costly for Team Skelton.
Silver Streak (Christmas Hurdle)
Few could begrudge the consistent Evan Williams trained grey Silver Streak a moment in the sun.
On a day when long odds-on favourite Epatante flopped, he profited and finally gained a deserved Grade 1 success in the Christmas Hurdle.
Silver Streak simply made all at Kempton and ran on well.
The runner-up, representing the powerful connections of major owner JP McManus and trainer Nicky Henderson, was found to have a slight back problem after the race, so this pair will meet again in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Frodon (King George VI Chase)
A brave, dictating ride from regular jockey Bryony Frost helped her create history aboard Frodon at Kempton.
She became the first female rider to win the King George, one of steeplechasing’s Triple Crown races.
Trainer Nicholls has a fabulous record in this race, but Frodon was the least fancied of four runners representing his yard.
That didn’t matter as Frost controlled the race from the front on him and they never saw a rival with the Cheltenham Gold Cup next on their agenda.
Frodon is 14/1, according to the horse racing betting odds, to pull offer another fairytale success.
Metier (Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle)
Nicholls’ apprentice Harry Fry got in on the act at Sandown after saddling Metier to victory in the Tolworth, the first Grade 1 of 2021. This novice hurdle over about two miles always has testing conditions and this was no exception.
Metier travelled strongly around the Esher venue and only needed shaking up by Sean Bowen to put the race to bed when produced to lead at the final flight.
The way he stayed on showed speed and stamina, and he has hopes of making it four from four over obstacle at Cheltenham in the Supreme.
Sporting John (Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase)
Other than Frodon, the only other surprise I major races at Kempton and Sandown this winter came in the Scilly Isles courtesy of Sporting John.
It’s fair to say that Philip Hobbs’ horse disappointed on his chase debut, but left that well behind when staying on and overhauling Shan Blue up the hill.
This surprise victory at 14/1 over a previous Grade 1 winner punched Sporting John’s ticket for the Cheltenham Festival. Kempton and Sandown successes stand these horses in good stead.