The Paul Nicholls team didn’t appear too downhearted after their promising young novice chaser Hinterland had to settle for second place behind the smart Captain Conan in the Grade 1 Merkel Insurance Henry VIII Novice Chase at Sandown Park on Saturday afternoon, writes Elliot Slater.

Considering he is still a four-year-old the performance of the gelded son of Poliglote was a pleasing one, and there were a number of observers who took the view that had Ruby Walsh chosen to sit a little closer to the pace in the very testing ground it might have been much closer than the eventual three-and-a-half lengths winning margin.

Walsh had clearly been given instructions to do his best to get his mount settled in the early stages of the contest, Hinterland having run far too freely on his previous outing at Exeter in November on his chasing bow when sent off a long odds-on favourite. On that occasion he pulled himself into the lead by the third fence, but when push came to shove at the business end of the contest he had nothing left to give and was easily passed by the decent Theatre Guide in the closing stages.

There’s no doubt that his Sandown run will have taught the French-bred plenty about the chasing game and he clearly has taken a step forward from his initial outing over fences in chasing home Captain Conan, now a top priced 7/1 third-favourite in the ante-post list for the Arkle Trophy at the Cheltenham Festival in March.

Hinterland was pushed out to 20/1 in the same list, a price that could represent plenty of value as Nicholls’ charge strengthens up and gains more experience, the Grade 2 winning novice hurdler of last season being one to keep a close eye on over the next couple of months.

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