Our racing expert marks your card for Friday's jumps action at Sandown.
For the nap I’ve no hesitation in putting up Mark Bradstock’s STEP BACK, who is taking on handicap rivals for the first time in 3m contest off what looks a lenient mark of 121. I fancied him in a Chepstow novice last time and he looked all set to score before blowing up in the straight on his first run back since finishing down the field in last year’s Albert Barrett. Still, he was a clear second at the line behind the promising winner Thomas Patrick with the 139-rated Rolling Dylan 18 lengths adrift in third. That run will have put him right for this and switch to a right-handed track is another thing in his favour as he jumped markedly right on a couple of occasions. A prolific winning pointer and successful over hurdles at Ludlow (also right-handed) last season, I rate him a good bet to take this en route to taking up his entry in the four-miler at the Cheltenham Festival.
The feature Royal Artillery Gold Cup is probably best left to ORBASA given that he represents Paul Nicholls and Jody Sole, who have combined to land two of the last five runnings. The seven-year-old has been running well in handicaps, including when beaten less than four lengths into fourth behind Pete The Feat over track and trip two starts back, and he while he does have a 5lb penalty to carry here he is meeting his rivals on favourable terms in this level-weights contest. Of these, Leo Luna had a hard race when scoring at Plumpton just 18 days ago and I’d be more concerned about last year’s winner, Rathlin Rose, albeit he was pulled up last time when possibly feeling the effects of his Welsh National sixth.
Gassin Golf looks a major player in the opening 2m handicap hurdle for conditional jockeys on his third behind Call Me Lord here two runs back. He has just one win to show from his 24 hurdling starts, though, and I’d rather be on PADDY’S POEM now he is taking on handicap rivals for the first time. Nick Gifford’s seven-year-old has been knocking on the door in novice company and got closest when beaten eight lengths into second at Plumpton last time, when not for the first time he gave the impression he needed more of a stamina test . This stiffer track should suit him then and the booking of conditional-of-the-moment Bryony Frost makes him even more appealing as a bet at an each-way price.
The Grade 2 novices’ hurdle for mares is strongly contested with plenty of solid recent form on display, but I’m happy to open my wallet for Gary Moore’s ALL CURRENCIES. The six-year-old has really got her act together this season and was winning for the second time from four starts over hurdles when seeing off a good field of novice mares at Newbury last month (2m41/2f, soft) with plenty in hand. That was putting behind her a disappointing run over 2m at Taunton previously, which was clearly too sharp for her, and she’s clearly far more at home over this trip and on the forecast soft ground. As a winning pointer with plenty of size to her she is going to make a nice chaser in time, but there is surely more to come from her over hurdles and this looks a decent winning opportunity before a possible crack at the EBF Final back here in March.
All odds were correct at time of posting.