What are the best bets at Sandown on Saturday?
The curtain comes down on the jumps season with a cracking seven-race card at Sandown, with the battle between Paul Nichoills and Willie Mullins for the trainers’ title providing a fascinating subplot, and I’ve run the rule over the four Channel 4-televised races.
14:20 bet365 Juvenile Handicap Hurdle, 1m7f216y
The British jumps trainers’ title is all set to go to the wire on the final day of the season at Sandown with Paul Nicholls holding a £53,556 lead over Willie Mullins, and they are both represented here. Nicholls runs the lightly-raced Tommy Silver who is coming off a respectable seventh in the Triumph Hurdle, while Mullins fields the likely favourite Voix Du Reve. The latter was in the process of running a blinder in last month’s Fred Winter Hurdle only to take a crashing fall at the last and, providing that nasty experience has left its mark, he looks sure to go well. But this is a handicap and a 5lb rise may leave him vulnerable to one further down the weights, and Dan Skelton’s ASHOKA may be able to take advantage.
Placed on all three Flat runs when trained in Ireland, he made a winning debut over hurdles at Warwick in December and, while beaten twice since, including when finishing second behind Tommy Silver (18lb worse off for 11 lengths) at Musselburgh last time, he now makes his handicap debut off what looks a potentially lenient mark of 125. That wouldn’t have been lost on his massively in form trainer, who sent out Ch’Tibello (another well handicapped sort) to land last Saturday’s Scottish Champion Hurdle and has had a further six winners since. With brother Harry Skelton booked to do the steering, the partnership represent some value at bet365’s 13/2.
14:55 bet365 Oaksey Chase (Grade 2), 2m6f164y
There’s a first prize of £28,475 up for grabs here and it could be heading Mullins’ way as his Valseur Lido has been chalked up at odds-on (Coral are one of several firms offering 5/6). He can boats the best recent form – a six-length second to stablemate Vautour in the Ryanair Chase – and is suited by the race conditions as he gets weight from the penalised pair Menorah and Wonderful Charm, who is one of three Nicholls runners (the others being Saphir Du Rheu and rank outsider Rocky Creek) and looks the main hope on jockey bookings. The favourite does have a couple of recent non-completions (FU) on his CV, but he’s not a bad jumper by any means and anything like a repeat of his Cheltenham effort would probably suffice.
But given his skinny price and the suspicion that this trip is short of his best, I’d rather take a chance that Philip Hobbs can get MENORAH back to the sort of form that he showed when landing this race last year and in 2014. The 11-year-old be a fitting winner for Richard Johnson who will be crowned champion jockey for the first time today after years of being in the now retired Tony McCoy’s shadow and finishing runner-up 16 times no less.
15:35 bet365 Celebration Chase (Grade 1), 1m7f119y
Mullins is saving Douvan for Punchestown next week but he has a super sub up his sleeve in Un De Sceaux, who was last seen chasing home Sprinter Sacre in the Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, which was only his third defeat in eight chase starts (he fell in the other two). With no obvious front-runner here he should enjoy the uncontested lead he seems to enjoy and he could take some catching.
Fortunately for Nicholls (the winner’s first prize of £71,188 would make a serious dent in his lead), Nicky Henderson has declared the aforementioned SPRINTER SACRE and the reigning champion chaser is favourite across the board to uphold the Cheltenham form and bag another Grade 1 prize. The ten-year-old’s revival has been one of the stories of the season, having looked finished when pulled up in the 2015 Champion Chase, and Henderson and his Seven Barrows team has worked wonders to get him back to something like his very best. Has the Cheltenham left its mark? Possibly, but all the vibes coming out of his stable suggest he’s not ready for his summer break just yet and, with today’s forecast ‘good’ ground less a problem for him than Un De Sceaux, he’s a reasonably confident choice.
16:10 bet365 Gold Cup Chase (Grade 3 Handicap), 3m4f166y
Nicholls and Mullins both fire a couple of arrows at this famous handicap – still known as the ‘Whitbread’ despite the bet365 association – and the former may have an ace up his sleeve as his main hope Southfield Theatre looks to have solid claims and is favourite (15/2 best with Paddy Power) with all firms. A top-class novice chaser last winter, with three wins and an arguably even better effort when second in the RSA Chase, he can be excused all three defeats this term and has most likely been kept for this. He’s certainly preferred to the two novices near the head of the betting, Henri Parry Morgan and Measureofmydreams (Mullins’ best hope), as experience counts for plenty in this race.
However, I’m drawn to the Neil Mulholland-trained trio and CAROLES DESTRIER is just preferred to stablemates The Young Master and The Druid’s Nephew, with his success in the London National, run over course and distance in December, the clincher for a bet. The eight-year-old was pulled up at the Cheltenham Festival last time but three miles on good ground was never going to suit, and all his best form is when going right-handed. He never got to show the benefit of a wind operation there but, with today’s conditions more to his liking, he may well be capable of a career-best effort.
While not on Channel 4, you can catch a live stream of the last three races on the card at bet365 with just a small bet of £0.50 (£0.25 each-way) required to watch. In the novices’ handicap chase (5.20pm), the Emma Lavelle-trained JUNCTION FOURTEEN should go well as he’s on a fair mark, has been freshened up since his last run and will appreciate today’s better ground. Daryl Jacob rides and he has a healthy 18% strike rate for the stable with all his rides yielding a £1 level-stakes profit of £22.83.
Fancy some free bets? Back a winner at 4/1 or bigger in any of the above four Channel 4-televised races with bet365 and they will give you a free bet to the same stake (up to £50 per customer per race) on the next race shown live on Channel 4.