Our racing expert runs the rule over the four ITV-televised races from Sandown, including the feature bet365 Gold Cup.
1:50 2m (1m7f216y) bet365 Novices’ Championship Final Handicap Hurdle (Class 2) (4yo+)
A competitive start to what is a fantastic finale to the jumps season and, with bookmakers going 15/2 the field, we’re assured of a good price if we can land on the winner. That’s easier said than done as you can make a case for just about all of these and the best policy might be to have at least a couple of stabs.
While others have stronger form claims, they have not been missed by the handicapper, whereas Gary Moore’s AR MEST could still be flying under the radar near the foot of the weights. The five-year-old has improved with each of his four hurdle starts and overcame keenness when getting off the mark at in a Lingfield maiden a couple of runs back. He settled much better in a novice here last time, when helped by the eventual winner setting a good tempo, and still looked to have plenty of running in him when crashing out three from home. It’s hoped that experience hasn’t dented his confidence as he now goes handicapping off what looks a very fair mark of 121 and should be suited by having a good pace to aim at. He’s got to be worth a few quid each-way at bet365’s 14/1.
Tom Lacey’s Equus Amadeus is the same price with Ladbrokes and he too looks the type to be suited by a big-field handicap run at a strong gallop as he takes a fierce hold, while his stable couldn’t be in better form with four winners from just ten runners in the last fortnight. The five-year-old has looked all the better for a wind op in his two races this spring, including when chasing home a decent sort at Kempton 19 days ago, and is now making his handicap debut off what is potentially a generous handicap mark of 124. I’m sure he’s much better than that and, if setting a bit better here, he could easily crown what has been a terrific season for his stable.
But the other one to back is rank outsider THE NEW PHARAOH, who is surely capable of out running his Paddy Power price tag of 50/1. A decent stayer on the Flat, he has taken to hurdles well since joining Laura Morgan and is well handicapped judged on his Leicester defeat of Banjo Girl at Leicester two starts back. He needs excusing a tame effort at Sedgefield last time, but his trainer is reaching for a visor and is also employing the services of talented 5lb claimer Patrick Cowley, who has ridden eight winners for the stable at a strike rate of 35%, including a couple in the last fortnight. He might be the best each-way value of the lot.
2:25 2m6½f (2m6f164y) bet365 Oaksey Chase (Grade 2) (for The Menorah Challenge Trophy) (Class 1) (5yo+)
Double Shuffle is the highest-rated runner in the field and boasts the killer form line courtesy of his length second to Might Bite in thr King George. However, he was beaten 40 lengths by that horse at Aintree 16 days ago with no obvious excuses and he was also beaten eight length by TOP NOTCH in this grade at Ascot in November. Nicky Henderson’s charge is only slightly worse off here, so he should be able to confirm the form, and is much the fresher horse having been off since February, meaning he missed the Cheltenham and Aintree festivals. Likely still on the upgrade at seven, he can cap a fine season with a victory over what is his ideal trip.
3:00 1m7½f (1m7f119y) bet365 Celebration Chase (Grade 1) (Class 1) (5yo+)
Henderson should also be on the mark with superstar chaser ALTIOR, who is bidding to for back-to-back wins in this race and to maintain his perfect (9-9) record over fences, having also gone unbeaten in five hurdle starts. His success 12 months ago was on the back of an interrupted campaign and it’s hardly been plain sailing for the eight-year-old this season. However, he confirmed that he is the best two-miler around when bounding clear of Min in the Champion Chase and it would be a huge surprise if he failed to land odds of 2/9 here.
Last year’s runner-up Special Tiara is next in the betting, but for the forecast it could be worth taking a chance on the novice Diego Du Charmil, who impressed when winning a Grade 1 at Aintree and is clearly improving fast.
3:35 3m5f (3m4f166y) bet365 Gold Cup Handicap Chase (Grade 3) (Class 1) (5yo+)
Blaklion is the class act in the field and Nigel Twiston-Davies’ nine-year-old is favourite with most firms, although he has top weight of 11st 12lb to show for that and the percentage call is to side with one further down the weights – since Desert Orchid’s victory in 1998, 24 of the 29 winners have carried less than 11st. That trend also rules out Regal Encore (11st 5lb) and the two horses on 11st, Theatre Guide and Rock The Kasbah, though the latter was a close up sixth in last year’s race (off 8lb lower) and might better that this time around.
Warren Greatrex’s Missed Approach is disputing favouritism after making all under today’s amateur partner in the Kim Muir at the Cheltenham Festival (3m2f, soft). That was following a wind operation and he certainly ran as if there was nothing holding him back, so a subsequent 8lb rise might not be enough to stop him. He’s likely to have competition for the lead and from Step Back especially, but that horse has it all to do on his just his fourth chase run and also has his stamina to prove for this trip. So the battle for early supremacy might be won by Missed Approach and I wouldn’t put anyone off backing him, if only as a saver.
But the headline pick goes to one near the foot of the weights in David Pipe’s RATHLIN ROSE, who has something in common with two of the last four winners in that he has just 10st on his back. What makes him really interesting, though, is his record at this track, with three victories, all in 3m military races, and a second to show from his four visits. Today’s longer trip is no concern as he has also finished third in a Southern National and sixth in the Welsh National on heavy ground.
He was taken off his feet in the Topham (2m5f) last time, albeit he was yet to be asked a question when tipping up four out, and his stable has found a bit of form of late with a couple of winners in the last week, including one at 20/1. That’s the price on offer for the selection at BetVictor, with some firms going a more realistic 12/1, and he will be carrying my each-way money.
Sandown 1.50, Ar Mest each-way @ 14/1 bet365 (1/4 odds, 126.96.36.199) / The New Pharoah each-way @ 50/1 Paddy Power (1/5 odds, 188.8.131.52.5)
Sandown 2.55, Top Notch @ 5/4 bet365
Sandown 3.00, Altior-Diego Du Charmil straight forecast
Sandown 3.35, Rathlin Rose each-way @ 20/1 BetVictor (1/4 odds, 184.108.40.206)
All odds were correct at time of posting.