It’s a last hurrah for the 2012/13 jumps season at Sandown on Saturday, with a cracking renewal of the bet365 Gold Cup Chase featuring on a cracking card at the Esher venue, which also includes some quality Flat action.
Only three of the last 16 winners of this staying handicap chase have carried more than 10st 10lb to victory, but this time round none of the 20 contenders will be carrying less than 10st 11lb. There’s just 15lb separating the top and bottom weight, which is indicative of just how competitive a line-up it is.
I’m a big fan of Well Refreshed who has had a nice break since landing the Grand National Trial at Haydock in February, but he’s been hit with a 13lb rise for that victory and, moreover, he will need to jump with greater fluency if he’s to complete the four-timer here.
He can’t be ignored all the same, but the one that appeals most here is HOLD ON JULIO.
It’s fair to say that he has proved largely disappointing this season, but the adage ‘horses for courses’ is one that is wise to observe when it comes to Sandown, a track where horses either excel or they don’t, and the 10-year-old has scored in good style in both previous starts at the Surrey venue.
Alan King has his string in good form and it could be that equipping Hold On Julio with a pair of blinkers will work wonders, as he has looked in need of sharpening up in recent starts. I’m convinced he has a big handicap chase in him off this sort of mark and, at 12/1 with Bet Victor and William Hill, he’s a strong each-way option.
Away We Go, runner-up in the Irish National off this mark last time, is an obvious threat, while novice Hadrian’s Approach, third in the RSA Chase at Cheltenham last time, and Kim Muir hero Same Difference are also high on the list. Quentin Collonges landed the Grimthorpe Chase at Doncaster last time and is also a major player.
The bet365.com Celebration Chase provides Sanctuaire with a good opportunity to record his third C&D victory, but OISEAU DE NUIT came right back to form when landing the Red Rum Handicap Chase at Aintree earlier this month and, if in the same mood here, Colin Tizzard’s charge could take some stopping.
In terms of Flat races on the Sandown card, the bet365 Gordon Richards Stakes is undoubtedly the main event. Al Kazeem looked an improved performer when landing the Group 2 Jockey Club Stakes at Newmarket on his sole start in 2012, but his wellbeing has to be taken on trust and preference is for the lightly-raced EAGLES PEAK.
On official figures, the Sir Michael Stoute-trained entire has plenty to find with the likes of Al Kazeem and Ektihaam, but he looks just the type that his trainer excels with, and he form of his victory in a Goodwood handicap when last seen out in September has been franked by the subsequent Listed victory of the runner-up Cubanita.
Over the Irish Sea at Punchestown it’s the final day of festival. Sadly Our Conor, brilliant winner of the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham last month, won’t be going to post for the AES Champion Four Year Old Hurdle, which leaves the way clear for DIAKALI, who was fourth behind Our Conor in the Triumph, to resume winning ways, assuming the first-time hood has the desired effect.
The other Grade 1 on the card at 4.25 is a mares’ contest and Tarla will be strongly fancied to complete a Willie Mullins 1-2 with stablemate Glens Melody apparently the main danger.
However, the value alternative is SWINCOMBE FLAME who was a fine third behind the amazing Quevega in the OLBG.com Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham and, though she has the lowest official rating of the five runners, she could be the answer.
The Three Pat Taaffe Handicap Chase is likely to be the biggest betting heat of the day at Punchestown and On His Own is bound to be all the rage.
He fell for the second year running in the Grand National earlier this month, but wasn’t travelling anywhere near as well at the time of departure this time round, and looks way too short at around 2/1 in this contest.
British raider Wyck Hill will be firmly in the mix if bouncing back from a below-par display in the Racing Plus Chase at Kempton on his latest start, but the two that interest me most are Magnanimity and MY MURPHY, with marginal preference for the latter who is too well treated over fences to ignore.
2.05 Black Thunder
2.40 Oiseau de Nuit
3.15 Eagles Peak
3.50 Hold On Julio
2.20 Snow Trooper
2.55 Party Line
3.45 My Murphy
4.25 Swincombe Flame