As Mr Sinatra might have warbled, it’s time to face the final curtain of the current Jumps season, with a top class card at Sandown.
Most valuable race of the day is at 3.35, when the bet365 Gold Cup Handicap Chase takes place over 3m 5f of the Esher track, with 20 runners chasing a first prize of £84 grand and change.
Unsurprisingly it’s 7-1 the field, which price brings in the redoubtable Blaklion, last seen being unluckily brought down after the first fence in the Grand National. Completely unscathed and reported to be ‘bouncing’ at home, this is undoubtedly the class horse in the race, hence top weight of 11st 12lbs.
Horses carrying big weights have a terrible record in this race and, for that reason, we pass it over. Similar comments apply to Regal Encore, which would have been our headline pick for the Aintree marathon, only for it to be withdrawn on race-day morning with a bad blood count. Last year’s winner was 4lbs out of the handicap (and 40-1 to boot) and our arrows are aimed at the bottom third of the weights, starting with Sugar Baron.
This 8-y-o looked all over the winner of this last year, before being swamped on the run in and finishing a close 7th. Last December, Sugar Baron again showed its liking for this course and distance by finishing a neck second to today’s rival Benbens, needing one more stride for victory. There is no question that this horse is difficult to win with, but at 14-1 each way, we go for third time lucky.
Two places farther down the card is the novice Step Back, trained by Mark Bradstock.
The only potential big improver in the field and getting in right on the button with 10st, Jamie Moore’s mount may make up for lack of experience with sheer talent and should be backed (also each way) at 15-2.
Finally, we have to add in our Scottish Grand National selection The Young Master, 3lbs out of the weights and available at 10-1. Regular readers will no doubt remember our expressed concerns about the horse’s usual pilot and our fears were justified when he predictably fell off at the first fence. Conor Shoemark (Thank God) takes over today and his record on the horse is three wins from four rides, so let’s hope he can make it four from five.
The bet365 Novices’ Championship Final Handicap Hurdle, which kicks off the card at 1.50 has thrown up the proverbial ‘stone in hand’ jobby and Ar Mest should be slammed into each way at 14-1. Short in experience but long in talent, this 5-y-o gets in off a paltry 121 and could be a handicapper’s rick.
The next two races seem at the mercy of a certain N J Henderson, with Top Notch and the magnificent Altior, although the first mentioned has to prove it stays a much longer trip. We are ‘no bet’ in both these races, as we are in the 4.05, which looks a match between Wholestone and Call Me Lord. Both in the same ownership, Wholestone is the choice of Daryl Jacob, but on form and betting they can’t be split.
At 4.40, the bet365 Josh Gifford Novices’ Handicap Chase has attracted a field of 11 and offers the best opportunity yet for War Sound finally to get its head in front where it matters. Rumour has it that Philip Hobbs’ cat has been supplemented for The Derby, such is the form of the yard and dear Dickie should get it home at 3-1.
The Jumps season closes with another fierce looking handicap hurdle at 5.15 with just 19 runners and we go two against the field with Lough Derg Spirit at 8-1 and Stamp Your Feet at a juicy 22-1 being the beasties of choice.
We’ve done it our way.
Sugar Baron 3.35 Sandown e/w @ 14-1 bet365 (5 places)
Step Back 3.35 Sandown e/w @ 15-2 Ladbrokes (5 places)
The Young Master 3.35 Sandown e/w @ 10-1 PaddyPower (5 places)
Ar Mest 1.50 Sandown e/w @ 14-1 Coral (5 places)
War Sound 4.40 Sandown win @ 3-1 Skybet
Lough Derg Spirit 5.15 Sandown e/w @ 8-1 bet365 (5 places)
Stamp Your Feet 5.15 Sandown e/w @ 22-1 bet365 (5 places)