The curtain closer for the British National Hunt season typically provides some high-class action and this year’s card doesn’t disappoint. Plot jobs aplenty in the four handicaps but with two Grade 2 conditions races and the Grade 1 Celebration Chase featuring Altior we’re not short of brilliance either. Syndicate Captain Cheltmental provides his views on the £15,000 Win 6 pool at Sandown.
13:50 – Novices’ Championship Final Handicap Hurdle (Class 2) (4yo+) 1m7f216y
Typical of a Class 2 Novice Handicap Hurdle on the last day of the season, there are plenty of familiar names and horses who have shown at least glimpses of brilliance. Getaway Trump makes a quick turnaround after bolting up at Ayr on quick ground and, despite conceding plenty of weight, his mark doesn’t look harsh. He did flop at Kelso which came quite soon after his effort in the rearranged Betfair Hurdle so it’s hard to know exactly how well he is in himself.
Benny’s Bridge did us a huge favour when winning nicely at Cheltenham on Trial’s day to make it seven out of seven winners. He comes here off a 9lb higher mark and, although at first glance his run round here in March might be underwhelming, he was 8lb out of the handicap. I think this horse is comfortably better than his current mark but he can race keen so settling him out the back and some luck in running will be key.
Humble Hero is another who did us a good turn in March and his 5lb rise doesn’t look beyond him and the same can be said for Harambe who carries that same 5lb increase and runs well this time of year. Alan King also saddles Scarlet Dragon who is a second season novice, but he was hugely disappointing when last seen although given that came just after the flu scare you might be able to forgive him that. Richard Johnson picks up the ride on the apparent stable second string but he’s on the cusp of a double century this season, so he’ll be riding like a man possessed.
Birds Of Prey would be one of a few runners who wouldn’t mind the rain staying away and, with Lorcan Williams’ 5lb claim, he’s capable of being in the mix again having finished first or second in all of his five starts in this discipline.
Selections – Benny’s Bridge, Humble Hero, Harambe, Scarlet Dragon, Birds Of Prey
14:25 – Oaksey Chase (Grade 2) (Class 1) (5yo+) 2m6f164y
The conditions of this race mean 8lbs splits the entire field on adjusted ratings and just 5lbs splits seven of the eight runners. Definitly Red comes out on top and he goes right handed for the first time October 2016 when winning at Carlisle. He’s known as a horse who probably wants further but the ground is fine and he beaten Black Corton 2l when they last met on these terms. Black Corton however was unlucky on that day after a serious hash of the third fence and this trip looks like his ideal. It’s Bryony Frost’s first ride back from injury and, on a day she picks up her Conditional Jockey’s title, she’ll be desperate to win this. Her mount comes in here the freshest of the field which is another positive
Charbel is an inconsistent sort but while he ran well here behind Altior in the Novice Chase he’s yet to show he really wants this far and he was very poor when pulled up at Cheltenham. San Bendeto will enjoy the quick ground and wasn’t far behind Altior in the Celebration Chase at this meeting last year but is another I’m not is crying out for this step up in trip
Josses Hill wasn’t able to land this in his pomp so especially with his current form he’s easy to write off. Cobra De Mai comes here in polar opposite form after bolting up at Cheltenham ten days ago but this is a marked step up in class and he won’t get an easy lead here
Selections – Black Corton, Definitly Red
15:00 – Celebration Chase (GRADE 1) (Class 1) (5yo+) 1m7f119y
All eyes will be on Altior as he attempts to break Big Bucks’ record of 18 wins in a row which he equalled with a really gutsy performance at Cheltenham. Sceau Royal was only 3 and a half lengths behind in third that day which was a very taking performance considering he’s better on this quicker ground. He was well behind Altior in the tingle creek but that was very slow ground and he wasn’t going to be able to handle the early exchanges that day. He’ll do well to get as close to Altior again this time but he does rate as the only possible danger away from the fences themselves and with no obvious pace in the race this could turn tactical.
Selections – Altior, Sceau Royal
15:35 – Gold Cup Handicap Chase (GRADE 3) (Class 1) (5yo+) 3m4f166y
Beware The Bear will be hoping for some rain if he’s to take part and carrying top weight here won’t be easy but having skipped Aintree he comes here fresh enough.
Nico De Boinville rides for Mark Bradstock on Step Back who has been subject to support this week. Not sure the trainers are as surprised as they are making out considering he won this race by 13l last year albeit off a 10 lower mark. He sported first time cheekpieces that day and he adds a tongue tie to it for this. Rock The Kasbah was second in this race last year and wasn’t beaten far the year before but he was poor in the National so he’s hard to get excited about.
Talkischeap is another who has been well touted for the race even if he did underwhelm on Handicap debut at Kempton in February. Step up in trip should see him in a better light but despite his runs behind La Bague Au Roi early in the season you wouldn’t think he’s well in here.
Paul Nichols sends three in here, all of who have a chance. Present Man has been trained with this race in mind and a recent wind op will see him spot on. He was a long way back in third last year in this race though so is vulnerable to a better treated runner. Adrien Du Pont wouldn’t scream out that he’s well treated but he’ll like the ground and is another who should relish this step up in trip after no real race at Aintree latest.
Give Me A Copper is the latest cliff horse but he would want genuine GS ground to show his best. He was an eyecatcher round here in February and although he disappointed at Cheltenham before falling at the last he should enjoy this test and racing off 143 still looks lenient given what he could be capable of.
Both The Young Master and Joe Farrell will like it if the ground stays on the quicker side and the former took this race in 2016 before his form tailed off. He won twice early this season and ran well at The Festival so he’s not without a chance. The latter is far less exposed and is better than he showed in the National.
West Approach is rated 10lbs lower over fences and he’s a very in and out performer. However, the change of discipline has worked before and if his jumping holds up he could go well at a big price. LE REVE might be 1lb out of the handicap but showed some old form in February and March but will want ease in the ground.
Selections – West Approach, The Young Master, Joe Farrell, Give Me A Copper, Adrien Du Pont, Present Man
16:10 – Select Hurdle (Grade 2) (Class 1) (4yo+) 2m5f110y
If OR’s are to be trusted then bottom weight With Discretion comes out second best on adjusted ratings and it wouldn’t be the first time Nico has got it wrong. The depth of her form is hard to get too excited about and she probably wants slower ground but she’s interesting all the same. Younevercall comes out on top and runs here fresh from a wind op. He’s another though that is hard to confirm his Official Mark although this quicker ground is where all his best form comes from.
Both Black Op and On The Blind Side have aborted Chasing campaigns this season and despite what plenty of people think about the pair I don’t see either as 3 milers so I’m pleased they run here. Neither are short of speed but both need to put very poor runs at The Festival behind them. On The Blind Side has form right handed and round here but the last time the pair met Black Op finished 9l in front.
Mia’s Storm will love the ground but was so poor at Aintree she’s hard to trust and another who will like the ground is Old Guard who sports first time blinkers. He was well beaten in this race last year and carries top weight again.
Selections – Younevercall, On The Blind Side, Black Op, Mia’s Storm
16:40 – Novices’ Handicap Chase (Class 2) (5yo+) 2m4f10y
Aintree My Dream won on his new stable debut and a 5lb rise looks manageable if turning up in the same mood. He was with Dan Skelton who has a very interesting runner in Bandsman. He’s fresh from a wind op which seem to work well for the yard and ground and trip are both fine for him.
Good Man Pat was minded at Cheltenham and that can afford him a chance in here, but rain would increase his prospects. Zalvados looks a very interesting runner who I don’t think was given a hard time latest and has always hinted at wanting this trip.
Molineaux last won over fences on good ground, at this trip and off a 2lb lower mark so while he’s very inconsistent he could surprise if on a going day.
Selections – Zalvados, Molineaux