2.00 BET365 JUVENILE HANDICAP HURDLE (2M110Y)
I’d certainly prefer the rain to stay away for the opening race at least, as I’m convinced that Unanimite needs the ground to be genuinely quick to show his best form. He caught the eye in the Fred Winter when finishing strongly from a poor position, but rain on the morning of his latest outing at Ascot was of no benefit to him, and he finished fourth to Lil Rockerfeller, who reopposes here. The blinkers worn by Unanimite at Ascot are retained, and I fancy that he can reverse form as long as the going is riding good or faster. The uncertain forecast, on top of watering precludes me from making him a full selection, but if the worst of the rain fails to arrive, then I’ll be attempting to recoup losses incurred at Cheltenham.
2.35 BET365 OAKSEY CHASE (2¾M)
Menorah was a facile winner of this contest a year ago, and seems ideally suited by the test provided by this unusual course and distance. He started the season in great form before running unaccountably poorly in the King George, and while he didn’t fire in the Betfair Bowl at Aintree, is expected to bounce back to form back at Sandown. It’s worth remembering that he ran a similar race in the Aintree feature a year ago before landing this contest, and he looks to hold strong claims in a race lacking genuine depth. Al Ferof is feared on his best form, but tends to be at his best when fresh, so it was disappointing to see him run moderately in the Melling Chase at Liverpool. He’s better than that run implies, and is another who falls between two stools in terms of trip, but simply doesn’t hold his form well enough to merit support.
3.15 BET365 A P MCCOY CELEBRATION CHASE (2M)
With Tony McCoy taking just two rides at Sandown, both are sure to be conservatively priced, and I’m not keen to back the mercurial Mr Mole at the predicted odds. He won the Game Spirit well enough, but only after thinking about planting himself at the start, and again looked less than keen when the chips were down in the Champion Chase. Similarly, it would take a brave man to back Sprinter Sacre after his tame capitulation in that contest, and Nicky Henderson’s assertion that he would never be any better than he was in March rings further alarm bells. If the former champion is to bow out on a low note, then this may not take a great deal of winning, and it’s hard to escape the claims of Champion Chase third Special Tiara. True, the selection was behind Somersby there, but unlike that rival, he won’t shrug aside a winning opportunity, and his bold jumping, such a joy to behold at Kempton earlier in the campaign, is tailor-made for Sandown. He promises to be a fine sight over the railway fences, and if given his head from flagfall, will be very hard to peg back.
3.50 BET365 GOLD CUP (3M5F110Y)
Without doubt my favourite race of the jumps calendar, with my earliest memory of the race coming courtesy of the wonderful Diamond Edge, who won the race twice, and helped create the most compelling finish ever in a jumps race when going down a short head to Special Cargo in 1984 on what was to be his final appearance. The race might not have the same lustre these days, but Sandown’s topography always makes for a great spectacle, and this year should be no different. There are some quality horses on show in this year’s renewal, but the top four in the weights all have a bit to prove in my eyes, although they do keep the weights down for my selection, Grand Jesture. Henry de Bromhead’s seven-year-old is progressive over fences, and ran a cracker to be second to The Druids Nephew at Cheltenham last month. Testing ground saw him bypass the Irish National, and he’ll be better suited by underfoot conditions at Sandown. The son of Gold Well isn’t entirely straightforward, and he looked quite a handful prior to the start of his latest race, but once underway, he did little wrong, travelling and jumping with notable fluency, and giving best only to one who was well ahead of his mark. Able to race off the same mark here, he’s undoubtedly the best handicapped horse in the field. He doesn’t need a marathon trip, and stamina is a slight concern, but one I’m willing to take a chance on.
Le Reve is an obvious danger having finished a fine second in the BetBright Chase at Kempton, and he’s very likely to turn the tables with Rocky Creek, who ran well below form in the Grand National, and will find this coming soon enough. Paint The Clouds was no match for On The Fringe in the Foxhunter, but the winner again looked an improved performer when winning the Aintree equivalent, and Warren Greatrex’s hunter chaser looks feasibly weighted off just ten stone. Roalco de Farges was runner-up in this as a novice, and had Scottish National winner Wayward Prince behind when runner-up at Ascot four weeks ago. He’s not easily dismissed, and is worth including in exotic bets.
2.20 88SPORT HANDICAP (1M)
I included Off Art in my 10-To-Follow last season, but he was unsighted after running below form when favourite for the Thirsk Hunt Cup almost a year ago. He’d preceded that effort with an excellent fifth in the Lincoln, and looked likely to improve further given how he shaped that day, and that his Lincold effort came on just his third handicap outing. Confidence in him can’t be high after such a layoff, but he’s still lightly raced, and the type to outrun his current mark if over whatever has ailed him. That fact alone makes him worth chancing at the best morning odds.
SPECIAL TIARA 3.15 Sandown – 2pts win @ 4/1 (Ladbrokes)
GRAND JESTURE 3.50 Sandown – 1.5pts e/w @ 12/1 (Boylesports)