Our expert takes a look through the ante-post betting for the Sandown Gold Cup Handicap and selects a classy contender who could bring the curtain down on the 2016/17 National Hunt season in fitting fashion.
The Sandown Festival provides a fitting finale for the National Hunt season, as the hurdles and fences are put to one side while the flat racers take centre stage. Whilst there are many good quality races on Saturday at Sandown, the most lucrative race is the Sandown Gold Cup Handicap Chase, which provides horses with a stiff test of stamina and jumping over the 29-and-a-half furlong trip.
looked like he had the Grand National in the bag, but when One For Arthur jumped into him going over the second last fence, his title bid was hindered and he failed to regather that lost momentum. Nigel-Twiston Davies’ charge eventually finished fourth, two places ahead of Vieux Lion Rouge
), who improved on the seventh place finish he recorded in Aintree’s showpiece event 12 months ago. Both feature prominently in the betting for the Sandown Gold Cup, but it’s highly unlikely whether either will feature following their Grand National exploits.
The current ante-post favourite is The Young Master
), who looks set to return to Sandown to defend his title after bowing out rather earlier than expected in the Grand National. He travelled to Aintree in decent form, following a good sixth in the Ultima Handicap at Cheltenham, but he failed to scale Bechers on the first circuit, sending himself and Sam Waley-Cohen crashing to the turf.
The pair travelled strongly in this contest last season, moving to the front after the final fence and beating the then defending champion, Just A Par
) to the post by a short head. Last year’s runner-up managed to finish the course at Aintree, improving upon the 14th place finish he recorded in the 2016 Grand National by a single place. Whether Paul Nicholls will send him back to Sandown after that gruelling effort at Aintree is unknown, but if he does line up in the Gold Cup, he has to be considered a contender.
Neil Mulholland decided to skip a trip to Aintree with The Druids Nephew
) this season, after his charge failed to complete the course on both his attempts in recent renewals. The former Ultima Handicap winner finished seventh on his return to the race back in March and trailed home a distant ninth on his only other appearance of the season in the Listed Silver Cup Handicap at Ascot.
Paul Nicholls will have expected Arpege D’Alene
) to come on a little following his second place finish in the Pertemps Final in 2016. Yet, his talented seven-year-old has only managed one win in six seasonal outings and that came in a three-horse Class 3 at Aintree near the start of the campaign. He managed to find a bit of cover in the National Hunt at Cheltenham, eventually crossing the line a highly-respectable fourth, just six lengths behind the winners.
Sam Waley-Cohen (left, brown and orange) rides The Young Master to win this contest last season.
After falling victim to a rotten bit of luck after the first fence of the Grand National, Vicente
) is likely to appear again before his summer holidays. Returning to Ayr to defend his Scottish National title is the obvious path, but there is a chance he could make the trip to Sandown and battle for this huge prize. As could Sue Smith’s Blakemount
), who has been showing consistent form whilst moving up in trip all season, finishing a strong fifth off a price of 20/1 in the Midlands National on his latest appearance.
(40/1 Paddy Power
) and Southfield Royale
) will be burdened with top weight when the Grand National runners inevitably drop out of the entries. Whilst the latter hasn't shown any kind of form in his only two appearances of the season, Theatre Guide remains a very dangerous handicapper and won a Grade 3 Handicap Chase at Cheltenham earlier in the season.
may have reached the ripe old age of 10, but a strong fourth place finish in the Ultima Handicap at Cheltenham and a good third in the BetVictor Gold Cup at Cheltenham proves he still has plenty of class and offers definite each-way value. Another excellent chaser at a lengthy price is Le Reve
), who was involved in a very nasty incident after unseating Nico De Boinville at Cheltenham back in November. He laboured to a distant finish when carrying top weight on his last outing, but on his day he is a wonderfully fluent jumper and won well around Sandown last season.
A fully fit and firing The Young Master would have every chance of retaining his title, but it’s yet to be seen what effect that fall at Aintree has had on him. The Druids Nephew did well at Cheltenham and he could improve on the fifth place finish he managed in this race last year. Another who put in an eye-catching display at Cheltenham is PENDRA
) and after Charlie Longsdon withdrew him from the Grand National proceedings, he could be well placed to challenge for this Sandown title.
"Eye-catching" doesn’t do justice to Pendra’s performance in the Kim Muir, which was his first appearance since finishing 13th in the 2016 Grand National. Despite being burdened with top weight on his seasonal reappearance, he looked set to claim a fantastic win after the final fence. It took a stunning late charge from Doomsday Book to snatch that prestigious title from under his and Charlie Longsdon's nose.
He’s been plagued with injury problems over recent seasons, but that Cheltenham run proved he’s lost none of his undeniable talents. He’ll have no trouble seeing out the trip, his jumping is extremely sound and he was beaten into second in the Grade 1 Tolworth Hurdle by Melodic Rendezvous on his only run around Sandown back in 2013. If he is fully fit, then he could be a massive player in this year’s Sandown Gold Cup.
29/4/2017 3:30pm Sandown Gold Cup selection – PENDRA each-way (20/1 BetVictor)