There’s still some life in the trainers’ tussle for the end of season finale at Sandown on Saturday after Paul Nicholls won the Scottish Grand National last weekend with Vincente.
It’s a big ask for the Ditcheat trainer to regain his crown as he trails my old boss Nicky Henderson by £100k and Nicky has an ace in the pack with Altior. However, you never know until the races are run.
Sandown kicks off the TV coverage with a 2m Juvenile Handicap Hurdle at 1.50pm and Henderson’s French import Call Me Lord makes his UK debut under top weight after soft-ground victories at Cagnes-Sur-Mer and Compiegne.
It looks a tough introduction and the better ground should suit him, but Don Cantillon’s Hollywood Road could be a bit of value. He was rated 83 on the Flat and has put back-to-back wins together at Huntingdon over timber this season.
He seems to be coming good at the right time.
Race specialist Menorah is looking for a hat-trick of wins in the Grade 2 Oaksey Chase over 2m 6f at 2.25pm. However, he’s a 12-year-old now and is a short enough price for me.
There’s no doubt he’s been mapped out for this contest again but I’m drawn to the younger Traffic Fluide. Gary Moore’s runner is getting 10lbs from Menorah and Josses Hill and that’s a fair amount of weight to concede to this previous course winner.
He was third to Fox Norton (winner at Punchestown since) and Sub Lieutenant off level weights in the 2m 4f Grade 1 Melling Chase at Aintree. If he sees out the extra couple of furlongs here, he’s a big threat.
The Celebration Chase at Sandown 3pm is a clash of the generations and could be an intriguing contest between Arkle winner and rising star Altior and Champion Chaser Special Tiara.
In many ways it suits Altior that Special Tiara runs here. He’s a Sandown specialist and will set a decent gallop that should allow Nico de Boinville to get a good tow into the race. I’d expect him to confirm his superiority when he sets Altior alight.
If Altior wins as expected then it should be game over for Nicholls’ title bid by the time the 3m 5f Gold Cup Chase at 3.35pm spins around.
He relies on Just A Par and Present Man and the former was just chinned by The Young Master in this contest last year. I fancy Sam Waley-Cohen’s mount to follow up on Saturday off exactly the same mark as when winning 12 months ago.
If Rock the Kasbah jumped better at Sandown and was proven on better ground I’d nearly nap him as he fits the profile of previous winners. Sugar Baron was unseated at the first in the Scottish National when well backed for the race. However on his only visit to Sandown, he made lots of mistakes before falling in a novice chase last November.
We’ll be seeing plenty more action on the Flat with the Guineas meeting coming up at Newmarket next weekend and the ITV cameras are at Haydock on Saturday for two races.
The draw is very important at the Lancashire track because if you’re drawn wide – you’ll be toast more often than not.
In the 1m handicap at 2.05 pm, Harry Dunlop’s Early Morning is a previous course winner who runs very well fresh. He’s won on his seasonal debut at Lingfield and Kempton for the past two seasons and is well drawn in box four.
Beside him is the favourite, El Vip, from Luca Cumani’s stable. He was third to Lincoln Handicap second Oh This Is Us when the 9/4 fav at Bath first time out. Frankie Dettori is in the plate this time and the Cumani runners usually come on for a run.
They could have the winning of this between them.
The result of the 2.05 could have big bearing on the 7f Handicap at 2.40pm straight afterwards as Oh This Is Us carries top weight and drops back a furlong in trip.
One at an each-way price may be recent Doncaster winner Zoravan. He breaks quickly, runs from the front and the others won’t want to give him an easy lead as he might get away from them up Haydock’s long straight.
Good luck and have a great Bank Holiday weekend!