Alex Hammond: The good Doctor
Alex Hammond with her best bets for Saturday's meeting at Sandown.
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Saturday sees the final day of the National Hunt season which will see AP McCoy awarded his 19th consecutive jockeys championship and Paul Nicholls back on top of the heap in the trainers title. The ground on the jumps course is described as good at the time of writing, but if there is rain forecast that could ease slightly.
The bet365 Gold Cup is the highlight on the card and last year’s runner up Same Difference is bidding to go one better for Nigel Twiston-Davies. He came into this race last year in much better form having won the Kim Muir and hasn’t been in the same form this time round. What that does mean though is that he’s 7lbs lower in the handicap. He ran ok in the Kim Muir this time round to suggest a return to the winners’ enclosure shouldn’t be far away. He likes top of the ground.
Dr Richard Newland is having an outstanding year and as we saw in the Grand National staying chasers are his speciality. He has Ardkilly Witness entered and the horse has a handy weight. He has had a nice quiet prep for the race winning a 2 mile 5 furlong Novices’ Chase at Market Rasen so comes here having had an easier time than some of his rivals. He runs off the same mark that saw him finish a staying on fifth in the 3 mile Betbright Chase at Kempton in February and should appreciate the step up in trip. I think he can run a big race.
Roalco De Farges is a horse I like. Philip Hobbs saddled him to finish second in this race a couple of years ago, but he has had injury problems since then. It’s a question of whether he can run well just two weeks after pulling up in the Scottish National at Ayr. That was a disappointing run and he needs to bounce back here.
Burton Port owes me one having sided with him in the Crabbie’s Grand National only for him to unship his jockey at the second fence… No run for our money there.
Nicholls will be hoping to add another valuable prize to his tally before the season is out, but Bury Parade can be tricky and isn’t one to have complete faith in. He refused to race a few starts back and whilst he has run really well on two occasions since he isn’t reliable. He has talent though so if you’re prepared to take that risk, he loves right handed tracks and he is interesting stepping up to this trip for the first time.
Godsmejudge is another who ran in the Scottish National. Alan King’s gelding finished an excellent second at Ayr and he runs off the same mark on Saturday. It was a return to form for this horse and if the race hasn’t left its mark he should run well.
Nicky Henderson’s Hadrians Approach should get the better ground that he needs providing there isn’t a downpour at Sandown before Saturday. He is only a pound lower in the weights than when fading into fifth in this last year.
Spring Heeled represents Gold Cup winning trainer Jim Culloty. He won the Kim Muir at the Cheltenham Festival but hasn’t looked the stoutest stayer in the past and that is a worry. Any Currency was my fancy for the cross-country chase at Cheltenham and he ran well to be just touched off into second. It may be that those types of races suit him better nowadays, but he could run well.
If there is a decent drop of rain then Chartreux could be one to consider for Tom George. He showed his liking for this track last month and is in good form once again having had a few tough races including a fall and pulling up in the Welsh National behind Mountainous who is also entered in this.
Given his trainer’s remarkable 38% strike rate this month and the fact he seems to get the best out of this type of horse, I’m going to go with Ardkilly Witness to win the Newland yard another valuable prize.
Finally, it will be great to see Sire de Grugy in action in the Celebration Chase for his seasonal swansong. I won't win any prizes by tipping up this odds on shot as he bids to win this race for the second successive year, but he looks hard to oppose.
Trainer Gary Moore sounded bullish about him when speaking to Mick Fitzgerald at Plumpton in the week saying he felt he was better than ever. Ominous words for his rivals who shouldn’t really be good enough to beat the Champion Chaser in this Grade One contest.