The move to split Sandown’s traditional mixed card to create an end of season jumps finale hasn’t been without its critics, and it’s a great loss to racing in the UK that Flat and National Hunt racing are deemed unsuitable bedfellows, especially as mixed cards are so popular in Ireland.
That’s a secondary issue, though, and Sandown’s all-jumps card is certainly compelling, with the 15.50 race, the Bet365 Gold Cup again the highlight.
In its original guise of the Whitbread, this was one of our favourite races of the year, and the finish of the 1984 contest when a whisker separated Special Cargo, Diamond Edge and Lettoch is still one of the most compelling finishes of any race we’ve ever witnessed. If we get half the thrills this year, it’ll be a hell of a race.
Favourite in most lists is last year’s runner-up Same Difference, but he’s not as compelling as the market suggests, for all he’s well handicapped on 2013 form. We’re inclined to pass him over, and there are plenty of alternatives to choose from.
The BetBright Chase in February may prove the key contest in analysing this renewal, with Bally Legend and Bury Parade both prominent in the betting having finished first and second at Kempton.
Bury Parade was deemed unlucky there, but he remains one to have minor temperament concerns about (refused to race at Exeter), and has stamina to prove at this trip. That comment also applies to Bally Legend, but he saw it out thoroughly to provide Caroline Keevil with her breakthrough success in the Sunbury contest, and there are sound reasons for believing he’ll stay even further on pedigree.
His dam, Bally Lira was a most doughty stayer who revelled in the mud, and we’re inclined to believe that Bally Legend will yet prove capable of defying the handicapper given a thorough test. He’s certainly unexposed at extreme trips, and shouldn’t be underestimated.
Roalco de Farges is another to have been placed in this race before, but his stamina gave way late on that occasion, and he again looked to have limitations in that department in the Scottish National recently, cutting out quickly having travelled as well as any for most of the journey. Rain won’t bother him, but the increased emphasis it places on staying power will, as will the quick turnaround.
Of the outsiders, Carruthers has become tricky at the start, but is more than capable of a big run if getting away on terms – it will be interesting to see if he’s led in to the tape, as that might prove advantageous.
Much fancied for that Kempton race was Ardkilly Witness, and he was far from disgraced having met significant interference on home turn. It’s notable that Richard Newland immediately nominated this race as the Witness Box gelding’s next target, citing a novice at Market Rasen as his intended prep, and true to his word, the 8-y-o duly won that contest without great fuss.
More will be needed now, but Newland is arguably as good a target trainer as anyone in the country right now, as he showed when Pineau de Re landed the Grand National on the back of an unorthodox preparation. The doctor may have hung up his stethoscope, but he remains a clinical operator, and he can be trusted to have his charge in tip-top condition, unlike several of his rivals, who appear to be running as an afterthought.
The BetBright Verdict: Ardkilly Witness @ 9/1
Longshot: Winner of the inaugural BetBright Chase, Bally Legend @ 28/1