The jumps season reaches it's conclusion on Saturday with the feature meeting taking place at Sandown for the most high profile mixed card of the year.
The weather is more suited to a mid-winter jumps fixture mind you (Leicester's meeting has been abandoned after more rainfall in the last 3 weeks than in the whole of 2011!) and the going will be testing for this weekend's turf action, none more so than at Punchestown for the remainder of their festival.
The Bet365 Gold Cup is the highlight at Sandown though, and that will be run on slightly better ground as the chase and hurdles courses at Sandown aren't as testing as the flat track. This race gives the staying chasers one last hurrah before the curtain comes down on the season - and as you can imagine it's wide open.
Le Beau Bai and West End Rocker are Sky Bet's 6/1 joint favourites. Welsh National winner Le Beau Bai will handle conditions well and stays and the same comments apply to early Grand National faller West End Rocker who won the Becher on heavy ground.
Rare Bob could be one for each way punters at 18/1. He was brought down early in the National, but a few shrewdies fancied him that day and he is a former Grade 1 winner.
Quotes of the week
Top weight Tidal Bay, Roalco De Farges and Major Malarkey are 9s. Tidal Bay may have top weight, but he's not badly handicapped on some of his best recent form - although he's a monkey and not to be trusted.
Major Malarkey is one of two solid chances for Nigel Twiston Davies, whose horses have been in good form up at the Perth festival this week. He is the choice of son Sam whilst Willie rides 20/1 shot Viking Blond.
Philip Hobbs and Richard Johnson team up with the novice Roalco De Farges who won at Chepstow earlier this month and before that was fifth in the Midlands National (Major Malarkey 2nd there).
Galaxy Rock is 10/1 for Jonjo O'Neill and although he pulled up in last weekend's Scottish National that isn't too much of a concern. Dovers Hill (14/1) was rejected by Sam Twiston Davies, but he has said favourable things about this horse and is a decent spare ride for Sam Thomas, although this ground may not be ideal.
Tidal Bay is trained by Paul Nicholls as is Aldertune (16/1) who has a fly weight to carry here and Nick Scholfield rides. He wears a tongue tie for the first time and won't mind the ground. He could easily be involved in the finish. Deep Purple (16/1) won the London National over this course and distance back in December and he is only 3lbs higher now and must be respected.
Rare Bob could be one for each way punters at 18/1. Dessie Hughes has fitted the visor for the first time (he has worn a variety of headgear in the past) and Paddy Brennan takes the ride. He was brought down early in the National, but a few shrewdies fancied him that day and he is a former Grade 1 winner.
I fancied Any Currency (25/1) for the Scottish National last weekend, but he didn't figure and is fitted with the eyeshield for the first time which may help his cause. I'm going for Rare Bob for Dessie Hughes, who had a nice winner at Punchestown this week.
There are some smart horses due to line up in the Celebration Chase and 8 go to post. Somersby is the highest rated in this 2 mile Grade 2. He has a 4lb penalty to carry for his win in the Grade 1 Victor Chandler Chase which makes French Opera and Wishfull Thinking slightly better off on the ratings.
French Opera won this race last year for Nicky Henderson and Wishfull Thinking returned to form when second to Finian's Rainbow at Aintree two weeks ago. The way this race will be run shoud suit last year's winner but I'm going with Wishfull Thinking, who was well beaten behind Somersby at Ascot but will be better suited to this type of ground.
Conditions are heavy and will be tough for the flat action at Sandown and the Classic Trial is one of the highlights on the level. Only four horses go to post for this mile and a quarter Group 3 and Aidan O'Brien's Imperial Monarch is one of two once raced colts in the field. This son of Galileo was the comfortable winner of his juvenile maiden on soft ground and he is entered in trials and the English and Irish Derbies. He is 25/1 with Sky Bet for the Epsom race.
John Gosden has the other unexposed colt, Thought Worthy, who is a brother to a Leger winner in Lucarno and won his maiden last Autumn also on soft ground.
The proven performers are Sir Henry Cecil's Listed winner Stipulate and Richard Hannon's recent Newmarket Sales Race winner Rougemont. The last two aren't in the Derby. I'm sticking with the master of Ballydoyle and Imperial Monarch.
The other Group 3 is the Gordon Richards Stakes also over a mile and a quarter. Twice Over should be less ring rusty after his reappearance in the Earl of Sefton when he was just touched off. He is a class act and likes soft ground (let's hope he doesn't mind it heavy!). Luckily his Group 1 win in the Juddmonte International came in mid-August which means he escapes carrying a 7lb penalty here.
A horse who will relish conditions is Clive Cox's Poet, who has won on heavy ground in the past. Although he was well beaten on his reappearance in France, the ground had dried out too much for him and he can go well here. He isn't in the same class as Twice Over though and although the ground may help level that out I'm sticking with the dual Champion Stakes winner.
The biggest threat to Twice Over could be from his stablemate World Domination (both in the ownership of Khalid Abdullah), who has a host of top class entries and was considered a Derby candidate last year but missed the race and ran at Royal Ascot instead. He could be a better, stronger horse this year at four years old.
Punchestown resembled a lake this week with the festival suffering a deluge. All being well they have saved some of the races they lost in the week including the Punchestown Gold Cup. I fancied Rubi Light when he was due to run Wednesday and that hasn't changed. The ground is sure to be pretty desperate and he at least handles testing conditions.
In the Champion 4yo Hurdle I think Hisaabaat can run well. He has the blinkers refitted after his 2nd place in Cheltenham's Triumph Hurdle. The worry for Dermot Weld's runner is the ground which is probably an unknown for a few of these as it's almost been like a lake at the track all week and they have done well to get it on.
Alan King's Balder Succes has won on heavy and he has the opportunity to atone for his fall in the Triumph. Prior to his run at Cheltenham he had looked impressive. Ut De Sivola hails from the all conquering Willie Mullins stable and also comes into calculations on this ground.
Rare Bob in the Bet365 Gold Cup @ 18/1 with Sky Bet
Wishfull Thinking in the Celebration Chase
Imperial Monarch in the Classic Trial
Twice Over in the Gordon Richards Stakes
Rubi Light in the Punchestown Gold Cup
Balder Succes in the Champion 4yo Hurdle