This weekend there is a slight change to the racing programme with Sandown's traditional season-ending mixed card on Saturday replaced with an all jumps fixture with the flat card taking place on Friday. Let's start with Friday's action then and the Esher Cup kicks the card off.
The ground on the flat course at Sandown is described as good to soft with the chance of rain which could see it ease further; eight horses have been declared for the mile contest.
Sacred Act is the ante-post market leader for John Gosden who looks set to have a decent day. This horse will appreciate the ease in the ground having won a Nottingham Maiden on debut earlier this month on ground described as soft. He actually holds an entry in the St James's Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot so clearly he is held in much regard. He was immature last season which is why he didn't run and there should be bags of improvement to come.
Sacred Act was immature last season which is why he didn't run and there should be bags of improvement to come.
Quotes of the week
End of Line looks a threat to the favourite for Andrew Balding who has his team in good form. He is another once-raced winner, but his run came back in October at Doncaster. He is also in the Royal Ascot race, but interestingly is in the Irish Derby and it may be that he will be better over further.
Cricklewood Green is one of two in this for Richard Hannon; Ryan Moore is on board this one. He holds no fancy entries and he won both starts last season culminating in a win in a Nursery at Newbury in August.
First Flight is making his seasonal reappearance for Saeed bin Suroor. He won his maiden, but then ran a shocker in a Group 3 at York in August and hasn't been seen since. I think John Gosden will get his day off to the perfect start with Sacred Act.
The Group 3 Gordon Richards Stakes...
...has attracted some interesting runners, none more so than Sir Michael Stoute's one-time Derby hopeful Telescope. He hasn't run since winning the Great Voltigeur at York back in August.
You may remember he had an interrupted season missing the Dante with grazes to his legs, then the Derby with a sore shin and he never ran beyond August having been considered for the Leger and Champion Stakes due to a chip that needed removing. It would be fair comment, I think, to say he has been a bit disappointing to date given that expectations were so high, but the fact that he is still in training as a four-year-old leads you to believe that connections feel he'll be capable of winning more than a Group 3 this season.
Sir Michael has a great record in this race and it looks a good place to start this colt off this term. He is sure to come on for this run, but if you consider he will be contesting some of the top races later in the season he may still be able to win this. It's also worth remembering that most of these will improve for this outing so he may not be at much of a disadvantage.
Godolphin's Sky Hunter is one of his main market rivals for Saeed bin Suroor. He ran well in the French Derby last season over a similar trip to this, but I wonder, given his stout pedigree, if he'll be more effective over further as the year goes on. He is having his first start for the trainer having spent his formative years in France with Andre Fabre and he is also expected to improve for this run.
One horse that won't need the outing is Frankel's brother Noble Mission who ran in the John Porter at Newbury a couple of weeks ago. He was just beaten there and isn't the most straightforward. It's not very original, but it's Telescope for me.
The Bet365 Mile...
...is a Group 2 and a field of seven has been declared. Top Notch Tonto progressed last season from winning a handicap off a mark of 87 to winning a Group 3 and his season culminated in a second place in the Group 1 QEII Stakes behind Olympic Glory. He's a horse who is much better with cut in the ground so providing it doesn't dry out he should be fine.
If you go for horses for courses, or trainers for courses to be more exact, then Richard Hannon is the trainer to follow. I know there's a new name on the licence, but not much has changed results wise for the operation and Montridge has a great chance of giving 'Junior' his first win in this race. It's great to see champion jockey Richard Hughes back in the saddle on Friday after his awful fall at Meydan which resulted in fractured vertebrae. He has a bit of work to do to catch Ryan Moore up if he's to retain his title, but it's not an impossible task and I'm sure he'll start firing in the winners from here on in, hopefully on this horse.
Montridge looked very impressive in the early part of last season but then ran moderately behind Top Notch Tonto at Haydock. That wasn't his running though and he put up a better effort on his final outing. He's a smart horse and my selection in this.
Garswood represents Richard Fahey and he looks the type of horse to do better at four. He still has to prove that a mile is his optimum trip and I'd be keen to see how he fares here before making a decision on that. He has only had the one start at the trip though and given another winter on his back he should be more capable of staying it.
Group 2 Classic Trial
Finally on Friday the Group 2 Classic Trial is a decent contest which is run over a mile and a quarter.
Four of the eight runners hold Derby entries and they are: Impulsive Moment (Andrew Balding), Red Galileo (Ed Dunlop), Sir Jack Layden (David Brown) and Western Hymn (John Gosden).
It's the latter who appeals most regards the Epsom classic and is currently 14/1 with Sky Bet for the Derby. He comes into this unbeaten in two starts, once as a juvenile and then on his reappearance in a conditions stakes at Newbury in which he was very impressive. He looked inexperienced there and that win should have done him the world of good and he looks a colt to keep on the right side of. He won't be much of a price, but he looks an exciting prospect.
Master Carpenter may not hold a classic entry, but he ran way above expectations in the Greenham when third to Kingman. Providing that was no fluke the Rod Millman-trained colt has to be taken seriously here on his step up to this trip as he was staying on over that seven furlongs and is related to 10 furlong winners.
Truth Or Dare represents the Hannon/Hughes team but judging on his reappearance he has work to do to win this. Impulsive Moment is interesting as he is pretty unexposed. Andrew Balding's colt won a mile Novice Stakes at Lingfield at the backend of last year and he won't lack for stamina.
The Bet365 Gold Cup
Moving on to Saturday then and it's 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 trainer's 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 and 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 two mile, five 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 three-mile Betbright Chase at Kempton in February and should appreciate the step up in trip. I think he can run a big race for his inform trainer.
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 National only for him to unship his jockey at the second fence! No run for our money there. Paul 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 Dr Richard Newland's 38 per cent 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 yard another valuable prize.
The Celebration Chase
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 1.
Sacred Act in the Esher Cup @ 9/4 with Sky Bet
Telescope in the Gordon Richards Stakes @ 11/8 with Sky Bet
Montridge in the Bet365 Mile @ 3/1 with Sky Bet
Western Hymn in the Classic Trial @ 8/13 with Sky Bet
Ardkilly Witness in the Bet365 Gold Cup @ 11/1 with Sky Bet